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Meeting Your Horse's Nutritional Needs

Submitted by Bonnie at PlusPets.com

There's a reason we say someone with a big appetite "eats like a horse." These large animals eat between 2 and 3 percent of their body weight every day! But proper feeding of your equine friend requires more than just providing a lot of food. Horses require balanced diets much as humans do, and like humans' diets, horses' diets should be determined by their age, weight, activity level and overall health.

Basic Horse Nutrition

The bulk of a horse's diet should come from forage, or hay. This can be either grass hay or legume hay (clover, alfalfa); the most important thing is that the hay is fresh, as moldy hay is not only unpalatable but also dangerous to your horse’s health.

Grains are another important component of a horse's diet. Oats are perhaps the most popular grain because they don't require processing and they have a lot of bulk, making it more difficult for a horse to overeat and reducing the likelihood of colic and founder. Barley and corn are other popular grains.

Many companies are now producing processed horse feed, similar to the dog and cat food available at pet stores and supermarkets. This can be good for ensuring that horses get the proper amounts of important nutrients, but in general, horses function best when fed natural foods like grasses and grains, with fruits and vegetables as treats. If you're worried about your horse's diet lacking in certain vitamins and minerals, consider adding horse supplements to a natural diet rather than switching to a processed food. If you think a processed food might be a better way to maintain your horse's health, check with your vet to make sure you choose the best one.

Horse Supplements and Treats

In addition to vitamin and mineral supplements, horses can be given various supplements to help improve their overall health. One popular group of horse supplements are those for maintaining and improving joint health. Glucosamine and chondroitin are the main ingredients in these supplements (sometimes individually but usually in combination), with manganese being a popular additive for its role in bone formation.

It is important to note that, as in humans, supplements in horses should be used only under the guidance of a qualified professional - in this case, a veterinarian. Not all horses will require supplements, and if they do, the type and amount of these supplements is sure to vary, so input from a vet is required to ensure the proper supplements are given in the right doses. Just because these substances are generally natural doesn’t mean they’re automatically safe.

Horses' diets can also be supplemented with the occasional horse treat. Fruits and veggies like apples, carrots and even tomatoes make delicious and nutritious snacks, as does a handful of granola. For sweeter treats, try sugar cubes, peppermints or a handful of sugar cereal like Froot Loops. Just make sure to keep this "junk food" to a minimum—too much sugar can cause weight gain and health problems in horses just as it can in humans.


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