Horse Feeding

Careful, thoughtful feeding is a most important part of stable management, particularly for the competition horse who is subjected to a good deal of unnatural strain.

To feed the horse efficiently and economically it is necessary to know something about his natural feeding habit and requirements. In his natural state, he would spend his life grazing on grassy plains, feeding for most of the day. Because the horse’s digestive system is designed to take in and process great quantities of cellulose on a fairly constant basis he has developed a small stomach for his overall size which can cope with the continuous provision of small amounts but not with large feeds and long intervals in between them.

This gives rise to the necessity to offer horses small feeds at frequent intervals. Three feeds a daycare are acceptable but four or five are better. Horses are creatures of habit and do best if they are fed regularly and at the same time each day. Only the very best forage should be used. It is false economy to buy inferior food as this can cause colic, which is distressing, painful, and sometimes fatal.

To obtain the maximum value from his food the horse should be watered before he is fed, otherwise, his digestion mayhem impaired, and some of the food value is wasted. A period of at least one hour, better two, should be allowed to elapse after he has been fed before he is worked or exercised. This allows him to digest his food properly and reduces the risk of colic. Horses, like humans, appreciate some variety in their diet and should be fed something succulent every day.

The amount and type of food that the horse requires depend on on his size, type, stage of training, and the work that he is required to do. If, for any reason, a change is made in the diet it should be made gradually, as abrupt changes can be harmful.

As a very broad guide, a horse requires 2.5 percent of his body weight in food per day. Therefore a horse weighing 455kg(1,00(l1b) will require about 11 kg (251b) of food daily. As a general rule, half of this should be roughage (hay, bran, etc) and half concentrates, (oats, barley, etc). The horse in hard work will require more concentration and less bulk. The horse in light work will do best on fewer concentrates and more bulk.

To assess the weight of a horse, if it is not possible to weigh him, this formula will give a reasonably accurate guide:

Girth’ x length/300 = Total weight in pound

The girth measurement is taken around the barrel in inches. The length is from the elbow to the point of the buttock in inches. These are comprehensive rules and must be intelligently applied to each horse to ensure that he is fed the right type of food in the correct amount.

To ensure efficient and economical management, the reasons for feeding the horse should be clearly understood. Food is required to: provide energy; provide for growth in young animals; replace body tissue broken down by daily wear and tear; maintain the body temperature. If each of these requirements is fulfilled the result should be a well-fed, economically maintained horse.

Some horses require more energy-giving foods than others. Young horses need protein to ensure healthy growth; horses working long hours every day require rations to maintain them in that work; those working once or twice a week require less.

Up to 30 percent of the horse’s food goes to maintain body temperature. In cold weather, those out on grass may need an increase in rations. Stabled horses may need less food if their rugs are well-fitted, the beds are well laid and draughts are excluded. Horses in work are usually given one rest day a week, maybe after hunting or some other strenuous event. They will almost certainly be led out in hand for twenty to thirty minutes to stretch their legs and, where conditions permit, possibly turned out to grass for an hour or so in a New Zealand rug, depending on the weather.

Feeds on rest days, or any other period of enforced rest, must be adjusted to suit the circumstances. The rest day is a good time to feed a bran mash, but in any case, it is essential to cut down on the concentrate part of the diet when the horse is off work and to increase the roughage element. Failure to do this may cause a very serious condition called Agoura on return to work. This condition, sometimes known as ‘set-fast’ or ‘tying up’, is muscle and blood vessel paralysis caused by exercising a horse after a period of rest during which a full concentrate ration has been fed.

See more: Horse Marking

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