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Feeding my horse…

Feeding my horse...and then what?

The horse's digestive system is built to create problems the way we keep horses today!

Actually, I’m surprised that it turns out well as often as it really does.

As it is, the supply of feed for our horses is bulging. One product smells better that the other and, in appeal, competes with our own breakfast: granola. Served under the slogan: ”You probably want to do the best for your horse” all kinds of feed and complementary feeding stuff wrapped in neat packaging with a picture of a pretty horse! We love it and eat it raw!

But are all these products really necessary? Is it really what’s best for the horse? Who holds a patent for the truth and how do we find our way through this jungle? There so many questions...


Stable time…

With autumn comes stable time! “Stable time” is the closest to the Danish word “indbindingstid”, which in my world covers a time of year when the horses will spend more time in the stable, and when our feeding becomes even more important.

It is also the time for colic. The number of colic cases increases over autumn and winter where the grass equals zero (to count for), and where the horses spend more time in the stable.

We are not going on a complicated journey through the feeding universe, but I would like to jab at a few things about feeding the horse.


Let's start out by not making things get too complicated

We have some quite fundamental basic ingredients when it comes to feeding a horse – roughage (including hay, wrapped hay and straw), vitamins, minerals and concentrates (supplements). All kinds of concentrates are available on the market. One can and promises more than the other, but are they able to keep their promises...? More often than not, they don't!

Some of the feed come from places further south in Europe where the soil conditions and therefore also the nutrient contents are different from those in Denmark. This may present a problem and cause imbalance in a lot of the parameters when feeding it in Denmark. The feed is produced in another country with different needs. The imbalance of, for example, the mineral content may not be seen in the horse until after 6-9 months and not immediately!


Do we feed masked feed?

Are we good enough at having calculated what the horse needs? Are we good enough at finding a simple, good feed or are we “hooked” on having to mix 10 different jars of supplements for our horse? Purification cure for this and that. Supplement for this and that.

I don’t think it is necessary at all. I want simple feeding, where we don’t have to feed too many kilos of concentrates per feeding and which has good and simple composition. Preferably a minimum of good primary produce of a good quality rather than 20 different ingredients of a doubtful quality masked in taste and smell of molasses and herbs.


What about storage?

Something else that comes into play is how we store our feed. Do we actually give it a thought?

The feed may be of a proper quality from the supplier, but if, for example, we get it in big-bags, a lot of things may change. Long-time storage in big-bags may lead to serious problems with durability. Humidity may give rise to fungi. Bird's nests may house mites, including storage mites that may propagate in the feed.

I have seen cases with horses that do not respond to general traditional treatment. Horses with recurring serious skin inflammation not reacting to treatment either, but, on the contrary, cause a very severe course of disease. If we test these horses for allergens, we will see that they react to storage mites. Common for the horses is that they have no prior history with allergy.

However, when we started focusing on the feed as a possible cause of storage mites, and had storage and storage time adjusted, including feed freshness, we cured the horses!

For other production animals such as cows and pigs, there is rigorous control of the feed. If the feed does not work, it costs the farmer a lot of money, and if the feed does not work, the consumer's food products will be the victim. This is the reason for control regarding production and storage, in particular with feed producers. As it is, the horse is also included under the category of production animals, but do we really have much control of anything that has to do with horses? As horse owners we are heavily guided by what looks appealing and appetizing, but where are the facts?

We should pay attention to how our feed is stored. Is the feed bag open for too long? is the storage room humid? Is there a risk of contamination from the surrounding environment? And what about the date stamping for the production of the feed? And some feed doesn’t really take too well to exposure to strong sunlight etc.


What is common sense?

A great deal of our horses can be fed generally and simple and need not be fed as a high-performance athlete? Another important point regarding feeding concentrates is feeding on oil. I am a big fan of oil, and already more than 20 years ago we looked at all the good things about giving an oil supplement.

It is best to use a cold pressed oil, for example rapeseed oil. A lot of the good things in the oil are preserved in a cold pressed oil, including Vitamin E. There is much more energy per weight unit in the oil, and you may feed up to 3 dl oil per day, which will replace 1 kg concentrates. Oil is broken down and burned off via another energy route in the body and does not accumulate lactic acid on combustion, something I absolutely see as a big plus.

So, do not hurry down to the super market and buy a lot of oil, but, on the contrary, find a cold pressed alternative. It should be mentioned that starting to use oil for the horse will require adaptation over several weeks. One of the most important things to give to the horse is, of course, roughage. Here I write of course!! The horse is built for taking in feed at a minimum 16-18 hours a day – also during the night. In my world, roughage is defined as hay, wrapped hay, and straw.


1 kg of hay = 4 kg of saliva!

Every time a horse eats 1 kg hay, it produces app. 4 kg saliva. Saliva has a high bicarbonate content which works as a buffer on the gastric acid and contributes to neutralizing it. As a counterpart to his, 1 kg grain produces app. 1 kg saliva, which makes a substantial difference. Feeding roughage also wears on the teeth and contribute to keeping them well-functioning.

Actually, feeding at floor level is also of significance, as the more the horse's head is elevated the more the upper jaw is displaced relative to the lower jaw, and the more hooks will be created on the horse's teeth. The horse is built to eating from floor level. As a minimum the amount of roughage is 1 kg per 100 kg horse per day. This is mentioned as a minimum!


What do we actually feed? Should we analyze the roughage?

Now, for example look at the hay we feed. Do we look at the quality of it before we very modestly measure and weigh for each day's consumption? What do we actually feed? We really don’t know – unless we have a roughage analysis performed on the hay harvest we are dealing with now.

A lot of people may object that it is troublesome to make such an analysis. Again, I must answer ‘NO’. Via farmers’ associations etc. you can very easily and at a relatively low cost have your roughage analyzed and be substantially wiser about what feed you are using. It is done for cows and pigs in agriculture!


Should the horse be offered hay or wrapped hay all the time?

No, not necessarily! As a supplement during the day, it may also advantageously be offered straw (preferably barley straw). If the grass in the field is sparse, in particular in the autumn, you may, advantageously, feed straw in the field. And perhaps equally important, it the horse is stabled on chips or the like, it will be good for it to have some straw to chew on, of course in combination with hay or wrapped hay. As it is, there are also certain minerals that the horse gets from the straw that are important for the balance in its body.

With all the stomach ulcer problems in the riding horses today, it is important that we see to it that they have fodder a big part of the day. Both in order to activate them but also to preserve the extremely important health of the digestive tract. And again – REMEMBER that the horse is built to absorb feed for a large part of the hours of the day.


The horse adjusts its metabolism in accordance with when it will be fed

The horse is also a creature of habits which is very sensitive to changes. If we change only one component of the feeding, it takes weeks for the flora of the alimentary tract to get used to it. The horse also adjusts its metabolism to fixed feeding times. It is important that it takes place at the same time every day. The horse even adjusts its metabolism in accordance with when we take it out to work. We have to remember that we are dealing with a creature of habits.


Sensitive respiratory system

We have to look at the visual quality of our feed. If the hay was humid when it was gathered in, it will quickly crumble (cake) with a strong development of dust as a consequence. If we pick up the hay and spontaneously start coughing, the horse will most likely do the same. Horse have an extremely sensitive respiratory system.


Built to cause problems

If our wrapped hay has a strong smell and is wet and slushy, it may be more suitable as cattle feed than horse feed. It is so easy to write, but once again I will emphasize the importance of good feed. The horse’s digestive tract is built to cause problems, and the main thing for us to do is minimize the risk of problems. Quite often we know it when things go wrong and the horse gets sick.


If we shall prevent some things with good and reasonable feeding, we have to start here

In recent years, starch in concentrates has almost become a no-go-word when talking about feed. But is it really that dangerous? After all starch is a necessary component in versatile feeding. But isn’t it because our use of the horse today determines that we don’t need so much energy? Our way of keeping horses today, compared with the use of it entails that, advantageously, we can feed them without a very high content of starch. They don’t work more than their energy requirement can be covered by a: let’s call it, restrictive diet.



  • The biggest part of the horse’s feed intake should come from roughage, hay and/or wrapped hay. Straw is used as roughage supplement and is not reckoned as an energy source.
  • Frequent meals, so that the horse is offered feed for most of the day.
  • The horse shall have access to fresh water. Be sure that the water drinking bowl gives enough water.
  • Uniform feeding and no unnecessary changes in its composition. The horse is a creature of habits!
  • The size of the meal should not exceed the capacity of the stomach. That would be app. 2 kg for a 500 kg horse.
  • The quality of our roughage and concentrates. Consider a roughage analysis so we know what we feed the horse. Should be customary to in all keepings of horses
  • Get control of your horse's teeth = have its teeth checked regularly.
  • Get a fixed procedure for worm check in your horse keeping.
  • Take care of pastures. Consider stocking rate. Consider collecting manure heaps to limit intestinal worm infestation.



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