The Basics of Horse Nutrition

Spending most of their day roaming fields and grazing pastures, horses are non-ruminant, hind-gut fermenters that have evolved as grazers. Some horses are easier to feed and being let out on pasture can naturally meet their nutritional requirements. Unfortunately, not all horses have access to pasture and may require special attention when it comes to feed. Today we will discuss the basics of horse nutrition and go over the types of feeds available to horse owners.

Special Considerations for Horses

Understanding a horse’s basic anatomy can help you prevent several digestive issues. Horses have extremely small stomachs. In fact, a 1,000 lb. horse can only fit approximately 2-4 gallons of food max. Due to their small stomachs, horses must be fed in small quantities throughout the day. If a horse is to overeat, it can be dangerous as horses are unable to regurgitate. Horses are also unique because they do not have gallbladders, making fatty diets hard for them to digest.  

Feed Amounts

The best rule of thumb in feeding your horse is to feed them 1.5-2% of their body weight. This means if your horse weighs 1,000 lbs. you would be feeding 15-20 lbs. of food per day. The bulk of their feed should be forages. Forages should be the base of your feed with concentrates added on an as needed basis.

Concentrates, or cereal grains, should only make up a small percentage of their total feed. No more than .5% of the horse body weight is recommended. High amounts of cereal grains can not only cause your horse to become overweight quickly, but also cause major imbalances to the horse’s microbiota, killing off beneficial bacteria in the gut.

Water is essential for horses. Generally, horses will drink about 10-12 gallons daily. Temperature and the activity level of your horse may require you to offer more water. Be sure that they always have access to clean water. 

Types of Feed


As previously stated, forages are the bulk of your horse’s feed. Depending on where you keep your horse and what you have available forages can be found as either pasture or hay. Horses need good quality hay or pasture since it not only makes up most of their food, but also where most of their nutrients come from.


Hay can be purchased in several ways. Hay bales are the most common and depending on the number of horses you are feeding, can be found in various sizes. Common hays used for hoses are alfalfa, timothy, and orchard.

Color is very important when it comes to hay and is the easiest way to determine quality. Good quality hay with high nutrient content is bright green, leafy and has a pleasant smell. Hay needs to be stored hay in dry places. If hay is exposed to moisture, it runs the risk of becoming moldy.


A good pasture is an easy and economical way to feed your horse. However, to be sure your horses are getting enough nutrients, it is very important that you keep up with its maintenance. Our previous blog “Everything You Need To Know About Keeping Your Horse on Pasture”  offers tips on maintaining lush and healthy pastures for your horses.


Cereal grains such as oats, corn and barley are also known as concentrates. Concentrates tend to be low in fiber, and high in energy. In horses that are being worked or exercised heavily, concentrates should always be included in their feed to help meet their energy requirements. Feeding small amounts of concentrates throughout the day is recommended as they can fall heavy on the horse’s stomach.

Commercial Feed

Commercial feeds, or complete feeds, are premixed feed that is already balanced to meet your horse’s nutrient requirements. Complete feeds are typically composed of concentrates, forage or high fiber products, and supplements. They can be found in pellet form or puffed. There are various formulas available that can fit your horses’ specific needs. Keep in mind, although this type of feed takes away the hassle of creating your own ration for your horse it is also more expensive.


Vitamins, minerals, and protein supplements can be added to a horse’s diet to increase its nutrient concentration. Minerals that are normally concern when feeding your horses are calcium, phosphorus, and salt. Ensure your horses diet meets a calcium to phosphorus ration of 2:1. Providing a free choice salt will allow our horse to regulate its own salt intake. If your horses are grazing on pasture, it is important to take a soil sample to determine if there are any deficiencies in your area. Some geographical locations may have zinc, selenium, or copper deficiencies. If this is the case for your pasture supplementation of these minerals may be needed.

Body Condition Score

The easiest way to assess if your hose is eating enough or too much is to look at its body condition score. This method will allow you to identify if you need to adjust your feed ration, it is also a good indicator of overall animal health. Iowa State University has an easy body condition score chart to follow and determine your horse’s health.


Whichever route of feeding your horses you choose, as long as they are well maintained and fed you are sure to have happy and healthy horses. Regardless of the type of feed you choose to give your horse, there are a few things to remember when feeding. If you need to switch your horses feed for any reason, be sure to do it gradually. Cutting horses off from the feed they are used to and switching to a completely new feed can cause an upset stomach. Also be sure to maintain a proper exercise routine improves digestion, appetite, and mental health for your horse.

Finally, stay up to date with our blog for tips and guides to answer all of your equine needs. If you have any questions, please reach out to us on Facebook or Instagram.

Popular posts

  1. Microbial Biostimulants
  2. Let's Talk About Hydroponics
  3. A Crash Course on Biofertilizers
  4. Prioritizing Consumer Health with Efficient Biopesticides
  5. What Materials Do You Need to Start Raising Backyard Chickens?