Last Updated on September 11, 2020 by Allison Price

Providing a balanced equine diet is one of the most crucial parts of horse ownership. Yet its complexity means it is often misunderstood or even overlooked. When feeding your horse, take its age , weight, work and growth into account to decide its diet.

In this article, we will share some helpful information. That can help you organize your horse’s diet.

Evaluating the Horse’s Physical Condition

Weight, Age, & Type of Horse

The first step in crafting a horse’s diet is horse weight assessment. Check whether the horse is at a healthy weight or too fat or too thin. Horse owners should acquaint themselves with the ideal body condition score. Based on Henneke Body Condition scoring system, the ideal body condition is between 4 to 6 and 9 are obese.

Horses should have moderate fat cover. Not all on it body parts but over the crest of the neck, behind the shoulders, over the ribs, and over the loin and tail head. You must feel the ribs but not seen. This will help you determine if the horse needs to gain or lose weight.

Next, you will need to know how much your horse weighs to calculate how much and what to feed him. You can take your horse to a facility that has a large scale such as a veterinary clinic or commercial farm. You will need to calculate his estimated weight using a weight tape.  Always remember that the formula depends on the age, type and condition of the horse. Whether if it is a young growing horse or a pony. A draft breed, lactating or pregnant, in heavy work, underweight, or overweight.

A lot of factors affect a horse’s energy and nutrient requirements. This includes the weight, age, climate, body condition, reproductive status and type. The amount of calories, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals varies too. It depends on those factors how much of those nutrients should a horse consume.

Proper Diet Starts with Forage

Forage is the basis of all feeding programs. This is a primary source of all the essential nutrients required by horses. Such as water, energy, protein, vitamins and minerals. Experts suggest that horses consume 1.5-2.5% of their body weight daily in forage. Keep your watch over their pasture intake as it is hard to limit how much they should consume. Unless you either restrict access to the pasture or use a grazing muzzles.

How much can a horse eat if he/she is out to pasture?

For every 1,000-pound horse in light work, they can consume 20 pounds or 1/3 of their daily intake. They can then eat the remaining two-thirds of that inside the stall. Offer as much as possible of this remaining amount as other forms of forage. Such as hay, and then only add grain if your horse needs it to meet his energy needs. 

Important Tips: If a horse is always on pasture,put supplemental hay or grain into their diet. This step applies to all returning horses to pasture in the spring as well as in the fall after a frost.

Feeding High-Quality Hay: Different types of Forage

Forage comes in many different types and physical forms. In general, forages are in two types:  Legumes & Grasses.


Legumes are plants such as alfalfa and clover. They are capable of fixing their own nitrogen. Thus they have higher protein content. Legumes also contain less fiber. More of that fiber is indigestible fiber compared to grasses. Legume forages are best for horses with elevated nutrient requirements. Such as broodmares and growing horses.


tilt-shift photography of horse

There are many different species of grasses made as meals to horses. The individual species of grass are further divided into two. One are those who grow well in colder climates. Such as ryegrass, orchard, timothy, and prairie. And the other one  that grow well in hotter climates. Such as bermuda, kikuyu and pangola. Grasses usually contain less protein and more fibre than legume forages. Grass forages are best to horses that gain weight without difficulty. This is because it has lower energy content.

Important Tips:

  • Forage which is hay at first and stored can be further processed into other physical forms.  These forms include pellets, cubes, or chaff.
  • The hay will mold while in storage if the moisture content is greater than 15%. Feeding moldy forage is never recommended with horses. This is because it can result in digestive upset (colic) or even death.

The following are some of the nutrients that your horse needs:

Water – Pasture requires large quantities of water. While preserved forages requires none as it needs to be dry during storage. This is to prevent the growth of molds. Some examples of these forages are hay, hay cubes, pellets and chaff.

Protein – In legumes such as alfalfa and clover, the protein content is higher. While it is lower in grasses (timothy or orchard).

Fat – Forage contains a small amount of fat which is high in omega 3 fatty-acids.

Fiber – Not all the fiber in forages is digestible. With an estimate of digestibility ranging from 40 to 50%. As hay becomes more mature, the fiber content increases and the digestibility decreases.

Minerals – Important minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, zinc, & selenium are present. The mineral content of forage is dependent on soil conditions.

Vitamins –Green forages have a higher vitamin content compared to weather-damaged forage.

Note: The supplements you mix into your horse’s grain every day might not seem to effect much. But it will have a surprising effect on the balance of micro-nutrients.  Thus, it’s important to capture the nutrients delivered in all supplements.

Other Feeding tips

brown pony eating grass

These helpful hints will help provide more nutrition for your horse.

  • Keep at least half of the ration as roughage, like hay or grass.
  • Do not feed moldy or dusty hay, grass & grain to your horse.
  • Do not feed lawns grass clippings to your horse.
  • Always have fresh, clean water available-except to a hot horse. You can give water to a hot horse little by little.
  • Keep food and water containers clean. Check and clean water buckets and tanks from time to time.
  • Watch your horse for odd eating or drinking habits. Also, check their feed containers every so often.
  • Check horse’s teeth every year for sharp points that interfere with chewing. Floating sharp edges of teeth will increase feed efficacy. If a horse dips his/her mouth into the water when chewing, it may have a sharp tooth. Tilting the head to one side when eating grain may also suggest a problem with the tooth.
  • Ration changes should be gradual. It should at least be five days to prevent digestive disturbances.
  • Proper exercise improves appetite, digestion, muscle tone and mental health for horses.
Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!