Most people like to feed their animals. You also? After all, our horses are always hungry and are happy to receive any food or treat. But is that also a good thing? What exactly do our horses need? We explain to you what the ideal horse feeding looks like and which additional feed you should give your horse.
It’s true: horses are always hungry. This is because your digestive system is geared towards constant food intake. Your stomach has only a small capacity (15-20 liters) and can only take in small amounts of food. The intestines of our horses, on the other hand, are long – the appendix alone measures around 70 centimeters – and can ideally digest small amounts of fiber-rich feed.
Horses should chew on their food for as long as possible, this is ideal for their stomach and intestines. Long periods of time without food lead to stomach problems such as gastric ulcers. Horses don’t chew on oats or pellets that long: they need around ten minutes for one liter of oats, and twice as long for the same amount of average muesli. The eating times for hay and straw are given as one hour per kilo, so they are ideal. Although some candidates are sure to be faster, which is why hay nets, for example, have proven themselves to extend the eating times. Roughage must therefore never be replaced by too much-concentrated feed and is the condition for a healthy horse.
Calories Count When Feeding Horses
What sounds silly because you only know it from diets for people to lose weight is actually important for horses too. When feeding horses, attention should actually be paid to the calorie intake. Horses do need sufficient roughage, but in order to be supplied with sufficient energy for the required performance or growth, many horses still need concentrated feed such as oats, barley, or muesli. The energy content, which is given in megajoules, must be stated on feed packages for horse feed. In addition, the content of digestible crude protein is found there in grams. As a rough rule of thumb, two grams of protein per kilogram of body weight are the upper limit: that is, a horse weighing 500 kilograms should not get more than 1000 grams of protein.
Horse Feeding: Always Needs-based
How much energy a horse really needs depends of course on age, breed, and work performance. In general, growing horses and ponies or pregnant mares or mares with foals need more feed than fully grown horses. In the case of retired horses, the demand then often increases again. The breed also plays a role: a thoroughbred horse often has a higher energy requirement than a fjord horse.
But the actual work performance is particularly important: a 400 kg riding pony without work needs only about 54 megajoules and about 268 g digestible crude protein, with light work about 54-67 megajoules and about 270-335 g digestible crude protein and with hard work about 81 -107 megajoules and about 405-535 g of digestible crude protein.
A warm-blooded animal weighing 600 kg needs only about 73 megajoules and about 363 g digestible crude protein without work, about 73-91 megajoules and about 365-455 g digestible crude protein with light work and about 109-1467 megajoules and about 545-725 g with hard work digestible crude protein.
When assessing work performance, it is easy to misjudge yourself: Only difficult jumping tests, long, persistent cross-country rides, distance rides, etc. count as hard work. Most recreational horses do light work, which is about a relaxed one-hour ride.
Vitamins and Minerals
You know for sure that vitamins and minerals are part of a healthy diet. Of course, this also applies to our horses. Calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, and chlorine are important for keeping horses healthy and are not sufficiently available when they are fed hay and oats alone. Calcium deficiency leads to the deformation of bones in young horses, for example, potassium leads to muscle weakness and magnesium can lead to tremors in muscles and jitteriness. Sodium deficiency is not uncommon, the horses show different symptoms such as loss of appetite, eating soil, and poor circulation. Sodium and chlorine deficiencies can be prevented with a simple salt lick. Calcium is found in alfalfa hay and green fodder, whereas phosphorus is found in oats and barley – which is why most horses tend to get too much phosphorus.
The need for minerals as well as the need for trace elements depends on the work performance of your horse and of course on size and weight. The trace elements include iron, copper, zinc, manganese, cobalt, iodine, and selenium. These trace elements must not be added to the feed at will. An excess of iron, which is required for blood formation, for example, hinders the utilization of phosphorus. Copper is required for nerves, blood, pigment, and connective tissue formation. Excretion of excess can also damage the liver. Zinc is not only needed for skin, mucous membranes, and hooves, but also for metabolism. Manganese is important for the mineral and fat metabolism and horses are usually just as adequately supplied with it as with cobalt. Iodine is part of the thyroid hormones and must not be given in an uncontrolled manner. The natural supply depends on the region: near the North Sea, the soils and thus the green plants contain sufficient iodine; near the Alps, it can be too little. The selenium supply also depends on the selenium content in the soil. An undersupply weakens the immune defense, but an oversupply is also risky: chronic selenium poisoning is possible.
It is not always possible to really estimate how your horse will be cared for: Before giving additional feed to the horse, you should always ask the veterinarian, who can use a blood count to clarify exactly what your horse really needs!