OK, so you've mastered the basics of feeding a horse. Now let's look closer at the best horse feed regimen.

WHAT IS THE BEST HORSE FEED FOR MY HORSE? A general rule of thumb is that an average 1000 lb horse that receives light work needs about 2% of its body weight in forage to stay in good health and avoid colic. That means your horse care should for a horse of this weight should include about 20 lbs of quality hay. But horses also need other nutrients (such selenium and Vitamin E) in order to heal wounds, recover from exercise, and remain healthy. This can be accomplished by feeding 16 lbs of quality hay and 5 lbs of quality feed concentrate.


WHAT IS THE BEST HORSE FEED CONCENTRATE FOR MY HORSE? Endurance horses need a concentrate that has a 75-25 ratio of fat (75%) to glucose (sugar-25%). Three day eventers need 67% fat and 33% glucose. Hunters need 50-50. So choose the best horse feed regiment for your horse based on her breed and discipline.  

WHEN SHOULD I FEED MY HORSE? Horses can be fed hay right up to the time of competition. For horses that have ulcers, this is particularly true because hay will buffer the stomach from excess acid. Alfalfa hay is better for horses with ulcers than grass hay.

Grain or feed concentrates that are high in starch should be feed at least FOUR HOURS before exercise or competition. The sugars and starches in grain will produce a rapid rise in glucose (sugar) in the horse’s body. Insulin will then rise to compensate, interfering with proper glucose metabolism.

Feeding more than 6 lbs of grain or feed concentrate in one feeding will put too much strain on the horse’s hind gut to process, causing fermentation and an increase in intestinal acidity. This greatly increases the risk of colic and other digestive ailments. It is better to spread out feedings in smaller quantities.

DOESN'T GRAIN (OR PROTEIN) MAKE A HORSE "HOT"? We’ve all heard that grain can make horses “hot”. It turns out that it is the non-structural carbohydrates (NSC) in grain that does this. Different grains have different amounts of NSC. The highest are corn (60%) and oats (52%). By comparison, here are the NSC content of Purina feed concentrates: Strategy 30%, Senior 20%, Wellsolv 11%, Nature’s Essentials Enriched 32 0%. We’ve also all heard that protein can make horses “hot”. Protein is needed to repair tissue wear and tear, and to provide energy. Horses that receive too little protein have trouble healing wounds and recovering from exercise. So choose the best horse feed for your horse based on the the amount of NSC he needs.

WHAT IS THE BEST HORSE FEED FOR HORSES WITH SPECIAL NEEDS? Horses that frequently “tie up” are very sensitive to dietary starch. They need a diet that is high in fat rather than starch.  

PSSM (Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy) horses are very sensitive to insulin. To remain sound, they must be exercised daily.  

Horses that suffer frequent respiratory problems should have their stalls bedded with quality wood shavings rather than straw. Straw is prone to mold. Even if you can’t see or smell it, straw often contains mold spores that can irritate your horse’s airways and cause coughing.  

WHAT ABOUT OATS? It takes 42 lbs of oats to provide the amount nutrition found on most quality feed concentrates. Oats also have a very high level of non-structural carbohydrates, and an inverted calcium-phosphorus ratio. Horses need twice as much calcium as phosphorus, cut oats have five times as much phosphorus as calcium. That means that the horse’s body will pull calcium from bone or teeth in order to balance the phosphorus, weakening both.

HOW MUCH SHOULD I FEED A MARE WHO IS FEEDING A FOAL? Mares experience a 44% increase in their energy requirements when they are lactating (feeding a foal). During the first three months of lactation, mares can give up almost 3% of their body weight daily in total milk production. For a 1,100-pound mare, that means about 24 pounds (about 3 gallons) of milk daily. To compensate, the typical 1100 lb mare needs about 30 lbs of hay and 20 lbs of feed concentrate daily, compared to 16 lbs of hay and 5 lbs of feed concentrate when she isn’t feeding a foal.

The information here is based on a presentation given by Dr. Randy Raub, Director of New Product Development, Equine Research, Purina Mills in May 2009 at Prairieland Feeds in Savoy, IL.

Copyright Denise Cummins, PhD Return from best horse feed to horse nutrition.