For the novice horse owner trying to decide on a balanced diet can be a daunting task. When buying a new horse ALWAYS ask the last owner what the horse is being fed now. Any changes you want to make to the diet must be done slowly over a period of weeks.
In the wild horses graze a wide variety of grasses and herbs. Unfortunately a stable kept horse will not have access to the large varieties of grasses that it would find in the wild, therefore it is up to the owner to provide a balanced diet.
The largest part of the horses diet should be made up of hay. A horses stomach cannot function properly unless it is at least a third full so horses need access to grass or hay throughout the day and night. Always buy the best quality hay available and if possible take one bale home to try before buying a large order. The quality of hay varies enormously depending on where its grown and the weather conditions each year. I would advice everyone to buy a weight tape and monitor your horses weight at least once a month. There is a very basic equation to work out how much to feed your horse.
For ponies, add 4lb of food to the height of your pony. ie a twelve hand bony would be fed 16lb of food per day(12 plus 4). Now you have to work out how much of that 16lb of food should be fed as hay. Ponies do not require much short fed as they tend to be hardy, but you will need to increase the short feed if the pony is in hard work. Below are two examples for feeding the same size pony who are doing different amounts of work.
A 12hh pony who hack out three times a week.
The total daily ration will be 16lbs of food. This will be made up of 15lbs of hay and 1lb of short feed. The short feed will be low energy mix and carrots.
A 12hh pony who hunts and pony clubs regularly.
16lbs of food daily. But the pony will now receive 12lbs of hay and 4lbs of food. The short feed will be made up of chaff, course mix and carrots and will be split between two feeds.
Obviously these are only rough examples and all ponies are different. This example is just to show you how to calculate the daily amount and how to feed in accordance with the work required.
When we are talking about horses, you double the number of hands. ie a 15 hh horse will require roughly 28-30 lbs of food per day. Again this is only a rough guide and will vary from breed to breed.
So a 15hh horse in light work will receive 30lbs of feed per day. This will be made up of 24lbs of hay, split into two meals, and 6lbs of short feed. The short feed will be made up of chaff and mix, an will be split into two meals.
As the amount of work increases so the ratio of short feed and hay will change but YOU MUST NEVER exceed more than 1/4 short feed to 3/4 hay.
This is a huge subject that could require a whole book on the subject. Today we are lucky to have a wide variety of feeds available, from mixes to nuts to straight feeds. Always feed according to the amount of work your horse is doing. Read the labels to check the protein levels on the bags.
These are one of the best feeds for the novice owner. They have a balanced amount of ingredients and vitamins. Below is a list of some of the different varieties available;
Cool mix, for a horse a rest or one that needs a low protein intake.
Pasture mix, a general mix for horses in light work.
Stud mix, specially designed for breeding mares nd stallions.
Race horse mix, a high protein content, not suitable for the average hacking horse.
Event mix, a slow release mix, giving higher levels of energy.
These come in the same varieties as mixes and also have a balanced feed level. They are a little boring for the horse to eat though.
This is chopped straws. It is designed to make the horse chew his food and keep the food in the gut longer, therefore allowing more goodness to be taken from the food.
Molichaff is just chaff with added molasses. Molasses is like treacle and you should be careful not to feed this with other sugar based foods(ie sugar beet). Too much sugar can damage the horses kidney's.
Sugarbeet is a bulk food. It pads out the food and also adds a sugary taste to encourage fussy eaters. It comes in three forms, all must be soaked before use. Sugar beet cubes, must be soaked in water for up to 24 hours before feeding. Make sure it is clearly labeled so no one mistakes them for normal pony nuts.
Shredded sugar beet. This requires soaking for up to twelve hours.
Speedibeet. This is the newest version available and only requires soaking for fifteen minutes. Before feeding any sugar beet, feel it with your fingers t make sure it has absorbed all the water and is soft to touch.
This is a straight feed. It is high is carbohydrates and so is used to put weight on the horse or to raise the energy levels. Feed carefully as it can heat your horse up. It comes in several varieties, Whole( which needs boiling) Crushed, flaked and extruded. Extruded barley has been through the cooking process and so is easier to digest for the horse, allowing more of the carbohydrates to be absorbed.
This is cooked corn. It is high in carbohydrates and is used to put weight on the horse. It also has a high oil content and will put a shine on your horses coat. Only to be feed to horses in hard work or slowly to gain weight.
Only fed to race horses or horses in very hard work. They can over heat the horse causing flighty behaviour.
Several types are available. It is chopped dried grass an can be used to replace part of the hay ration. Useful in winter when grazing is difficult.