Horse Problems DatabaseThe Belly – Horse Nutrition

If you own a horse, you know there are many different opinions there are on feeding horses. This article is not going to tell you what to feed your horse. My goal is to simplify all the nutrition information out there into something useful.

If you are looking for in-depth articles about specific horse nutrition questions, I have listed a few websites that I have found helpful below. I do not necessarily agree with every single thing on these websites. I find them to be useful overall and hope they help you too.

Good equine nutrition websites

The articles on these websites will give you a good basic understanding of horse nutrition.

The real deal

What I’d like to mention is how little we actually know about horse nutrition. Nutrition is a young science. Human nutrition studies only began about 60 years ago.  Horse nutrition ideas have been extrapolated from cow nutrition.  And that’s cows being grain fed for slaughter.

Let me give you an example. A colleague of mine was doing some PhD research on finding out what horses actually like to eat. We’ve assumed sweet feed was high on their list, because who doesn’t like sugar cereal?

But, it was found that horses —given free choice of over 30 grasses, herbs, etc — prefer a bitter taste. At least, we think it tastes bitter. Maybe it tastes different to them. Just a thought.

In addition, horses in the wild will forage on whatever they can find. When their bodies tell them that they are needing something (nutritionally deficient), horses will travel for miles to find a specific weed. Or start eating some bark, or flower, or dirt.   They will actually dig under the dirt to find a mineral. Horses know what they need to eat instinctively (unless sick or debilitated in some way)

Making horse feeding simple

So what should you do? Just make it simpler.  And let the horse help.


Feed whatever good quality hay you can find. Get it tested if at all possible.  For example,  I know of some grass hays that were tested.  The protein levels should have ranged from 7-12%.  Ideal normal protein is 9%.  These had protein levels from 4% all the way up to 20%.  And there was no way to tell from just looking at the hay.

Alfalfa hay by itself is too high in calcium and is not recommended for horses as a solo feed. Can you add a little bit of alfalfa as a caloric supplement? Sure.  Up to 10% alfalfa is fine.  Do you have to balance it with something low in calcium? Maybe. Hold your horses on that and keep reading. :)

If you can get organic hay, do it.  There are too many pesticides and fertilizers on most feeds.  The vast majority of alfalfa hay is genetically modified and should be avoided for that reason.  GMO feeds cause ulcers in horses.  (For more info about horse ulcers, please see my Report.)


Be sure your horse has access to salt. Plain salt by itself and NOT in a block. Blocks are made for cows. Cows have very rough, strong tongues for those blocks. Horses do not and may have difficulty getting the right amount. If your horse eats right through those blocks (salt or mineral mix), then he or she is missing some nutrient and is trying to get it.

If you feed a mixture of salt with minerals, horses will only eat that mixture until their body has enough salt. Then their body tells them to stop eating it—even if they didn’t get enough minerals.

ABC’s (Advanced Biological Concepts) Redmond salt mix is good.

Vitamins and Minerals

Lastly, let your horse balance his or her own nutrition by offering free-choice vitamin and mineral supplements. Free-choice means that you offer your horse the minerals, not automatically add them to every feeding. This way your horse can choose whether or not–and which ones—to eat.

If you can, offering free-choice minerals in their naturally occurring groupings is better. So, for example, you would offer calcium & phosphorus together in a separate container. Selenium & vitamin E together, and so on.

As an example, I recommend Advanced Biological Concepts Complete Free-Choice mix for my clients. They have 15 separate free-choices for your horse.

And that’s it.

Good quality hay, salt, vitamins and minerals. That is all an average working horse should need.

What about…hard working horses, skinny horses, fast metabolism horses…can I give them some grain?

Sure. You can add grain (no molasses, please).  Best is oats and barley.   Corn would be good too, except it’s 100% GMO (unless organic).

Your horse will balance out her vitamins and minerals with the free-choice supplements you offer her. So it’s no problem to add some feed supplements to a good quality hay diet.

Be sure your horse also has had his or her teeth floated, is on a proper deworming schedule, and gets probiotics if he or she needs them. Doing these things will help make sure your feed efficiency is optimum.

Do NOT feed

Rice Bran

Rice bran is horribly unbalanced in it’s Calcium:Phosphorus ratio.  Don’t do it.

Beet Pulp

Lots of chemicals used to make beet pulp.  Yes, they’re supposedly “washed off”, but you know that pulp is going to absorb plenty of chemicals.  Skip this too.  I know, I know it’s so economical.  But not healthy for your horse.

What would I feed my horse for weight gain?

The product I like best as a “grain” or for weight gain is Dynamite’s HES.   It is all organic and low-heat processed.  You’ll look at the price and go, “Is she kidding me?”  The thing is, you only feed one cup a day.  Not a two pound scoop.  But one cup of awesome quality feed will delivery healthy calories.  Not garbage calories.  So when you calculate it out, it is only slightly more than a bag of run-of-the-mill feed.

It’s tough out there to find healthy food for your horse. It’s tough for people too! Please let me know if you find any other brands that are organic, non-GMO, and not high heat processed. I’d love to put them on this list.


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