Saturday, October 14, 2006

Developing a Horse Ration

The Foundation

Horses evolved eating plains grasses with only nature’s supplements. Our modern horses’ diet today should still be based on grass and hay for the foundation. But forage has changed since horses roamed the plains and our pastures and hay may be lacking in essential nutrients.

There are two simple ways to know what our horse needs

• We can look at what is known about our region and use a supplement that complements “typical” area hay and pasture or

• We can send a hay sample to a forage laboratory for analysis.

Using a regional “average” can work for most healthy horses when we are mainly concerned that the major minerals are reasonably balanced and they are receiving at least the basic requirements for protein, energy, vitamins and trace minerals. It’s a useful approach if hay comes from different suppliers in small amounts.

Horses with special needs related to growth, health, performance, reproductive status or advanced age will benefit from having their ration more tightly balanced to avoid problems.

Interpreting the Results

Using the hay analysis results or a regional average, we can see if the forage meets the horse’s requirements. The guidelines established by the National Research Council (NRC) combined with mineral balancing guidelines based on more recent research, can help us determine what is needed to address deficiencies and avoid over supplementation.

Selecting the Right Supplement

After reviewing the analysis results, we can select a supplement that will complement the horse’s forage. This may be a “Regional” supplement which has been custom blended to work with our area hays, an “over the counter” supplement with appropriate mineral levels, or it may be a “Custom Mix” formulated specifically to work with the hay you had analyzed.

We can also determine if additional concentrates need to be included to improve protein, major mineral or fat content. This could range from a simple hay pellet or straight grain to a commercial concentrate feed.


Your horse’s ration should

• Provide optimum nutrition for your horse

• Be cost effective

• Fit your feeding program whether you board or keep your horse at home

• Be easy to understand

• Be flexible and portable enough for traveling with your horse

Special Needs

Is your horse “nutritionally challenged”?

There is no “one size fits all” feeding program but there are simple and effective ways to work with hard keepers, “air ferns”, and other horses with special nutritional needs.

Horses with laminitis, Cushing’s Disease, Insulin Resistance or other metabolic conditions may have additional requirements needing a more targeted approach.

Mares and foals have increased requirements for many nutrients which can affect critical developmental phases.

Performance horses often require more of everything - energy, protein, minerals - the right nutrients balanced in the correct amounts to feed the work.


Any nutrition recommendations and suggestions should be shared with your veterinarian and other equine practitioners you may be working with. It’s in your horse’s best interest if we’re all working together as a team.

A variety of herbs is often used to improve or maintain the health of your horse. Many herbs have powerful and potent actions similar to drugs and should be used only under the guidance of a certified herbalist (ideally, also a veterinarian). .

I do not suggest or recommend products containing substances that may interfere with herbs but you should be aware of interactions between any herbs or medications your horse is receiving. You should have at least a basic understanding of the purpose and possible side effects of any herbs fed to your horse

~ Education is the basis for Optimum Nutrition and Performance ~

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