My feeding philosophy is simple: horses weren’t designed to live the life we’ve put upon them and it’s our responsibility to feed them in a way that duplicates their natural lifestyle when at all possible. Let’s look at forage requirements on this page.
The first hard and fast rule about feeding horses is this: THEY NEED FORAGE. Horses should have 24/7 access to forage. If your horse is an easy keeper, then this might mean low quality forage that is low in sugar and starches, perhaps even in a slow feeder bag, or grazing in a field that has little grass available. If your horse is metabolic or prone to laminitis, you might have to soak that hay in order to provide 24/7 forage and still put it in a slow feeder bag. If your horse is in work and you’re always struggling a bit to keep him in good weight, then higher quality forage is necessary. If your horse is in hard work then the best quality, free choice forage will be essential.
Providing horses with forage 24/7 can be very expensive. For example, I break out the feed costs of all my horses and one of mine eats $4.50 in hay every day. That’s $135.00 a month in hay costs alone. If you are boarding your horse, please understand that the biggest upfront cost your barn has to handle is hay. Many barns keep costs down by not feeding adequate forage. The ultimate cost of this is passed onto the consumer, who then often has a horse with ulcers that is difficult to keep weight on, has behavioral issues and truly is mentally focused on getting food instead of work, because that’s how horses are hard wired. This then translates to buying ulcer medications (cha-ching!), weight gain supplements (cha-ching!) and behavioral supplements and extra training (cha-ching!), vet bills for colicing horses as well as having an unhappy horse and an unhappy owner in general. Hungry horses just really aren’t their best selves.
Many commercial barns do not have adequate pasture for horses to graze in the summer. This can very region to region but where I live, in the southeast, we have optimum grazing situations if managed correctly. For example, I have approximately 15 acres in grass and my pastures are managed for easy keepers, medium keepers and horses who need to gain weight. I try to keep no more than five horses here at any given time so as to ensure adequate grazing. In summer, when horses come in during the hotter, buggier part of the day, they have hay in their stalls.
An unfortunate part of horse keeping and horse ownership is that it is expensive. However, where you choose to spend your dollars can be crucial to your horses health and it is worth crunching numbers to determine if you are boarding in a situation where you’d be better off paying more somewhere else and getting the forage your horse needs to be healthy. If you keep your horses at home, you have complete control over this and should make it your first priority. Once you are sure your horse is receiving adequate forage, you can focus on nutrition.
The bottom line is this: forage should be the mainstay of your horses diet. Since we have taken away the option of horses having the ability to go seek out their own forage, we have to provide it. It’s not possible to have truly healthy horses and not provide adequate forage. I am happy to refer you to hay dealers that I have found to be reliable and trustworthy.