Horses are herbivores who love to graze on grass. Their long digestive system requires a high-fiber diet like pasture grass and tender plants. To keep them healthy, a horse food list can include grass, hay, grains, concentrate mixes and other nutritious treats like fruits.
These types of horse food can serve as your complete guide to know what kind of food do horses eat that are safe and which ones to avoid.
Pasture Grass is the Natural Choice
The long digestive system of horses is capable of breaking down tough fiber in pasture grass and other plants.
As selective grazers, however, they choose the grass they eat, and munch on the most succulent, fresh and tasty ones.
Can a horse get all its nutrition just eating grass?
Yes. If it’s grazing on good quality grass. Also, if they are not doing any strenuous work. Horses with their flat-grinding teeth can consume as much as 25 pounds of grass, enough to meet their daily minimum requirements.
However, quality of forages has decreased throughout the years. Thus, many horse owners make pasture pleasing by enriching soils (with organic manure) and growing new grass among other pasture management techniques.
Otherwise, pasture can be a complete source of nutrition for horses. This table below shows the estimated nutrition available in grasses in any given high-quality pasture.
Can Horses Eat Grass Lawn Clippings?
No. “Feeding lawn clippings will dramatically upset the balance of microbes in the hindgut, potentially leading to colic or laminitis,” said Larry Lawrence, Ph.D., a nutritionist with Kentucky Equine Research (KER).
Hay is for Healthy Horse
When the grass isn’t greener on any other side of the pasteur, high-quality hay or cut grass is a great feed for horses.
You can buy Hay in bales, cubes, or pellets. Now, if you’re going to feed your horse Hay, your concern is what kind of food do horses eat when it comes to hay?
Because, hay comes in several types as alfalfa, oat, Bermuda and orchard.
But, generally, Hay can be classified into two types: Legume Hay, and Grass Hay.
The most popular type of Legume Hay is Alfalfa Hay or Lucerne Hay. Other options include white clover, red clover, and birdsfoot trefoil. When feeding Legume Hay, bear these facts in mind:
- Legume hays have higher protein, minerals, and vitamins than grass hay.
- Horses love the taste of Alfalfa or Lucerne hay but since it’s nutrient-dense, too much can cause an easy keeper to gain weight or cause diarrhea
- Red clover, though the same as alfalfa in palatability and nutrient content, is prone to mold and dusts
Bluegrass and Timothy are common grass hays. Other types are orchard grass, phalaris, Kikuyu grass and other tropical grasses. Oat hay and barley hay are also types of cereal hays under this category. Grass hays have been recommended for easy keepers or for mixed feeding because:
- Grass hays have lower protein and energy content but higher in fiber than legume hay.
- Since it’s less nutrient-dense and is ideal for small but frequent feedings, it’s not enough to satisfy a hard-keeper or a heavy-worker.
How Much Hay Should you feed a Horse per day?
It depends on a horse’s weight. The average thousand-pound horse should eat about 15 to 20 pounds of hay a day. It will also vary depending on the age, level of activity and lifestyle factors of the horse.
For the ideal amount and best mix of hay for your horse, consult your vet or equine nutritionist.
Also read: Horse Care Tips and Tricks for Beginners
Grains Can be Added
What kind of food do horses eat? Hard workers or horses with increased energy levels may need more calories than those found in grass or hay.
In such cases, as racehorses, pregnant mares, and ranch horses, you can give them grain concentrates in small amounts.
Commonly fed grains include oats, barley, rice bran, and corn. But there are other palatable options like Milo, Molasses, Beet Pulp and Soybean.
Horses seem to prefer oats among other grains. This is why oats are feed favorites either whole or processed. They’re also the safest choices among grains with high fiber content.
Corn can be fed on the cob, as shelled whole corn, cracked corn, steamed rolled corn or ground crushed corn. Corn has high carbohydrate content and meets the energy requirements of active horses.
Barley has lower fiber than oats and is usually mixed with other grains because it’s less palatable to horses. Rolled barleys are preferred than crushed or ground since it can cause colic.
Horses love the taste of Molasses. You’ll often find it mixed with other grains as a sweet treat but in small amounts. Too much and the feed becomes sticky.
Beet pulp is an excellent addition to horse feeds with its high-fiber, high-energy and calcium content. It’s common practice to soak beet pulp before feedings to make it more palatable and reduce the risk of choking.
Fruits and Vegetables are Fantastic Treats
What kind of food do horses eat aside from grass and grains? Horses consider fruits and some vegetables as treats. You can give them the traditional favorite: apples and carrots.
The following fruits are safe to give. To avoid choking, cut them in smaller pieces before feeding:
- Banana (can be fed with the peel)
These vegetables are also on the safe list on what to feed your horse:
- Beet Root
- Snow Peas
Also read: What vitamins do horses need?
Avoid Giving these Foods to your Horse
Horses are herbivores and they thrive on plants. Avoid giving these foods as treats to your horse:
- Brussel Sprouts
- Nightshade vegetables
- House Plants
What food horses should avoid is just as important as what kind of food do horses eat. Here’s an infographic from Lifehack that you can use as a guide when feeding treats.
Feed your Horse the Right Amount
Horses can’t vomit like humans or dogs. Stomach problems can be fatal. Hence, they do well with small but frequent meals. Or spread their feeding three times a day, like breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s not advisable to let them starve for more than eight hours.
Keep your Horse Hydrated
Here’s a fact: a horse can survive for 20 days with only water. But a horse without water and only food will die in three to six days.
Hence, water is life for horses. The average horse will need five to ten gallons of clean, fresh water a day.
In summary, we’ve identified the recommended types of horse food. The amount and frequency varies on horse to horse.
You can’t go wrong with these ones along with water, exercise, and tender love and care!