Feeding Horses in Dry Conditions

Horses are grazing animals with a small stomach capacity. Horses graze for long periods of the day and where good pasture is available, pasture alone will supply the feed requirements of adult horses which are not in work. When small holdings are heavily stocked or horses are kept on very small blocks, the balance of pasture species will change due to the selective grazing habits of horses. These areas will grow little more than weeds if the pasture is not spelled, fertilised and renovated regularly. Most pasture growth in Victoria occurs during Spring. In normal years some ponies and horses may become overfat at this time. If not promptly removed from pasture and fed only hay, these ponies may suffer laminitis ( founder ). During dry periods, a shortage of pasture will make supplementary feeding necessary. Supplementary feed can be in the form of roughage eg. hay, chaff or concentrates eg. grain, pellets.

Important points to remember when feeding horses

  • Provide fresh, clean water at all times. Ponies may require 15 litres/day and horses 30 litres/day. These requirements can double in hot weather or when the horse is being exercised.
  • Feed twice a day. Small frequent feeds are better than a once daily feed.
  • Provide plenty of roughage. Roughage aids digestion and satisfies hunger.
  • Avoid feeding on the ground. Feeding on the ground can lead to increased ingestion of worm larvae.
  • Only feed good quality feed. Avoid musty or mouldy material.
  • Treat horses regularly for worms. Consult with your veterinarian for a suitable regime.
  • Provide access to a salt lick.
  • If feeding a number of horses, make sure there is enough space for every horse to have access to the food and that no horse is missing out.
  • Check horses’ teeth regularly.

Which supplements do I feed?

Good quality lucerne or clover/grass hay is adequate for adult horses which are idle or ridden infrequently. As a general rule of thumb, feed grass, hay or chaff at I kg/100 kg body weight daily.

Young growing horses, mares with foals or working horses require more energy. This needs to be supplied by feeding concentrates. Horses should be fed to maintain body weight. You need to start supplementary feeding well before you see weight loss occur.

How much is enough?

Table 1. Approximate feed requirements (hay and concentrates kg/day) — mature horse with no pasture

  Idle Light Work Moderate Work Heavy Work
  Hay Conc Hay Conc Hay Conc Hay Conc
small pony (<13h) 3.0- 4.0   3.5 0.3 3.0 1.0    
large pony (14-15h) 4.5- 5.0   4.0 0.75 4.5 1.5 4.0 2.5
Galloway (14-15h) 6.5- 7.0   6.0 1.0 6.0 2.0 7.0 3.0
Hack (>15h) 7.5- 8.0   7.0 1.5 8.0 3.0 8.0 4.0


Article courtesy of Department of Natural Resources and Environment, Victoria, Australia