The How and When of Feeding Horses: A Guide on Equine Feeding Management

Feeding Horses

For normal growth, reproduction, and performance, horses must get proper nourishment. Healthy horse treats for horses should have the necessary nutrients in an amount that is both sufficient and moderate. To ensure that horses are receiving the best nutrition possible, the correct feeds hoof pick with brush alone are frequently insufficient. Perhaps even more significant than what a horse eats is HOW and WHEN they are fed. The sort of feeding system employed is included in the HOW of horse feeding (group or individual). The number and timing of meals a horse receives are included in the WHEN of horse feeding. Effective feeding management should promote sufficient feed consumption and reduce waste. Additionally, effective feeding management ought to enhance the security and wellbeing of horses.

Size & Frequency of Meals

Horses are grazing animals in their natural condition and can spend up to 60% of their time feeding. So that grazing intervals are rarely separated by longer than two or three hours of non-eating behaviors, grazing and resting periods are interleaved. Most domestic horses will follow the grazing pattern indicated for horses in their native condition when housed in a real pasture environment. Many horses, however, don’t have a lot of access to pasture, so they must rely on hay and concentrates in a more structured setting to meet their nutritional demands.

Horses in pasture settings might graze for 12–14 hours every day. A typical hay and concentrate diet may take stalled horses two to four hours to finish. More time will be spent eating when stalled horses are fed diets high in roughage as opposed to diets high in concentrates. Horses in stalls frequently consume less food than horses on pastures, which may lead to their being more likely to engage in undesirable habits like chewing on wood or other stall vices. When stabled horses are fed low roughage rations, the tendency to chew wood seems to rise at night and during the day.

Instead of consuming big amounts of feed just once or twice a day, horses have evolved to eat little amounts of grain numerous times throughout the day. Due to their comparatively small stomachs, their digestive system is anatomically suited to small meals. It is usual for feed to be given to many horses kept in stalls only twice (or occasionally three) a day, despite the fact that the horse is physiologically more accustomed to several tiny meals throughout the day. Although this method of feeding may be labor-effective, it may not be the horse’s ideal setting, especially if significant amounts of concentrate are being fed. Horses fed twice a day may have the following conditions:

  1. The horse may quickly take the grain when a high amount of concentrate is provided before the roughage component of the diet and then have a decreased appetite for the hay. The hay may be “picked” at by the horse or wasted by being mixed with the bedding. In either scenario, the horse won’t be getting the nutrients from the hay.
  2. The likelihood of digestive issues may increase with a high and sudden concentrate intake. “Concentrates” are feeds that contain concentrated sources of energy, such as cereal grains (oats, maize, barley, etc.) and commercially prepared mixed feeds. Concentrates include a lot of starch. A mature horse should only receive 3.5 to 4 pounds of starch in a single meal, according to estimates (1000 lb horse). Starch may escape the small intestine and enter the large intestine when higher levels of food are consumed. There, it will be fermented by bacteria in the cecum and large intestine. The occurrence of colic in horses has been linked to an excessive intake of concentrates. High changes in plasma volume and other cardiovascular indicators have also been linked to a large concentrate meal.

Group Meals

Groups of horses will be kept together in pastures, paddocks, or drylots. Horses are herd animals in their natural state, making life in a group rather normal from a behavioral perspective. Feeding control is easier when mature horses have access to enough pasture, water, and a salt block.

However, for growing horses and lactating mares, pasture alone is frequently insufficient. Additionally, the majority of horses kept on pasture will need extra food during the winter. All of the horses in the group will compete for this feed if it is offered in the pasture. Group feedings are especially common for horses housed in drylot settings (paddocks with little to no grass). Due to its labor-saving benefits and lack of need for individual stalls for the horses, group feeding is frequently used.

Personalized Feeding

Every horse can receive a diet that has been specially created to satisfy its demands, which is a significant benefit of individual feeding systems. There is the most freedom in the quantity and kinds of

feeds that each horse is eligible to get. The ability to keep an eye on each horse’s appetite and feeding

behavior after being fed separately. Individual feeding typically decreases the chancefor harm brought on by a group’s feeding conflict. On the down side, feeding horses individually takes more time and effort than feeding them collectively. Additionally, separate facilities where horses can be separated are typically needed for independent feeding systems, typically a barn with stalls. The horses may stay in the stall for an extended period of time or may only be brought in for meals. When horses are fed in stalls, it is usual for them to exhibit unwanted habits. For instance, in preparation for eating, horses may kick at stall walls, pace the area, or strike at the entrance.


Horse feeding habit may also be influenced by stall architecture and feeder placement. Although it is labor-efficient to place feeders on either side of stall dividers, doing so may lead to an increase in undesired eating behavior, such as kicking. Intimidating horses shouldn’t be able to reach into neighboring stalls through the stall partitions, which should be high enough. Some horses find it difficult to adjust to being isolated or separated from other horses. Stalls that permit visual communication across a stable aisle might enhance thein reaction to each person’s eating. Visual interaction with other horsesaids animals with low appetitesencourage their eating behavior.