Horses – food and water

Nutritional information for horses.


Horses must have access to adequate and appropriate water for their age, stage of growth, exercise output and weather conditions.

A horse in a normal, cool environment at rest, will consume approximately 25 litres per day. An increase in dry matter intake will increase the amount of water consumed. As a general rule, a horse will require 1.1-2.3 litres of water per kilogram of dry matter. Owing to the large quantity of water that horses consume, automatic waterers are the preferred and most efficient method of providing water to horses in paddocks, yards and stables. One disadvantage of automatic waterers is that that the amount of water a horse will drink is unknown. If monitoring of water consumption is required for a particular reason then alternative water containers will need to be provided.

If it is not possible to fit automatic waterers then adequately sized containers must be provided to ensure adequate quantity and quality is available for the number, age, bodyweight and type of horse, dry matter content of the feed provided, performance output and the weather conditions (air temperature, available shelter and humidity).

Water – The most important nutrient


Horses must have access to adequate and appropriate feed for their age, stage of growth, exercise output and weather conditions.

Image: Lactating mares with a foal at foot will require increased quantity and quality of feed.

Quantity and quality of feed should be based on:

  • Bodyweight and/or fat/body condition score
  • Extra demands based on growth, pregnancy, lactation and exercise
  • Any pre-existing health concerns
  • Prevailing/predicted weather conditions.

Regular assessment should be made of the needs of horses in relation to the quantity and quality of feed. This can be done by weighing horses and using a condition scoring system regularly.

DPI – Weight and condition assessment

Horses are grazing animals with small stomachs. This means that they need to eat small portions of food very regularly. Because of this, horses are vulnerable to digestive and behavioural issues if they cannot graze or have constant access to food.

Gastrointestinal and dental health are often adversely effected as a result of modern feeding practices which include high concentrate, low fibre meals in high volume and low frequency.

As with most animals kept in schools, horses will usually require supplementary feeding due to lack of sufficient grazing opportunity. Horses can have their diet supplemented by a range of concentrates depending on their energy output, age, condition and breeding status. Horses that are not exercised regularly and kept in a paddock with pasture will usually not require feed supplementation, however a horse that is in full work and/or kept in a yard may require an individually tailored feeding regime taking into account their energy output, temperament and health needs. As a horse’s work load increases, demands on nutrients such as energy, sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium, iron, iodine, vitamin E, folate and thiamine are also increased.

They should have a very regular or constant supply of roughage such as hay or chaff to meet their high fibre needs.

It is very important when providing supplementary food for horses to feed them in a feeder that is placed on the ground. This mimics the horse’s natural grazing posture, improving digestive and respiratory health. When feeding hay to horses in dry, windy or dusty conditions, it is advisable to dampen or soak hay in water immediately before feeding to reduce wastage and reduce dust intake. Soaking hay has also been documented to decrease the content of non-structural carbohydrates, which is beneficial to horses at risk of laminitis. Keep in mind that any uneaten damp hay should be removed as it will mould.

When providing supplementary feeds, it is highly recommended to introduce new feeds slowly and carefully, do not feed excessive grains, feed plenty of high quality roughage and feed small amounts at frequent intervals.

Image: A performance horse may need an individually tailored feeding regime.


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