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The Basics of Equine Nutrition
Carey A. Williams, Ph.D., Extension Specialist in Equine Management
FS #038  Revised: April 2004
 

Digestive System Limitations

Horses are non-ruminant herbivores (hind-gut fermentors). Their small stomach only has a capacity of 2 to 4 gallons for an average-sized 1000 lb. horse. This limits the amount of feed a horse can take in at one time.


 

Odd Things that Horses Eat

Sarah L. Ralston, VMD, Ph.D., dACVN, Department of Animal Science, Cook College, Rutgers University

Fact Sheet #062 - Reviewed 2004

Horses are adapted to a diet based primarily of forages. Their digestive systems are geared toward the digestion of high roughage feeds that change slowly (for example, sudden access to a bag of grain or lush pasture after they have eaten only dry hay for the previous 5 months is likely to result in colic).


 

Forage Substitutes for Horses

Sarah L. Ralston, VMD, Ph.D., dACVN, Department of Animal Science, Cook College, Rutgers University

Fact Sheet 073 - Reviewed 2004
 

Forages such as long stem hay and/or pasture grasses and legumes are the traditional cornerstones of horse rations. A good source of forage should comprise at least 50% of a horse’s daily intake, which would be 12 to 15 lbs of dry hay for the average adult horse.



Analysis of Feeds and Forages for Horses

Sarah L. Ralston, VMD, Ph.D., dACVN, Department of Animal Science, Cook College, Rutgers University

Fact Sheet #714 - Reviewed 2004

 

When is Feed Analysis Necessary?

Before rations can be evaluated or formulated it is necessary to know the nutrient content of the feeds used. Visual evaluation cannot accurately predict the nutrient value of a feed. Published values for feeds may be used to estimate general nutrient content of rations (NRC, 1989).


 

Performance Horse Nutrition and Notes on Conditioning

Sarah L. Ralston, VMD, Ph.D., dACVN, Department of Animal Science, Cook College, Rutgers University

Fact Sheet #752 - Reviewed 2004

 

Diets which maintain optimal body condition and performance are as varied as the type of competition expected of horses. There are however several areas that are common to all types of performance. All horses need water, energy, fiber, protein, and at least minimum levels of vitamins and minerals to maintain desired condition for performance.


Care for the Older Horse: Diet and Health
Sarah L. Ralston, VMD, Ph.D., dACVN, Department of Animal Science, Cook College, Rutgers University
Fact Sheet #759 - Reviewed 2004

When Does an Old Horse Require Special Care?

As with humans, chronological age does not always match the aging process. In studies by the author many horses over age 20 had conditions that required special care; however, many did not. Indeed, these horses often were still valued as riding or performance horses or, in the case of stallions and mares, used for breeding even past the age of thirty. Age alone should not be a criterion for retirement or special management. If the horse is in good body condition, healthy and active even at 20+ years, don’t change your routine. However, if an aged horse has some of the problems in Table 1, it may be a candidate for special care. Nutritional recommendations are given in Table 2.


 

Maintenance of the“Easy Keeper” Horse

Sarah L. Ralston, VMD, Ph.D., dACVN, Department of Animal Science, Cook College, Rutgers University

Fact Sheet #799 - Reviewed 2004

 

Some horses gain weight easily, even under conditions where other horses will lose weight if not fed additional feed. These are commonly called “easy keepers.” They are a joy to own because it takes less feed to keep them in good condition.


 

Diagnosis of Nutritional Problems in Horses
Sarah L. Ralston, VMD, Ph.D., dACVN, Department of Animal Science, Cook College, Rutgers University
Fact Sheet #894 – Reviewed 2004

 

Nutrition is frequently implicated as a cause of disease or poor performance of horses. Sudden changes in feed or feeding schedules, toxins present in feeds or forage plants, and excesses or deficiencies of nutrients can all result in clinical problems. Diagnosis of the nutritional cause is necessary to effect a cure. Finding the source of the problem may be as simple as a getting a thorough history (i.e., the horse got into the grain bin). However, in many cases a more thorough investigation may be necessary.


 

Feeding the Rapidly Growing Foal

Sarah L. Ralston, VMD, Ph.D., dACVN, Department of Animal Science, Cook College, Rutgers University

Fact Sheet #895 - Reviewed 2004

 

Large foals that are growing rapidly are often considered to be at increased risk of developmental orthopedic disease (DOD). A multifactorial problem, DOD includes problems such as osteochondrosis dessicans (defective bone and cartilage at the joint surface), epiphysitis (enlarged, painful growth plates), flexure and angular limb deformities, and perhaps wobblers syndrome. Genetics, nutrition and exercise all play a role in the incidence of DOD in horses.


 

Feeding Horses for Competitions:

From Racing to Dressage
Sarah L. Ralston, VMD, Ph.D., dACVN, Department of Animal Science, Cook College, Rutgers University

Fact Sheet #934 - Reviewed 2004

Feeding performance horses during conditioning has already been addressed in a previous fact sheet (FS752, 1994). Emphasis should be placed on provision of the best quality forage available free choice and feeding only as much grain or concentrates as needed to maintain desired body condition.


 

Winter Feeding for Horses


Carey A. Williams, Ph.D. Associate Extension Specialists, Department of Animal Sciences

Sarah Ralston, VMD, Ph.D., DACVN, Associate Professor, Department of

Fact Sheet #1143- Published February 2011

Winter conditions vary dramatically between the various regions, as do the tolerances of individual horses to cold weather stressors, so it is impossible to give exact recommendations regarding nutritional needs that would be applicable to all horses and regions. However, there are general nutritional concerns that always need to be addressed as the weather gets colder. These are insuring adequate caloric (energy) and water intake, and recognizing situations where supplemental nutrients may be necessary to maintain a horse’s optimal health and well-being. These concerns will be addressed in this fact sheet as well as giving some basic feeding recommendations and dispelling some common myths regarding feeding horses in winter.


 

Nutrient Management on Livestock Farms:

Tips for Feeding
Michael L. Westendorf and Carey A. Williams, Extension Specialists in Animal Sciences

Fact Sheet #1064 - Published June 2004

This fact sheet provides some guidelines to help livestock producers reduce nitrogen and phosphorus losses by monitoring and/or changing feeding and management practices. This can result in less waste and ultimately a healthier, cleaner, and safer environment.


 

Antioxidants and Your Horse
Carey A. Williams, Ph.D., Equine Extension Specialist

Lesleyann E. Atherly, Rutgers University, Cook College, Animal Science Research Student

Jessica D. Hirsch, Rutgers University, Cook College, Animal Science Research Student

Fact Sheet #1065 - Published August 2007

Oxidation is defined as one of the processes by which nutrients are broken down and converted into energy for normal metabolic function. In times of stress, exercise, growth, pregnancy, or lactation, the rate of oxidation is elevated because the body is rapidly breaking down nutrients (like protein, carbohydrates, and fat) to produce energy needed during these times. During these metabolic processes if the regulatory systems in the body are overwhelmed, oxidative stress can occur.

 

 

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© 2009 Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Items may be reprinted with permission from the
Director of the Equine Science Center:

esc@njaes.rutgers.edu


The Equine Science Center is a unit of
Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station.