Practical Suggestions for Feeding Horses and Ponies
Just click a link in the index below to view the text on that subject.
- The gestation period is 11 months and during this time, the mare will go through two stages: Early gestation – covering the first 8 months; Late gestation – covering the final 3 months.
- Once the foal is born, she will enter two further stages: Early lactation – covering the first 3 months; Late lactation – after weaning
- The pregnant mare needs no extra nutrition for the first 8 months. Feed should be at maintenance levels unless the mare is a poor doer. It is important that the mare does not get overweight. A stud feed should be introduced gradually as the mare reaches late gestation. Concentrates should form between 20 and 30% of the entire feed ration, the rest being forage.
- During early lactation, the energy requirement of the mare will virtually double from maintenance levels and the requirement for protein will rise two or three fold to supply the necessary amino acids for milk production and growth of the foal. Calcium and phosphorus needs rise by up to 3 times the levels required for maintenance. The mare can produce up to 5% of her bodyweight of milk a day and during the first week of lactation, the foal may suckle up to 100 times a day. Her energy requirements are now similar to that of a horse in medium work. Adequate minerals are very important or the mare will deplete here own skeletal reserves.
- During late lactation, the mare does not require such a high nutritional input. The foal should be eating concentrates and only using the mare’s milk as a “top-up”.
Dressage horses and Show Jumpers
- Both types of horse are required to be alert throughout the season. They do not require the stamina of the eventer or endurance horse and would normally carry more condition, tending to be more muscled and requiring bursts of energy when asked. Feeding can vary and often depends on temperament and attitude. For laid back characters, a higher starch diet (quick release energy) should be fed and for the more highly strung type, a fibre based, high oil (slow release energy) diet can be utilised.
Event and endurance horses
- Eventers and endurance horses require stamina in order to carry out the distances required in their disciplines. Aerobic energy, produced in the presence of oxygen, is the main type of energy utilised by event and endurance horses. These horses are trained to make effective use of body fat reserves as a source of energy in order to conserve glucose for extra bursts, examples of which are hill-work or at the finish of the competition. When glucose has been utilised, fatigue sets in.
- High oil diets have been shown to be beneficial to endurance and event horses and between 6-8% of hard feed can be fed as oil. Oil is easily digested from the small intestine and will be utilised as energy in preference to glucose from starch. Glucose is therefore conserved allowing the horse to work longer before fatigue sets in. The ideal type of feed is a high oil and digestible fibre diet. Stamina is maintained as the oil and fibre are digested over a longer period of time to give slow release energy.
Leisure horses and ponies
- What defines a leisure horse or pony? Perhaps those that are resting or in light work during the week but probably compete at weekends. When choosing a feed, consider your horse or pony’s temperament and take into consideration that for light work, fibre is the most important nutrient source as it provides slow releasing energy. Most concentrate feeds are fully balanced with the minerals and vitamins required and contain cereals as a source of quick release energy.
- There is a vast assortment of feeds that could be recommended for leisure horses, but when choosing a feed it is important to accept that feeding will not change a horse or pony’s character – it may exaggerate his natural behaviour, but won’t change a laid back cob into a thoroughbred or vice versa! Consideration needs to be given to the energy source to suit the particular horse or pony.
Older horses and ponies
- Horses and ponies, like humans, become old at different ages. The older horse generally requires a higher level of good quality protein in order to maintain muscle and body condition. Fibre sources should be in the form of highly digestible fibre, such as cellulose and low in indigestible fibre such as lignin. Cubes or nuggets can be fed soaked, if required, to horses and ponies with poor teeth. Balanced feeds, designed with the older horse or pony in mind, should be considered.
- These are: High in quality protein, such as Full Fat Soya; Contain highly digestible fibre sources; Contain digestion enhanced cereals i.e. micronized; Have the appropriate mineral and vitamins to balance the ration.
- Ponies have evolved to live off a small amount of mainly fibrous feed when at rest and consequently are excellent converters of food, converting glucose to fat rather than using it immediately for energy for exercise. Remember the following points when feeding ponies.
- During the Spring and Summer – ponies are more prone to laminitis than horses. Diets high in fibre and low in sugar and starch should be fed. Avoid turning ponies out on lush grass.
- During Autumn and Winter – as most ponies are capable of wintering out, supplement a forage based diet with a high fibre cube or mix.
- Racehorses are equine athletes who can travel of speeds up to 40mph. Their primary requirement from feed is energy, although overall nutrient requirements are also increased. Electrolytes are particularly important. Feed and forages should be dust free to avoid any airway obstructions through respiratory irritation or infection. During exertion, the racehorse converts energy contained in feeds and stored in the body, into energy to power muscles. A high calorie diet is necessary.
- Stallions are at their most fertile during the spring and summer and during the covering season nutritional requirements will rise. Energy and protein requirements can rise by 25% while mineral and vitamin requirements rise by between 10% and 20%. Vitamin A directly effect sperm production and lack of it will cause possible lack of sperm. Out of the covering season, stallions should be fed at maintenance, unless they are undertaking some form of work or are in poor condition.
- Horses tend to lose weight in the winter and need to be fed sufficient supplementary feed in addition to any available grazing. If weight remains low, even when supplementary feeds are provided, consider the following:
- Are the horse or pony’s teeth in good condition? Sharp teeth cause pain and often a reluctance to eat.
- Check the worming programme. A comprehensive worming programme should be carried out regularly.
- Is the hard feed adequate for the work being undertaken?
- Is plenty of good quality fibre being provided?
- Are droppings normal?
- High oil feeds are very effective at improving condition. They are generally based on Soya and will supply extra energy, protein and nutrients without over-excitability.
- horses and ponies on a weight loss programme should receive a good quality diet in order that the correct nutrients are provided. Starving should not be undertaken as it can create both digestive and behavioural problems. Grass should be restricted and hay limited to a minimum of 1% of bodyweight. Ideally, feed a low energy mix or cube, however, if the necessary energy is not being met, change to a higher energy feed and reduce the quantity.
- Increase exercise and undertake regular weigh-in’s to monitor weight loss. Just like humans we have to be patient – a slow steady process will not stress the horse or cause digestive upsets.
- Foals are normally weaned between 4 & 7 months of age. Optimum feeding for youngstock is essential to avoid growth disorders. Foals nibble grass and the mare’s concentrate feed from an early age but upon weaning it is important not to overfeed. Lower starch levels are preferred for foals and youngstock to avoid bone development problems. Minerals and quality protein are also essential for young stock development.