Diet and Nutrition
Hints & Tips
Carbohydrates to Minerals
As with humans, horses also require a balanced diet. They need the right amount of nutrients and vitamins, as well as carbohydrates, protein and fats, for proper digestive function. Giving your horse a balanced diet will ensure a healthy weight, with enough energy for growth, work and for repair if your horse were to sustain an injury.
Proteins and fats are important for growth and repair as well as being good sources of energy, particularly for horses in hard work, foals and also mares that are in foal or lactating (producing milk). Many supplementary feeds include both proteins and fats.
Carbohydrates form the basis of a horse's nutrient needs and are present in grass and most supplementary feeds. Found in sugars, starches and cellulose, carbohydrates provide all-round energy, from quick-release through the sugars, to slow-release from the starches.
Vitamins and minerals also form an important part of a horse's diet, occurring naturally in grass and commonly included in supplementary feeds. It is important not to over-supplement your horse with one particular vitamin or mineral, as this could inhibit the uptake of other vitamins and minerals by the body. Mineral blocks and licks are available for your horse either in the field or the stable, so that your horse has access to the necessary minerals.
Horses naturally browse and graze for much of their time while out in the field. Their natural diet includes different types and ages of grasses, as well as herbs and weeds. Old pasture is good for most horses and ponies, with hay also required during the winter months. In a modern sown pasture there is less chance of having the nutritional diversity of an older pasture, with one or two grass types dominating. This may mean that supplementary feeding is needed at some times if there are not enough grasses and herbs.
It is very important to ensure that your horse has enough water. Horses drink approximately 27-54 litres of water per day. This is dependent on the weather, their diet and also the level of work they are doing. Water is an essential part of a horse's diet and it is vital that they have access to fresh, clean water at all times, both in the stable and in the field.
Hoof and Teeth Care
Maintaining your horse's hooves and teeth properly will reduce the risk of any infections or problems. Regular hoof and teeth care will ensure that they remain healthy and strong, as well as being happier too.
Hooves should be trimmed and balanced by a registered farrier every four to six weeks for shod horses, and every six to ten weeks for unshod horses. Regularly picking out the feet will remove all debris from the hooves, reducing the risk of anything sharp being stuck and piercing the sole of your horse's foot.
Keeping the stable clean will also maintain a dry foot reducing the risk of getting an infection such as thrush in the frog area of the hooves.
Different supplements can provide certain additives that will help reduce the amount of cracking in the dry hoof walls; your farrier can advise you on what the best product to use would be.
Regular dental care is essential for healthy teeth and gums, and will ensure that your horse is able to chew food properly, and allow them to be more comfortable when using a bit and rein while being ridden.
There are two main types of teeth in a horse's mouth the incisors, which are the cutting teeth, and the molars, which are the grinding teeth. The incisors are located at the front of the mouth and the molars are towards the back. Teeth gradually erupt, in response to wear, throughout your horse's life.
The way the teeth wear down can sometimes be uneven, and it is good to check the teeth to see that they are not cutting into your horse's mouth or tongue. Rasping or filing these protrusions is essential, and this can be carried out by a veterinary surgeon or a British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) approved dental technician.
Here are signs of possible dental problems, which could also be a sign of other illness:
- Lack of appetite or reluctance to eat.
- Drooling saliva, or a discharge from the mouth or nose.
- Sores and swellings around the mouth.
- Pain or swellings in the throat and along the jaw-line.
- Foul smelling breath.
- Loss of body condition.
- Chewing more slowly than normal or favouring one side of the mouth.
- Spilling food from the mouth or deliberately dropping (quidding) balls of partially chewed food.
- Aggression or reluctance to be bridled.
- Resisting the bit.
- Head shaking.
- Reluctance to move forward when being ridden.
- Rearing or bolting.