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Equine Nutrition

Horse Feed
Photo by Lauren McCord

So let's talk about nutrition… 

I was talking to my working student after she got home from the Emerging Athletes Program about how many equestrians really don't know how to care for their horses on their own and how sad that is. It made me realize that while I have taught my working student all about horse care, I don't spend enough time teaching horse owners at my barn the same. 

So, in an effort to change that, let's start with nutrition. 

To start, horses should be eating 1.5-2.5% of their body weight per day; the majority of this should come from quality forage (hay and grass.) Since horses are fed based on body weight, their feed should also be fed by weight. "1 scoop" is not a universal form of measurement and not all feeds weigh the same per scoop. And yet, I see too many managers feed by the "scoop." 

Let me tell you why that's a problem. 

For an easy keeper it's convenient to just give half a scoop or something like that but that runs the risk of the horse's micronutrient (vitamin and mineral) nutrient requirements not being met. In my experience browsing feed labels, most bags suggest a horse weighing 1200 lbs, in moderate work be fed between 9-16 lbs, per day and most "scoops" of grain weigh 2.5-3 lbs. Without being particular about the feed choice a horse getting half a scoop per meal is not going to get the nutrients it needs. 

For a hard keeper the answer is too often to just feed more grain. Why doesn't this work? A horse's stomach is designed to hold about 3-4lbs of food comfortably. (I learned that from my EAP days) if more than 4lbs is fed per meal there is a risk of the stomach acid building up to reach unprotected parts of the stomach, causing ulcers. Not to mention, after a certain volume horses can't properly digest all the nutrients so adding more feed is just a waste of money. 

So what's the balance? 

Everyone has their own management style but personally, 

I look for nutrient dense feeds designed to meet the horses requirements at 6-8lbs per day for a 1000-1200lb horse in moderate work. This allows my horses to get the nutrients they need without overloading the stomach. At the very least horse owners/borders should be aware of this: what there horse is eating, how much, and why. 

After that things can get more specific.

Unlike humans, horses don't need a lot of protein. In fact, too much protein can cause anxious behavior and will just be urinated out as a huge waste of money.

To put weight on a horse requires fat. Fat is a cool source of energy meaning it doesn't tend to make horses hot or anxious and it is a safer energy source than starches and sugars. Warmbloods in particular are prone to developing metabolic issues. Keeping starch and sugars low can help decrease that risk.

To sum all this up. 

The ideal feed for a performance horse has a protein content between 8-12%, a fat content close to 12%, a fiber content between 12-25%, and a starch content (measured by NSC) of less than 30%. 

Happy horse feed hunting! And if you haven't already, let's share the how to's of horse care with all our clients. All horse owners should know how to take daily care of their horses if they have to. 


Kristine M. Janicki, Sugars and Starches in Horse Diets: They’re Not All Bad! The Horse, July 9, 2018. 

Kentucky Equine Research Staff, Fiber: 

An Important Component in Equine Nutrition, Equinews, March 24, 2011, 

Article submitted by Lauren McCord

BuckWild ShowJumpers is a hunter/jumper show barn located in Fountain Inn, SC. They specialize in young horse development. They have the highest standards for the quality care and management of their equine athletes. Diets, training, care, and living standards are carefully managed to keep their horses healthy, happy, and in shape by using scientific knowledge, veterinary advice, and attention to cleanliness. They strive to make their barn a positive, team building environment that exhibits professionalism and attention to detail.

Learn more about BuckWild ShowJumpers at:



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