Horses and Ponies are grazing animals and forage feed is necessary for the proper functioning of their digestive system as it is the horse's most natural diet. A horse or pony usually consumes about 2% or more of their body weight in feed each day although an individual horse's nutritional requirement will vary depending on their age, weight and activity. Ideally at least half, preferably all, of a horse's daily feed should be made up of forage feed. As forage feed is such an important factor in any horse's diet consideration should always be to quality providing the highest quality forage feed available.
Mature horses who perform little or no work may be fed on good quality forage alone with no need to supplement their diet with any other feed. However, working horses, growing or breeding horses may require additional feed.
It should be remembered that any horse or pony having regular exercise and then rest days will require less feeding on the rest days to prevent Azoturia developing. Any sudden change in the type of feed or the time of feeding should be avoided.
Horses and ponies should be fed at regular times and a horse or pony should be given a few hours between having a hard feed and carrying out strenuous exercise. Strenous exercise on a full stomach can cause breathing problems and also put strain on the heart. A horse or pony should never be fed directly after hard exercise.
Water should always be available to both the grass kept and stabled horse or pony and it is particularly important that it is available prior to feeding.
Types of Feed
Forage feed - necessary for the horse's digestion and should make up at least half, preferably all, of a horse's daily intake of food.
Bran - is easily digested and provided wet in the form of a bran it proves a useful laxative.
Chaff - adds bulk to food and prevents the horse from bolting down its food too fast.
Molichaff or Mollichop - is a mixture of chaff and molasses, used to add bulk to the food and the molasses make it more appetising.
Barley - should be boiled or soaked for at least 2 hours before feeding as it swells when wet. This is done to prevent it swelling once in the horse's stomach, causing problems. It can be fed dry if rolled and crushed first. It is nutritious and is good for a horse or pony in poor condition or during winter.
Linseed - is a food high in protein and only a handful should be fed with a feed. It is poisonous raw and must be cooked first. It is useful for horses or ponies over the winter as it helps maintain condition and can aid fattening. It also promotes a good coat and skin.
Oats - are nutrious and easily digested if fed crushed, rolled or cooked. Oats are a high energy (or "heating") food and the excessive feeding of oats can cause excessive exhuberance in some horses and ponies.
Maize - should be flaked and cooked to make it easier to digest. It is useful for fattening a horse or pony but should not be fed to horses doing strenuous exercise as it stays in the stomach for a long time. It is also a high energy food.
Root Vegetables - carrots, turnips, swedes, beetroot and parsnips can be fed in small quantities and although apples and carrots are usually relished the others may not appeal to all horses or ponies. Vegetables should be cut into strips, rather than round pieces as these can become lodged in the throat.
Fruit - apples are relished by all horses.
Cod Liver Oil - is a useful supplement to help build up resistence to disease.
Eggs - are a good source of protein and one or two fed daily can be useful to a horse in hard work.
Seaweed - is particularly good for young horses.
Salt - can be fed in small quantities in the feed or provided by a salt block. Salt helps to aid digestion.
Horse or Pony Nuts or Mixes - are specially prepared foods comprising many of the basic feeds and there are different types designed to meet the nutritional needs of a varied selection of horses and ponies with differing exercising routines. These are extremely useful as they are convenient, ensure a good balance of all foods are provided and avoid the need to store several different types of feed.