When it comes to how much you should feed your horse, first remember that each animal is an individual. Second, remember that a horse needs 1,5% to 2,5% of its total body weight in feed daily, so you must work out its weight. If you don’t have a scale, measure your horse’s girth and length from the point of the shoulder to the point of the buttocks in centimetres.
Then use this formula: girth measurements2 x length ÷ 8 717. This will give you a rough weight in kilograms. On average, a 12,2 hands-high (hh) pony weighs about 300kg; a 14,2hh weighs about 425kg; a 15,2hh thoroughbred about 500kg; and a 16,2hh hunter about 600kg.
Next, decide how much work your horse is doing and what its condition is. A good condition is when the horse’s ribs are covered, but can still be felt, the rump is rounded and there’s no artificial crest caused by fatty deposits. Too much weight strains the heart, lungs and limbs. A youngster whose body is too heavy for its immature limbs can develop permanent problems. If the horse is overweight, it will need under 2% of its body weight in food. If underweight, it’ll need over 2% of its body weight.
Feed ratio based on workload:
- Maintenance to light work (hacking, a little slow cantering) – the 1,5% to 2,5% is divided as 1/3 concentrate and 2/3 fibre. So, for a 600kg horse (2%=12kg), give 4kg concentrate and 8kg roughage (hay) daily.
- Medium (hacking, schooling, competing in dressage and/or showjumping) – half concentrate and half fibre. So, for a 600kg horse (2%=12kg), give 6kg concentrate and 6kg roughage daily.
- Heavy work (competing regularly in horse trails, cross-country and endurance) – 2/3 concentrate and 1/3 fibre. So, for a 600kg horse (2% =12kg), thus 8kg concentrate, 4kg roughage daily.
Other feed factors:
- Build up the horse’s feed as his work increases, not before!
- For horses that graze, have the soil tested to check for deficiencies.
- If your horse is allergic or sensitive to hay dust, steam its teff net. Place the net in a clean black rubbish bin, empty a kettle of boiling water over the grass and close the lid for about 30 minutes. This will reduce the spores and prevent most of the goodness from being soaked out of the hay.
- If hay isn’t readily available, clean oat straw is an option (unlike wheat straw which isn’t very digestible). Oats or barley should either be cooked or crushed. Both have a low calcium to phosphorus ratio.
- Alfalfa (lucerne), which has veld grass in it, is also a good substitute. It’s high in calcium and helps compensate for deficiencies.
- Don’t add extra grain to a balanced feed ration as this throws out the balance.
- A horse uses up to 80% of its energy to keep warm. So when it’s cold, rug up and let him use the energy for conditioning.
- Supplements and herbs must only be fed when addressing a problem.