Choice of Forage

horse_keeping_1Nutrient requirements and recommended feeding programs for horses
The horse is anatomically classified as a hindgut fermenter.

The digestive tract of the horse is adapted to utilize diets containing high levels of plant fibers. It is essential that a horse gets enough fibers in its diet in order to avoid digestive dysfunctions.

The choice of forage
The choice of forage is of great importance, since it should always be the basis for all horse feeding programs. Hay is the best choice of forage for a horse.

Grass hay will contain for example; timothy, fescue, orchard grass and perennial ryegrass. Legume hay will contain for example; clovers and lucerne.

Nutritionally, there is no great difference between grasses and legumes, except for the higher content of protein and minerals of legumes and a higher content of carbohydrates (including fibrous components) in grass species.

Harvest and storage method, stage of maturity at harvest, botanical composition, climate conditions, soil and the use of fertilizers are of great importance for the nutrient content of the forages.

When the nutritive value of the hay is low, the horse has the capability to increase the feed intake by increasing the passage rate through the gastrointestinal tract. It is therefore recommended to increase the amount of hay given when the nutrient content of the hay is low.

A horse should eat 2.5-3 % of its body weight of forage a day, so a horse that weighs app. 1,000 lbs. should eat 25-30 lbs. of hay a day.
(Hay contains app. 14 % water, which means that the DM value is 86 %. The calculations above are based on hay.)

Compared to its body size, the horse has a small stomach. It is therefore important to feed the horse hay frequently (at least four times a day) or give it free access. Undisturbed free-ranging horses spend between 14 and 17 hours a day grazing. The grazing time is organized in meals separated by non-feeding intervals mostly used for rest. The non-feeding intervals are usually shorter than 2 hours and never exceed 3-4 hours. Stabled horses with free access to feed use the same amount of time for feeding and they organize this time in about 10 meals per day without any voluntary interruptions longer than 3-4 hours.
In addition to forage, the most common sources of energy used in horse rations are cereal grains. The dominating energy yielding nutrients in feed for horses are carbohydrates. Furthermore, to fulfill nutrient requirements, the supply of adequate amounts of vitamins, minerals and water are essential for the horse, but these do not contribute to energy levels.

Description of the Macro Nutrients

Carbohydrates are the horse’s most important energy source. The foal gets a big part of its energy from lactose and the adult horse will get its energy from sugar and structural carbohydrates (forage) and from starch (grains).s

Cereal grains, having a low fibre but high starch content, are used to increase the energy density of horse diets. In contrast to forages, the calcium content of cereals is low, whereas the phosphorus content is relatively high.

Whole oats is considered to be the most suitable cereal grain for horses. It is the most palatable cereal and it is easy for the horse to chew. Oats has been found to have the highest digestibility of starch compared with, for example barley and corn. Whole oats are high in carbohydrates and are also the best fat source for horses.

Although the total tract digestibility of starch is high in horses, it has been shown that the capacity for starch digestion in the small intestine of horses is limited. This means that the capacity for starch digestion in the small intestine can be overloaded. Starch escaping digestion in the small intestine may alter the microbial fermentation in the hindgut, which could lead to digestion dysfunction and colic or even more dramatic disorders such as acidosis or laminitis. Therefore, the amount of starch is recommended not to exceed 2-grams/kilogram of body weight and feeding occasion. (A horse that weighs app. 1,000 lbs. should not eat more than 4 lbs. of oats per feeding occasion.)

Sugar beet pulp is the primary by-product remaining after extraction of sucrose from sugar beets. The similar energy content compared with oats and the high content of fermentable fiber make beet pulp an interesting feed for horses, with nutritional characteristics intermediate to forages and concentrates. Beet pulp is high in carbohydrates, fibers and calcium and low in phosphorus and it is therefore a good complement to oats. On account of its high water holding capacity, beet pulp is also an interesting alternative feed for endurance horses.

The most important function of fat is as energy storage. Fat will also act as protection for organs, for example, the kidneys are embedded in a protective fat layer.

Horses do not have a gall bladder and are therefore unable to break down and digest high amounts of fat/oil in the feed ration. Instead the excess will strain the horse’s intestines and liver. Another disadvantage with oil supplements is the proneness to oxidative rancidity. Studies have shown that when excess amounts of fat are entering the large intestine, both fiber and fat digestibility will be reduced. Studies have also shown that oil supplements will cause poor appetite in horses.

keeping2Protein has a number of different functions in the body, for example to transport other substances, signalling between different parts of an organism, in movement and immune system. Protein from plants is broken down in to amino acids in the horse’s gastrointestinal tract. These amino acids are then used to build the different “horse proteins” the horse will need. The building of protein can be compared to a jigsaw puzzle. If one piece is missing it is not possible to finish the puzzle, even if there are a lot of other pieces available. The same goes for the building of protein; when one amino acid is missing the horse will not be able to build new protein even if there are a lot of other amino acids available. These amino acids will instead be an unnecessary surplus that will strain the organism. In order for the horse to be able to use the protein effective and not get a lot of surplus amino acids, the feed protein must be compounded of amino acids that suits the horse’s needs. The relation of the different amino acid amount should therefore be adequate to the horse’s needs. These relations will be found in the horse’s natural diet; pasture/forage. If there is enough protein in the forage, the horse’s need of amino acids will be covered.

During the first stages of training a horse will be building muscles. This will increase its protein need. If the horse has difficulties with building up its muscles and there is a need to increase the amount of protein in the feed ration, it is recommended to mix legume hay with the grass hay. Legume hay is richer in protein and lysine (an essential amino acid), than grass hay, and is the most suitable protein source for horses. (Difficulties to build muscles may also be caused by a hormonal imbalance in the horse.)

Growing horses and broodmares (in foal and/or lactating) will also require higher protein content in their feed ration.

An alternative for legume hay is alfalfa cubes.

NOTE: Although fat and protein are important nutrients for horses, they are, in our opinion, not suitable energy sources. When the feed rations contain high-protein, high-fat feeds and/or oil as a supplement, the hair analysis will often show an imbalance in the horse’s digestion and nutrient uptake.

When the horse is fully trained it will not require any extra protein to maintain its muscle volume and you can go back to feeding grass hay.

The same goes for energy rich feeds; a fully trained horse will not require as much high-energy feeds as a horse that is building muscles and has not as yet reached top performance condition. An excess of concentrates in a fully trained horse’s feed ration will often cause digestive dysfunctions.

If the horse starts to gain weight, it is the amount of high-energy feeds that should be cut back NOT the hay.

If the horse doesn’t want to eat the recommended amount hay you will have to look at the amount of high-energy feeds given. If the energy needs of the horse are filled with oats (or other types of concentrates) it will not eat a sufficient amount of fibers.

It will take app. 40 minutes for a horse to eat 2 lbs of hay whereas it takes app. 10 minutes for it to eat 2 lbs of cereals. Since the horse is “programmed” to eat for 14-17 hours a day, the motivation to eat will still be there even when its energy need is filled. A feed ration, which contains too many concentrates, may therefore cause behavioral disorders such as; cribbing and weaving.

It is also important to adjust the amount of whole oats and beet pulp (which are high energy feeds) to the horse’s physical activity. The proportion of high-energy feeds and hay/forage should be adjusted to cover its energy need (which is defined by the amount of physical work). Always increase the amount of high-energy feeds slowly in order to give the digestion tract time to adjust.

Water intake
The horse is adapted to drink a high amount of water in a very short period of time. This goes back to the wild horse, which was very vulnerable for attacks from predators when it went to the water hole to drink. This behaviour is still present in keeping3the domesticated horse today. Even when the horse has free access to water it will drink in the same manner as the wild horse did.

Domesticated horses that are fed dry feed, for example hay, will drink water a couple of hours after they have been fed. A horse is able to drink at least 3 gallons of water per minute. Studies in Sweden have shown that horses prefer to drink from bucket compared with automatic water cups and the horse can increase the water intake with up to 40 % when given water from a bucket. When the flow of water from the water cup is too low, they will drink too little water, so the water cups must produce at least 2 gallons of water per minute.

Descriptions of the Micro Nutrients

Minerals are basic elements or compounds thereof. Some basic elements occur in very small amounts. Concentration of less than 1/50,000 of the total body weight is called trace elements. Despite the small amounts, they are of great importance for life.

Minerals, in many ways are similar to vitamins but differ by being inorganic. This means that living organisms cannot create them. Plants must absorb minerals from the soil and animals must absorb them from the plants.

Sodium is the only mineral substance that never can be found in sufficient amounts in natural feed (pasture, hay). Horses should therefore have free access to a salt lick.

Vitamins are organic substances acting in small quantities and are vital to organisms for life. They function in the same way as sparkplugs in a combustion engine.

Vitamins are the key part of the diet for competition horses and although the clinical signs associated with excess of one vitamin or another are rare we should not presume that the level of vitamins provided in the diet is optimized for performance.

Foundation of Fast Healing
Minesyl and Pro-Combo # 1 has a nutritional balancing function and contains the substances the horse receives from a full and worthy fodder and may be used daily as a nutritional supplement, without harmful side effects or fear of overdose.


The Swedish Manufacturing Company

Nelfab Sweden AB is Sweden’s oldest manufacturer of nutritional supplements. The company is located in southern of Sweden. Our Swedish Horse Power Products are all Made in Sweden.

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