The Basics of Horse Nutrition and Feeding

A horse's nutritional requirements are only the beginning: Learn what to feed horses, how much, and how to deal with equine digestive problems.

| March/April 1974

  • Grazing Horses
    If your soil is deficient in nutrients, it may be necessary to supplement your horses' diets.

  • Grazing Horses

First-time farmers usually do pretty well with gardens, chopping wood and building outhouses . . . but the birth of that first calf or litter of pigs generally sets 'em back a couple of notches. R.J. Holliday, DVM, a veterinarian in Missouri and MOTHER EARTH NEWS contributor, intends to remedy the situation. His tool? A new handbook precisely designed to explain all the animal facts of life in language that new back-to-the-landers can understand 

MOTHER EARTH NEWS is serializing the manual as Dr.Holliday completes each chapter. In this installment he explains the equine digestive system, common problems, basic horse nutrition guidelines and the importance of determining what to feed horses, how much to feed them, and when.  

It has been said that feeding horses is more of an art than a science. Even today, much of the theory of equine nutrition is based on studies done on other classes of livestock and there are still many myths and misconceptions floating about, especially in some so-called "scientific" circles. Anyone can compile a mass of data on how to feed horses, but it takes a herdsman to artfully develop and follow a complete nutritional regimen that brings out the best in each of his animals. Most of the really valuable information we have at our disposal today is the result of practical observations by horsemen who are actually raising and using the creatures for profit. Rations and feeding programs are favorite topics for discussion whenever two or more such individuals get together, and much good practical information is shared at most of these meetings.

Years ago, when horses and mules provided the motive power for this country, little attention was paid to equine nutrition. The fertile soil of our farmland had not yet been mined of its nutrients and humus, and the animals got along nicely on native hays and grains. Today, however, the picture has changed. Our land has been depleted to the point that the commercial feeds don't contain the necessary elements to support life without the addition of various forms of supplemental protein, vitamins, minerals and antibiotics to keep our disease-prone creatures from falling prey to any germ that comes along. The more natural your approach to farming and nutrition, the less you'll need to be concerned about these various additives to livestock feeds.

The subject, nevertheless, is a complicated one . . . because horses vary tremendously in their individual nutritive requirements. A ration suitable for one animal may be entirely unsatisfactory for an almost identical stablemate. As perplexing as these variables can be, they do at least allow a good herdsman to be creative in his choice of basic diet and feeding regimens for his charges.

The program presented in this article includes considerable leeway, so don't bind yourself too tightly to sample formulas that are meant only as guidelines for the beginner. Stay within the main principles, but experiment with the suggested feeds and observe each animal's response to them until you find the combination best tailored for every one of your horses.

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