Horses have been adopted as pets and for other purposes over the years, however, only in the past few decades, there has been an increased awareness promoting the health of the horses. Nutrition is a very significant aspect of health care.
Like human beings and all other animals, the nutrient requirements of a horse change as it grows older, and it is advised to consult a doctor before deciding on the diet of the horse.
Feeding the horse
- The horse should be fed food about 1.5 to 2 % of its body weight.
- A diet should be fixed and followed. The amount of nutrition intake must be kept in mind while deciding the diet. For example, a cup of corn has a much different nutrition content than a cup of oats, though both provide protein to the horse.
- Ideally, an adult horse should be fed twice a day.
- The time for feeding should be fixed and maintained. Horses may refuse the food if the schedule is upset.
- The feeding habit of the horse develops over years and the owner must instill healthy eating habits in the horse with a proper schedule and repeating good feeding habits.
Limitations while feeding a horse
Horses are herbivorous creatures, adapted to digest only certain kinds of food. Their digestive system is built to digest only certain kinds of food.
- An average horse of about 1000lbs in weight has a capacity of 2lbs to 4lbs of food intake. The capacity of the stomach in a horse is comparatively much less, compared to its size
- However, it must be kept in mind that overfeeding would lead to obesity.
- Too much carbohydrate intake may lead to illness such as colic or laminitis. Too much protein intake can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance in horses.
- Horses don’t have a gall bladder. Hence, they are unable to digest fat easily.
- They can digest only 20 % of the fat in their diet. Hence the diet should contain low-fat food. Ideally, a diet with 3 to 4% diet content is good for an adult horse.
Provide adequate water
Horses consume large volumes of water, and it should be ensured that the horse is provided with enough fresh water to drink.
- The water intake of the horse depends on the food intake also. Generally, they consume about two-quarters of water for every pound of hay they eat. In high temperatures or in conditions where the horse undergoes major physical activities, the water intake is much higher.
- One should always lookout for signs of dehydration and make sure the horse is drinking an adequate amount of water every day. Some signs of dehydration are dry mucous membrane in the mouth, dry feces, and lack of energy.
- The water levels must always be kept high.
- Usually, horses refuse to drink the water, if they must lower their head too much to reach the water or the water is too hot or too cold. The optimum temperature of the water should be around 20 to 26 degrees Celsius.
A proper diet for the horse must include all the nutrients in appropriate amounts, as per the advice of an expert.
- Carbohydrates are one of the prime requirements for horses. The energy requirement of the body is very high.
- Lack of energy can be detected when the horse tends to feel lethargic or has a decreased growth rate.
- While carbohydrates remain the primary source of energy for horses, fats in appropriate amounts, are also necessary for the diet.
- Protein is very important for the muscle-building of horses. A good amount of protein in the diet will ensure a stronger and healthier horse. Adult horses require about 8 to 10 % of the protein in their daily diet.
- Protein deficiency in horses can be detected when the horse starts losing the shine of the coat or loses weight.
- Vitamins are as important for horses as they are for human beings. Horses usually need all water-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin A, B, C, D, E.
- The vitamin intake of the horse should be increased when it is going through stress such as times when it is traveling or preparing for a race or going through strenuous activities. The type of vitamin that the horse needs should be decided upon by consulting a doctor.
- Minerals boost the health and growth of a horse. These minerals are naturally present and if the horse gets proper forages, the mineral intake is enough.
Food apt for horses
- Forages are the most basic food that should be included in the diet of a horse.
- Legumes can be used instead of grasses for the forages. They have higher nutritional content and are easier to grow.
- Orchardgrass, blur grass, timothy, and fescue are some of the commonly used grasses.
- Hay is also used widely as forages. The hay needs to be harvested and dried before being fed to the horses.
- Hays are cheap and contain a good amount of nutrients. Hence it has been a more preferred choice of forage across the globe for ages.
- It must be ensured the hay is not moldy or dusty before feeding it to the horse.
- Grains may be included in the diet of the horse. Oats, barley, and corn are generally fed to the horses.
- Sorghum or milo may also be provided to the horse.
- Wheat may also be given to horses but is not preferred by most people due to its high cost.
It must be kept in mind that most grains need proper processing before they can be made edible for the horses.
- Soybean, cottonseeds, brewers’ grains are other food that can be included in the diet.
- An appropriate amount of fats must be included in the diet. This can be done by adding calculated amounts of vegetable oils to the diet.
- Rice bran may also be fed to the horse.
A natural diet is always recommended though one can always opt for packaged food, available at local pet stores and on the internet. While choosing packaged food, the nutritional values must be studied carefully, and the best option should be chosen post consulting a doctor.
Like human beings, horses require basic nutrients to survive. The diet should be decided based on the breed, age, weight, height, and other physical conditions of the horse, upon the consultation of a doctor.