Food (Hay, Grain, How often, How much, Storage)

ALEX: I think first, once we’ve decided we’re going to have a horse, and then we’re going to decide on how we’re going to use that horse is really going to determine a lot on what type of feed and hay you’re going to give them. Obviously a racehorse, a horse that’s in full training, is going to take a lot more feed than a horse that’s just going to be ridden on the weekend for pleasure. If you get into different grains, there’s different levels of protein you can give to a horse that’s in a higher level of exercise, and there’s different qualities of hay you can give to those horses that are at a higher level of exercise. When you get into the areas of just riding on the weekend, then this might be a horse that could just survive on roughage, being hay; being grass hay or Timothy and some alfalfa. It’s really predetermined on what you’re going to do with your horse.

STEVE: Absolutely. What we do as a rule, I calculate rations routinely for equine athletes. An equine athlete, as far as a racehorse is concerned, is roughly a horse that’s going to be in training the better part of 6 to 7 days a week, depending on what their work pattern is and where they are. This horse is going to bring in somewhere between 2.5% to 3% of his body weight in dry matter alone, per day. You’ve got to make sure that it’s the right mixture of roughage with concentrate, the right amount of protein to replace the damaged tissue, muscle development; enough calories that he’s got to basically have enough energy to burn, plus keep a reserve and his weight on.

You’ve got to realize some just simple mathematics of what a horse takes in, how much they eliminate and what they require. Some basic direction from either other horsemen and/or your veterinarian would be certainly advisable, but you’ve got to have enough calories in your horse for the demand and level that you’re going to use him for.

ALEX: One other question would be: What different levels of protein are in different kinds of hays?

STEVE: Obviously grass hays…it’s a great question, to tell you the truth, because the quality of forage makes a big difference in what you’re going to feed them and the amount. Grass hays typically have lower protein, more fiber, a lot less caloric content. When you mix grasses with alfalfa and higher protein, you have higher protein, some fiber, and a mixture of both calories and some roughage. When you go with straight alfalfa, you get a much, much higher calorie content, much higher protein, a lot more nutritive value and a lot more calories that are available. The digestible nutrients are much, much higher in the higher quality of roughage or hay, depending on working backwards with alfalfa being the highest and the mixed hays down to straight grass hay being the lowest.

ALEX: We’re looking at a racehorse, a horse like a roping horse…

STEVE: A step below.

ALEX: …then pleasure horses, weekend horses that just trail ride, are obviously the next step down below that.

STEVE: Exactly. Yeah. If you’re not going to use your horse a lot, if you don’t have a high demand level for competition, training, and they are used more for just pleasure riding, you can get away with a lower caloric content, and that can maintain their body condition score, plus give them enough proteins to replace the things that they need; build tissues and keep them maintained, and also keep them healthy, keep them looking good. In other words, without putting too much protein, too much extra calories so they don’t get obese or fat, or have weight, carry too much reserve.

ALEX: Would you recommend somebody that has a horse maybe talking with their veterinarian and set up a diet for whatever they’re going to use their horse for?

STEVE: It would be a good start. If not, sometimes just going to the local…if you have a horse extension agent, they’re really good for it. If you have a nutritionist available to you, that’s a great thing to go with. They can really calculate out in a very, very short period of time, depending on what your caloric use is and amount of demand on your horse, what would be a great mainstay and what you can raise them up, to depending on the workload that you’re going to put them in.