A healthy diet for horses
Make sure your horse or pony has a healthy diet.
Things you should do
- Horses must have continuous access to fresh clean water.
- Horses should be provided with as much opportunity to graze as possible. Twenty-four hour access to grazing is ideal.
- Stabled horses should be given as much of their diet as possible in the form of forage. Twenty-four hour access to forage is required unless an equine vet or nutritionist advises otherwise.
- Horses at pasture may still need additional hard feed and forage to maintain their appropriate bodyweight, particularly between late autumn and early spring.
- An equine nutritionist or an equine vet can advise you on your horse’s diet.
Changes in your horse’s lifestyle, such as increased or reduced work, movement on and off pasture, pregnancy, lactation and ageing will require changes to your horse’s diet.
- Any changes to your horse’s diet must be introduced gradually, over a period of around two weeks.
- Horses must be fed only diets designed for horses, and must not be given lawn clippings or access to large amounts of fermentable foods such as apples.
- Horses should be fed only good quality, mould and dust-free forage.
- Horses must not be allowed to become overweight. An equine vet can tell you whether your animal is the correct weight and advise on an appropriate diet and management.
- You should ask your vet’s opinion on the degree to which your horse is at risk of laminitis and take their advice on diet and access to pasture to reduce the risk.
- You must recognise toxic plants, shrubs and trees such as ragwort and yew, and remove them from paddocks and any other areas your horse has access to. Toxic plants, even if they are dead, must be dug up and taken completely out of the reach of horses.
- If your horse’s feeding habits change, consult your vet, as your horse could be ill.
- Without large amounts of water to drink each day, horses can become seriously ill.
- Horses evolved to spend most of the day, around 16-18 hours, grazing and so need constant access to forage (e.g. grass and hay). Without constant access they can develop disorders of the gut and stomach ulcers.
- Not all pasture will provide adequate nutrition to maintain horses at the appropriate weight and body condition. The nutritional content of pasture also varies with season. Many pastures offer grazing too nutritionally rich for ponies, placing them at risk of serious illness.
- Horses fed diets low in forage and high in concentrates (hard feeds such as cubes or grains) are at risk of digestive problems, which can cause pain and discomfort and may cause abnormal behaviour or even death.
- An individual horse’s dietary needs will depend upon its age, lifestyle and health.
- Rapid changes in diet can result in illness.
- Feeding from the ground allows the horse to adopt a more natural feeding posture and promotes the correct wear of the teeth.
- Lawn clippings and large amounts of fermentable foods such as apples can be fatally toxic to horses, as can some foods meant for other animals.
- Feeding poor quality hay or other forage can increase the risk of your horse becoming ill.
- Overweight horses, and particularly ponies, are prone to developing laminitis, a very painful disorder of the feet. A common factor triggering laminitis is feeding on lush spring and autumn grass.
- Some common plants are very toxic to horses, such as ragwort and yew.
- Being underweight or overweight can cause a horse to suffer and has potentially serious health consequences.