The horse is a herbivore, meaning that it feeds exclusively on plant food.
This can be clearly seen in natural conditions when horses nibble on grass for about 20 hours a day. Since horses’ stomachs are small, they eat frequently but in small portions. Outside of nature, however, racehorses have lost the ability to have constant access to grass and are all the more in need of extra energy to work. Let’s talk about efficient feeding and how horses eat, what they eat, and how much, right now.
What do horses eat?
About twenty years ago, no one would have thought that horses could be fed anything other than hay, oats, and grass. Today, however, it is an entire developed industry. Horse feeding has become the activity of many scientists in dozens of laboratories around the world. It is safe to say that it is now a whole complex science that requires a particular approach.
Like humans, horses have an individual character, body peculiarity, constitution, and therefore the necessary amount of food. Feed for horses should provide the body with all the necessary nutrients and depend on the purpose of using the animal. For the most part, the diet of domestic animals consists of roughage and concentrates. But the diet of a wild horse is quite different. But let’s talk about everything in order.
Horses eating in the wild
So, what does a horse eat in the wild? The answer is obvious – grass and various vegetation. Wild horses have to make do with such food year-round. Only during the warm season, their diet consists of fresh, juicy grass, and in winter it consists of dry and frozen grass. As you can see, this is quite enough for free horses to exist perfectly.
The diet and forage of horses differ from region to region and depend on the area. In more inhospitable climatic conditions, wild horses may eat small twigs of bushes and even gnaw on tree bark. In southern latitudes, on the other hand, animals are adapted to softer, succulent grass. In steppe regions, horses eat tall grasses and plants with dense stems.
Horse eating in the home
In the process of domestication and the use of horses for work, humans had to feed their animals properly and more carefully. After all, they practically worked all day long: plowing, driving, fighting, hauling loads, and more. Now grass and hay were not enough for a horse to perform its service properly. The horses’ diet began to include grain and various flour products to sustain the animals’ energy. A little later, with the development of equestrian sport, even more, concentrated, the nutritious feed was required, in the form of bran, compound feed, and all kinds of vitamin premixes.
The diet of racehorses depends on many factors. Here zootechnicians take into account the sex of the animal, and age, and the direction of work, health, time of year, constitution, breed, and more. During training and trials, the feed can change every day. Therefore, there is no perfect diet. It is more correct to say that it is individual but necessarily balanced.
At home, animals eat grain, hay, grass, root vegetables, concentrated feed, bran, vitamin supplements. This is the basis of any healthy horse’s diet. But when and what our modern racehorses eat, let’s talk in more detail.
How and what do I feed my horses?
As we have said before, for horses, feed and its amount depends on the use and work of the animal. So now we will only give an average of what and how much an average domestic horse eats. For example, a horse weighing 450-500 kilograms per day will need about 6 kilograms of oats, 7-10 kilograms of hay, up to 6 kilograms of root vegetables (beets or carrots), about 2 kg of bran. That’s in addition to fresh grass in summer during grazing and additional dainties in the form of apples, cabbage, or croutons. The menu should also be varied with special vitamin supplements depending on the sex and age of the animal.
Horses should be fed at specific times depending on the schedule and regime of the day in small portions. The most correct routine is based on feeding three times a day, for example in the morning after sleep, at lunchtime, and in the evening. In addition, there should always be fresh hay in the manger and salt-licker in a separate container. In summer, in their free time, the animals are let out to pasture.
Structure of the horse’s ration
Zootechnicians conditionally divide all feed for horses into two large groups: bulky – grass, hay, straw, and concentrated – grain and grain products. However, each of these groups is divided into even smaller ones. For example, bulk feeds are divided into coarse – hay and straw, and succulent – grass, haylage. Concentrates are divided into grains, root crops, and other additives such as bran. The most basic difference between all these feeds is the nutritional and energy value.
When it comes to how to feed properly, it all depends on the work. A horse that works hard should get a lot of concentrates, but animals on light work don’t need a lot of them. However, it is important to note that from a physiological point of view, the first group of feeds is more important for horse health than the second. The share of bulk feed should be 60 to 80% of the daily norm. But the number of concentrates should not exceed 40%.