Basic Principles of Horse Nutrition

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It goes without saying that good nutrition gives your horse the foundation to be healthy and happy, and will help you both to enjoy your rides and perform optimally. Of course, there is no “one size fits all” plan. While each horse’s nutritional needs depend on its individual lifestyle, the foundation of every horse’s diet should consist of forage or plants. Some horses may need additional feed such as pelleted grain, or supplements to help with any deficiencies. 

Horse Feeding Tips 

Horse Feeding Schedules 

It’s critical to feed horses regularly, at least twice a day on a schedule as they enjoy a predictable routine.

Many horses benefit from 3 or more feeds, spread out throughout the day. This is better for their digestive tract and can help prevent gastric complications and stomach ulcers from forming. 

If you need to change or introduce anything new to your horse’s diet, gradually introduce the new food over 5-7 days to help prevent digestive upsets and colic.

Types of Horse Feeds 

Your horse’s essential daily nutrition can come from a variety of feed sources. Often, horses are provided with a combination of the following feed sources for optimum health:


Hay is a type of forage and should make up most of a horse’s diet and can consist of grass including orchard grass or can be from a crop such as alfalfa. Alfalfa hay is generally best for horses where the calorie need is high, such as for lactating mares or competitors. Grass hay is great for easy keepers or horses with a more sedentary lifestyle. 

Did you know?

The most valuable hay nutrients come from the leaves.


A well-managed pasture can provide an excellent source of energy, protein, vitamin, and mineral needs for horses along with the benefits of reduced feed costs.

It is important that a pasture isn’t too lush or too long as this type of grass can cause complications such as laminitis, so it is critical to ensure the length is ideal for grazing. Good grazing can also provide horses with essential daily exercise as they move through the pasture. 


Concentrates are small grains such as corn, oats and barley. These are generally lower in fibre and higher in energy compared to pasture or hay.

Grain quality is just as important as hay and pasture quality. Oats tend to be the safest and easiest grain to feed in conjunction with hay as it is high in fibre, low in energy, and higher in protein when compared to corn for example. The amount of concentrates need to be specially monitored, as feeding too much can increase the risk of intestine inflammation or excessive reflux, leading to colic. 


You should only add supplements to your horse’s diet if specifically required. Keep in mind, grains are considered energy supplementation to a high-forage diet. Always discuss with your veterinarian before adding anything new to your horse’s diet including supplements. 


Ensure your horse always has access to fresh and clean drinking water both in the paddock and in the stable. Keep an eye on the temperature of the water during extreme weather in summer or winter, as water that is too warm will not be sufficiently hydrating for your horse, while water that is too icy can bring on complications such as colic.

Did you know?

Horses drink approximately between 15 and 30 litres of water per day.

In general, most horses are not picky eaters but if you find that your horse does not want to eat or is exhibiting unusual behaviour around food, reach out to your veterinarian to make sure there are no issues with its mouth or digestive tract. 

Hay is a type of forage and should make up most of a horse's diet and can consist of grass including orchard grass or can be from a legume (crop) such as alfalfa.

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