Maximum performance for any horse is only possible if the horse is provided with an adequate – not too little and not too much – properly balanced diet.
Amount of Roughage to Feed
Under ideal circumstances, a horse should consume no less than 50% of its daily intake in the form of roughage such as grass, hay, hay cubes, beet pulp, etc. A typical horse will require from 1 to 3% of its body weight in total amount of feed each day (pasture and hay plus supplemental grain, if any).
The Importance of Water in the Diet
Of the five basic nutrients (protein, energy, water, minerals, and vitamins), water is the most essential nutrient for the horse. Under ideal management conditions, horses should be provided with fresh, clean water comparable in quality to human drinking water at all times except immediately after exercise. Although the water intake rate is variable, on average, a horse will consume one gallon of water per 100 pounds of body weight. Water intake increases during hot, humid weather and decreases during cold, freezing conditions. The decrease in water intake under these conditions can result in an increased incidence of impaction colics; therefore, the horse should be provided with water that is neither frozen nor too cold. Horses prefer water temperatures that range between 45 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
General Water Recommendations
- Provide fresh, clean water free choice except to hot horses immediately following exercise. o Monitor water intake daily.
- Remove ice routinely during freezing conditions. o Increase the dry matter content of the diet prior to prolonged freezing periods to encourage additional water intake (feedstuffs such as wheat bran, salt, beet pulp, high mineral feeds, and mature, fibrous hay). Increase dry matter content of the diet prior to prolonged freezing periods to encourage additional water intake (feedstuffs such as wheat bran, salt, beet pulp, high mineral feeds, and mature, fibrous hay).
- Clean water buckets and watering systems daily.
- Test the water quality of new water sources (usually available through local health departments for a nominal fee).
- Salt should be supplied to all horses' diets all the time. In hot, humid weather, discussion with your veterinarian about electrolyte supplementation would be important.
Weight vs. Volume and How to Weigh Feed and Hay
Any roughage or grains fed to a horse should be fed by weight rather than by volume in order to unsure that the horse is receiving the appropriate daily nutrient requirements. For example, a coffee can of com, oats, or wheat bran is a good example of equivalent volumes that vary greatly in weight.