Main Courses for Horses

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New horse owners are often confused by the plethora of advice available on what to feed and when; and sometimes, following poor advice can result in an animal that appears below par or simply uninterested in life.

Like humans, horses share many physical and mental attributes, but it is one of the wonders of nature that every single horse is unique. So let’s look at a few basics that are common to all horses.

Their stomachs are relatively small; actually only about the third of the size of a human’s in proportion to their overall size. That means they need to eat lots of small meals, rather than a couple of large ones as we tend to consume.

Forage is probably the most important part of the diet, both mentally and physically. Horses need to chew, which seems to be a psychological necessity that acts to reduce stress; a horse without forage can soon start to show signs of distress, crib-biting and weaving. Forage also ferments in the gut, producing heat and essential for energy and temperature maintenance.

Chewing also encourages saliva which helps to protect the stomach from the acidity caused by some foods, particularly cereals. As horses can spend up to three quarters of their day eating it’s a good idea to provide a constant supply of forage; hay preferably unless it’s putting on weight, in which case mix in a good proportion of oat straw instead.

Succulents are important with their high water content, when available good grass is ideal but towards the end of summer and into the winter, supplementing with carrots and apples will help.

Deciding which cereals to feed the horse and in which proportions is where the uniqueness of your horse will provide the challenge and only good advice and trial and error will find the perfect balance. But whatever you choose, always ensure a feed of forage first – cereals go through the gut too quickly and the forage will slow it down, providing the maximum nutrition and preventing an imbalance of bacteria.

Food and care are going to be your biggest expenses and, while you can reduce vet bills with good equine insurance, there’s not much you can do about the cost of the food. But by following some basic guidelines you can make sure that the food you pay for is what the horse needs.

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