Happy New Year to you all, and your horses. Perhaps because I’m a Scot, I love New Year; a time of new beginnings, days starting to get longer and generally a whole new year to look forward to.

Many of us reassess our own health and diet after indulging over the season, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to do the same for our horses. Some questions to get you thinking about your horse’s diet and health, and a list of my take on the golden rules of feeding are laid out below:

Diet balance and assessment
Are you feeding the full recommended amount of a fortified feed or multi-vitamin and mineral supplement to balance your horse’s forage?

Are you feeding forage with an appropriate energy for your horse, so that you can feed plenty of it (preferably ad lib)

Is your horse maintaining a healthy weight and do they have a healthy appetite?

What’s in your horse’s feed bucket and why?

Is your horse’s diet balanced before you add therapeutic supplements?

Are you feeding electrolyte salts to your hard working horse?

Have you checked the label or marketing material of your chosen supplement and do you know what and how much of what it supplies?

Welfare
Does your horse have no longer than a four hour fast (no access to feed or forage), beyond which they are at risk of stomach ulcers?

Does your horse receive plenty of fibre in their diet?

Does your horse receive enough feed (ideally at least 2% of bodyweight daily). If you are feeding less than this e.g. for an overweight horse to lose weight, then you need to change to a lower energy forage e.g. straw. Older horses with teeth trouble need to have their forage replaced with something they can chew or they can literally starve to death

Does your horse receive enough turnout and/or exercise during winter if they are stabled for long periods?

Golden rules of feeding

  1. Feed appropriate forage first then add other feeds and supplements to balance that forage (i.e. feed plenty of forage)
  2. Avoid a fast of over 4 hours to limit stomach acid build up and reduce the risk of gastric ulcers
  3. Feed only enough concentrate feed as necessary to maintain weight on ad lib forage, and feed a maximum of about 1.5 kg per meal (or ideally, calculate starch intake and feed a maximum of 1 g starch per kg of horses’ bodyweight per meal)
  4. Change all feeds and forages gradually to allow the horse’s gut microbes and digestive enzymes time to adapt
  5. Feed only good quality, mould-free forages and feeds
  6. Keep all feed buckets, utensils and bins clean
  7. Feed succulents to horses with no access to grass
  8. Allow horses access to water before feeding concentrate (ideally, allow free access to water)
  9. Feed horses as individuals; adjust to fit that individual horse’s needs
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About Clare MacLeod

Clare MacLeod MSc RNutr is one of the UK’s few registered independent equine nutritionists who also has expertise in health and fitness. She advises private and commercial clients in all sectors of the horse world and is a hands-on horse owner herself. Clare is passionate about correct nutrition as a foundation for good health, without which peak fitness is not possible. She states “Good nutrition isn’t everything, but there’s nothing without it”.