Healthy horses need a feed which will provide the correct nutrition for that particular type of horse and its activity level. Both horse veterinarians and the horses' farriers must work together in order to combine the right ingredients, containing the proper nutrition for a particular type and class of horse. Each horse will require a different feed ration. Some horses are easy keepers, the owners of which has to be careful not to over feed these horses. Other horses will seem like you are feeding a lot and the horse still seems thin. Make sure the horse has had a regular worming schedule, teeth checked and consult a vet if weight loss continues.
Grass Hay or Alfalfa?
The basic horse's diet is grass hay or alfalfa. Fresh hay must be limited to a minimum to prevent gasses and colic and you should never feed grass clippings. They will become toxic very quickly and make your horse quite ill. Good quality hay containing nutrients and roughage usually fulfills the basic needs for feeding your horse. A good concentrated pellet is also good to feed your horse to make sure that you are feeding all the necessary nutrients and is a requirement if your horse is involved in more high performance activities. As a general rule, horses require a food intake equivalent to one percent of their body weight on a daily basis, allowing a 2 - 2.5 % body mass conversion within a twenty four hour period.
Feeding to Stay Warm
Adult horses not involved in high performance activities like racing have less energy requirements and therefore can be given good quality roughage like straw along with the hay. These horses however, do need mineral salt which provides the necessary micro nutrients and minerals. Good quality roughage is good to feed your horse in cold climates. It will help to keep your horse warm by taking more energy to digest.
Feeding Special Needs
Pregnant mares on the other hand require a diet made up of a balanced mixture of roughages supplemented with concentrates. These mixtures are carefully calculated and measured for each individual mare. The mare requires the extra calories in order to store body fat for the lactation of the present pregnancy and future rebreeding. Growing horses that have not achieved full growth need their nutrients calculated for optimum growth and must be balanced to meet their energy consumption needs. The correct feeding of the pony helps develop strong bones and muscles with an overall well developed and structured body, resistant to diseases especially orthopedic diseases. Foals on the other hand, require special care and supplements before they are weaned. Some mares do not produce sufficient milk for the foal and the foal will grow to become weak and disease prone if not given additional supplements. The owner must consult with the vet and determine the quantity and type of energy rich supplements required by the foal.
The use of growth stimulants, antibiotics and additives for fattening livestock have shown to be beneficial for weight gain in livestock. There is however, insufficient research regarding the benefits of these substances on horses for their feed requirements. Some studies have shown a short term effect of these substances. One has to keep in mind that horses and cattle serve different purposes and in horses, temporary weight gain is not the only motivator. Feeding a horse the wrong supplements can result in illness and even death. Also horses are in service to the owner for many years and have a purpose to fulfill - breeding, riding or racing and working on a farm or pulling a load and not just fattened for the market. A qualified vet must decide on the actual feeding requirements for each horse according to its age and use.