Horse Nutrition - What Should You Feed to Get a Healthy and Fit Horse ?

"You are what you eat" is not only valid for human nutrition -- horses, too, need a well balanced horse feed.

Nutrition of a horse seems quite easy, because fresh or conserved grass is the basic feedstuff.
But if fed ad lib, a horse will eat and eat and eat... in other words it will become fat even when only fed on grass.

And an obese horse cannot perform very well in front of a carriage.
So, to enjoy your carriage rides, the horse needs to be fed the right feed and be fit.

Haystack Oats
Haystack Photo by Paul Nasca Oats

Horses need just like we humans individually adjusted diets for the level of work they have to perform.

It is well worth to let Agricultural Labs analyse your horse's feedstuff and help you to compose the dietary requirements in the right way to avoid overfeeding your horse.

To get a better overview,let's do a bit of maths:

If you multiply your horse's height in hands by 0.8 you get the weight of horse feed in kilogram that is required as a daily amount of food for the horse.

horse's height (in h.h) x 0.8 = daily amount of food

According to this

  • a 14 h.h pony will need daily 11.2 kg food
  • a 15 h.h horse 12 kg and
  • a 16 h.h horse 12.8 kg.

To match its nutritional needs better, it will need beside grass or hay also concentrated horse feed. Read here more about choosing good quality hay.

Depending on the type of work (maintenance only, light, hard or endurance work), the amount of daily needed food alters accordingly.

Hay in %

Concentrates in %

Maintenance only 100 0
Light work 70 30
Hard work 50 50
Endurance work 30 70
(Source:Johnson,Jinny, Competition carriage driving on a shoestring: J.A.Allen and Company Ltd, London, GB, 1990)

An average 16 h.h horse needs according to this therefor for maintenance only 12.8 kg hay.

In light work it needs to eat 8.96 kg hay and 3.84 kg concentrates.

Doing hard work you should feed 6.4 kg hay and 6.4 kg concentrates.

If you consider competing in endurance driving, the horse should eat 3.84 kg hay and 8.96 kg concentrates.

You can also calculate the energy requirement for maintenance with the following formula:

Add 18 to 1/10 of a horse's body weight in kg and get the required calories in megajoule (MJ):
For an average horse weighing 500 kg you get:
18 + (500:10)= 18 + 50 = 68 MJ

The energy required for work is quite difficult to calculate, but clever veterinary researchers found, that an average horse performing hard work will need about 200 MJ per day. A racehorse in training requires around 160 - 210 MJ daily.

See here nutritional values (energy and protein) of commonly used horse feeds:

Energy value MJ/kg    Protein level in %
Poor hay 6-8 average ~ 7
Average hay 9
Good hay 10-11 12-18
Horse and pony cubes 10 10,5
Beet pulp 11 9
Oats 11 11
Barley  13 14
Racehorse cubes 13 14
Maize 14 9
Sugar lumps 16 0
Corn oil 36 0
(Source:Johnson,Jinny,Competition carriage driving on a shoestring: J.A.Allen and Company Ltd, London, GB, 1990)

From the table above you can see, that a 500 kg horse needs 68 MJ per day for maintenance.
You achieve this by giving 7.5 kg of average hay per day.

Now, if you work this horse thouroughly (hard work), it will require about 200 MJ Energy. For that it would need to eat around 20 - 22 kg good hay.

But a horse can only eat as much as 3% of its body weight, in this case 15 kg of roughage (= hay), so the rest of calories need to be fed in a more concentrated horse feed.

In horse nutrition a sufficient percentage ( no more than 8%) of good quality protein is essential to provide the horse with essential amino-acids.

Overfeeding with protein is a waste and does harm your horses health.

Phew....if you made it until here: Congratulations!!! :)))

See also:

Hay - more than just dried grass
Get your horse iin shape with an exercise program
Return to Page The Driving Horse

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