A healthy diet for horses

Make sure your horse or pony has a healthy diet with constant access to fresh water and as much opportunity to graze as possible. Horses may still need additional hard feed and forage to maintain their appropriate bodyweight.

If your horse's feeding habits change, consult your vet, as your horse could be ill.

Grazing and pastures

Horses must have continuous access to fresh clean water and should be provided with as much opportunity to graze as possible. 24-hour access is ideal. Without it, they can develop disorders of the gut and stomach ulcers.

Not all pastures provide adequate nutrition and many will be too high in calories. Horses may still need additional hard feed and forage to maintain their appropriate bodyweight, particularly between late autumn and early spring.

Remove toxic plants, shrubs and trees such as ragwort and yew from paddocks and other areas. Toxic plants, even if they're dead, must be dug up and taken completely out of the reach of horses.

Forage lowers digestive problems

Horses fed diets low in forage and high in concentrates (hard feeds such as cubes or grains) are at risk of digestive problems. Stabled horses should be given plenty of forage. Horses should be fed only good quality, mould and dust-free forage.

Changes in diet or lifestyle

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. An equine nutritionist or an equine vet can advise you.

Rapid changes in a horses diet can result in illness. Any changes to theor diet must be introduced gradually, over a period of around two weeks.

Horses must be fed only diets designed for horses. They must not be given lawn clippings or access to large amounts of fermentable foods such as apples as they can be fatally toxic.

Obesity and laminitis

Horses shouldn't become overweight. Horses and particularly ponies who are overweight 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.

Speak to your vet about how at risk your horse may be of developing laminitis and how you can help reduce that risk.

Feeding other people's horses is dangerous

It's great seeing horses when you're out and about and people love to interact with them. However, one thing we want the public to be aware of is not to feed a horse without the owner's permission.

Horses may be on specialist diets to control issues such as laminitis or obesity, and food that might seem innocent to the general public can actually be highly dangerous to horses.

As horse owners know, even foods which are safe for horses can be lethal if they're not prepared properly as they can cause obstructions in the horse's throat resulting in them choking to death.

The British Horse Society has more information about the dangers of feeding other people's horses without their permission. There are also further resources for horse owners and landowners, including free downloadable signs to use.

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