Equine Nutrition 101

Equine Nutrition 101

Do you get confused with the nutritional facts on your horse grain? You want to make sure your horse is getting all the nutrients they need; why does it have to be so hard? We’ve broken down the essential elements of feeding your horse, so the next trip to the feed store isn’t so overwhelming. Also, if you have questions or concerns about your horse’s health and nutritional needs, we recommend contacting your veterinarian. 

Basic Nutrients for Horses

A proper diet can help your horse live a long, healthy life. Nutrition can reduce the risk of common health issues, including colic, ulcers, hoof problems, and hormone imbalances. Here are the basic guidelines for your horse’s diet. Remember that equine athletes, pregnant and lactating mares, and breeding stallions will need additional calories and dietary support compared to a pasture pet or leisure horse.

Carbohydrates

Think of carbohydrates as the foundation of your horse’s diet. Carbohydrates give your horse energy, maintain healthy microbial function, and support the immune system. They are in green grass and hay. Carbs are also in the sugar and starches in many grains. If you are feeding grain, look for a grain high in digestive fiber and low in sugar and starches. Corn should be avoided for horses as it has very high starch levels. 

Protein

Composed of amino acids, protein helps with growth. This includes hair, hooves, and muscle development. Horses can only synthesize a small amount of protein, so they need it added to their diet. Lysine deficiency is common in horses because it is the first protein the horse uses up. 

Vitamins

Vitamins A, D, E, K, and B complexes are in green forage and supplements. Sun exposure produces Vitamin D, so horses on stall rest may need this supplement added to their feed. 

Minerals

Minerals help maintain health and keep fluids in balance. They also support nerve responses and muscle contraction. Horses need calcium, phosphorus, sodium, chloride, magnesium, and sulfur daily. Providing a salt lick will provide sodium chloride for your horse. We also recommend a trace mineral lick for cobalt, copper, zinc, selenium, iron, and iodine.

Hay Analysis

Knowing what nutrients your horse needs is helpful, but how do you ensure they get the proper amounts? Hay analysis testing gives the complete nutritional panel for your batch of hay. Many animal labs will complete hay analysis testing for a minimal cost. Pull samples from multiple bales from the same load when you send hay for testing. The results will give you a better view of the hay quality and nutritional value. Remember, each load of hay can have a slightly different nutritional value, even when pulled from the same field.

Purchasing the Right Grain

Once you know the nutrients your horse will receive in their hay; you can make a better decision on your grain purchase. Look for high-quality grain with ingredients like beet pulp, which has a higher carbohydrate level. Grain is one area where you should consider investing a bit more. Higher-quality grain is more nutrient-dense, so you will likely need to feed less to provide the proper nutrition for your horse.