What food for the horse and how to provide the horse with its food ? There are many points to take into account, depending on whether the horse is in the field or not, whether it is growing or old, in his slippers or a racehorse. He will not have the same needs at all, and his dear herb, whether fresh or dry, may need to add food supplements. But beware, these must remain supplements, the horse is a herbivore at heart!
Fresh or dry grass (hay) is the staple food for the horse. It provides him with what he needs in energy (CFU or Horse Forage Units), in proteins (MADC or digestible nitrogenous matter for horse) and of course in minerals, vitamins and fibers.
It is considered that, when it is an adult, the horse needs 1.5 to 2 kg of dry matter per 100 kg of body weight (PV or Live Weight), therefore an adult horse of 500 kg at maintenance will consume about 12 kg of raw meadow hay composed of 85% dry matter.
This feed ration (grass or hay) will be supplemented, if necessary, with food supplements. Of course, with good quality forage, 100% of the horse’s needs are met. In any case, the proportion of fodder in the horse’s diet will not fall below 20%.
The horse in the meadow or in the paddock
The feed of a horse in the meadow can reach 50 to 100 kg per day of fresh grass , and he will first consume the grass that he likes the most, mostly grasses . Dividing the meadow into plots is therefore more than advisable, it will allow rotation and regrowth of the “good” grass in the plots at rest. This practice has another advantage: a horse will not necessarily feed according to its needs, for example in the spring when the grass is very fresh and rich. However, being overweight or taking carbohydrates too quickly can lead to laminitis, a very common disease in horses and the second leading cause of death.
Feeding horses in the meadow in winter is more difficult , grass is scarce and less nutritious. It is then that he is given hay, in addition to the grass that he grazes.
It is wise to place them at several points in the meadow when there are several horses, to avoid fights. Nets and racks limit waste, among other things.
A horse that returns at night can also receive hay in its shelter.
The horse in the box
Despite the outings in the paddock, the horse has a lot less grass to put under his teeth, so it is the hay that will constitute his staple food. Prefer meadow hay , made up of real cellulose, rather than straw also made up of lignin, which the horse will not digest.
You will pay attention to the dust content of the hay. These fine particles can, in the long run, chronically irritate the respiratory tract of the animal, because the horse blows on its food. Humidification can be a solution.
A horse which grazes little or nothing will need food supplements in addition to the forage it absorbs, they are more often called “concentrated feed”, or simply “concentrated”. These foods, rich in carbohydrates, will however only be given when the horse needs them, it is important to favor a diet with a low glycemic index for any horse which does not have to perform intensive work over a short period of time.
They are mainly composed of cereals with added oilseeds and protein crops, so as to meet general or more specific needs. The feed may contain “long-stranded” forage plants, which will prevent the horse from swallowing the supplement too quickly and will make it salivate. These fibers are very important for the transit of the horse when its forage ration is reduced. Flaked foods, such as barley or corn flakes, are very digestible due to the particular cooking of the starch, so they offer a good energy / quantity ratio.
Watch out for barley, which is very high in starch. This cereal will not exceed 400 g per 100 kg of health.
Namely : the ration is calculated in dry matter, that is to say that it is necessary to take into account the moisture content of the food. An example to obtain approximately between 7 and 8 kg of dry matter for a 500 kg horse: 3 L of granules at 89% dry matter at a rate of 650 g / L (i.e. 3 x 0.650 x 0 , 89 = 1.73 kg) plus 7 kg of hay at 90% dry matter (i.e. 7 x 0.90 = 6.30 kg).
The maintenance horse
The ration of a maintenance horse, not very active , must consist, for a good balance, of 80 to 100% fodder, and must therefore not exceed 20% concentrates.
Low-active horse feed has a limited starch intake to prevent weight gain, while containing enough minerals, trace elements and vitamins to prevent deficiencies and antioxidants to strengthen the immune system. Fiber can be added for good digestibility.
For horses a little more active, without being very athletic, you will turn to foods a little richer in fast carbohydrates.
The broodmare and the foal
The ration of a brood mare at the start of gestation or a foal under 12 months of age with low growth must consist, for a good balance, of 80 to 100% fodder, and therefore must not exceed 20% concentrates .
For a brood mare at the end of gestation or a foal less than 12 months old who grows quickly, the ration will consist of 50 to 60% of fodder, and will not exceed 40% of concentrates.
The foal does not yet have a mature digestive tract, so it does not yet have the capacity to ingest adult forage.
Specific feeds for young horses and mares during gestation or lactation provide the micronutrients necessary for good development, and their protein and calcium levels are well balanced. They include in particular lysine and methionine thanks to good proteins.
They are enriched with antioxidants and omega 3, important for a good immune system. As they promote fertility, they can often be given to horses during the period of mounting.
The sport horse
The diet of the sport horse takes into account its specific needs for a very energy supply to meet intense efforts over a short period of time.
The ration of an active horse must consist of 50 to 60% fodder, and therefore 30 to 50% concentrates. And for a horse that does intensive work or for a foal over 12 months old, you will provide 30 to 40% forage and 60 to 70% concentrates.
The most active horse feeds are high in energy, high in fiber and fat and low in starch, they also offer good muscle protection. The digestibility of these nutrients can be favored by the presence of yeasts, prebiotics and pectin.
The senior horse
The diet of a senior horse is made to limit the frequent health inconveniences : more difficult ingestion and digestion, loss of appetite, more fragile health, loss of condition… The hay becomes difficult to chew, which makes it difficult to chew. ‘so much less digestible, just like the grass. However, it is still advisable to let the horse graze as much as possible, but the supplements will ensure a large part of its nutrition: good quality proteins prevent muscle wasting, a large supply of minerals, trace elements and vitamins, limit demineralization. The food should be palatable and easy to eat.
How to distribute the horse’s feed?
Although the nutrient intake can in part be provided by supplements given in large quantities, the time of ingestion is very important for the horse, as well as the amount of fiber absorbed.
A horse in its natural element, the meadow, will spend an average of 16 hours per day eating grass, time divided into 3 to 5 long meals during the day but also at night.
Hay can be given to the horse at will . This makes it possible to respect this ingestion time (a minimum of 10 hours per day), as much so that the horse does not get bored as for problems of digestion, and of health in general (the horse is physiologically not made to stay on an empty stomach). One of the risks is the development of ulcers, a common problem in horses.
This continuous chewing is also important for the horse’s teeth, which grow continuously, with the fibers used to wear down the teeth.
The ingestion time is also important for the well-being of the horse. Continuous ingestion will in fact prevent stress and the symptoms that accompany it (stereotypies). These are in fact behavioral tics, repetitive movements for no reason. These tics are very numerous: tongue movements, lip smacking, movement tics …
Tip : Knowing that 1 kg of hay is ingested in about 40 minutes, an adult horse weighing 500 kg will eat about 10 to 15 kg of hay to get through the day. To limit the amount ingested without limiting the ingestion time, hay can be given in so-called “slowfeeders”, racks or nets, among others, which slow down the ingestion. The hay net makes it possible to double the ingestion time compared to hay distributed on the ground. On the other hand, it is necessary that the stitches are not too small, to avoid a feeling of frustration, and that the net is well held and positioned so that the horse maintains a natural position.
The hay can also be given in 2 to 3 times , to avoid waste, rations distributed in a balanced way during the day and at night so that the horse keeps its usual way of consuming. It is advisable to give half the forage in the evening, since the horse also feeds at night.
The food is distributed on the ground, the position of the horse is thus more natural (it is thus that it feeds in meadow, head lowered on a rather short grass while moving).
The daily ration of concentrates is generally divided into 2 or even 3 meals , it is important that the meals are well distributed for a smaller volume at the same time in the intestines. The concentrates are preferably given after the hay, so that the nutrients they provide are privileged. The hay / concentrate mixture allows a good balance of nutrients during the day, and the presence of cellulose at each ingestion promotes good digestion. You can even mix forage into the concentrate ration.
A working horse will be fed according to its working hours , so that digestion is not disturbed by physical efforts. The concentrates are therefore given at least 2 hours before work, or even 5 to 6 hours in the case of intense work such as racing. On the other hand, you can leave hay at his disposal, although in small quantities, up to 1 hour before work, to avoid an increase in the acidity rate in the stomach caused by not ingesting for a time. long.
Respecting eating habits is particularly important when you have a horse. This one, at least in its natural state, spends almost 70% of its time eating. The physiology of his organism but also his psychic state are considerably influenced by this duration of ingestion. Although it is of course possible to modify this mode of feeding, keeping the main markers of it is the best way for a happy and healthy horse!