The arrival of a new horse is an exciting time, but one of many decisions. How do you choose what to feed your new horse; should it be what you fed your last horse successfully, what the new arrival is already being fed, or do you choose something new you haven’t tried before?

Ideally, find out what the current owner, from whom you are buying, has been feeding your new horse. All dietary changes should be made gradually and this applies especially to horses moving yards. There is already some adjustment to be made so maintaining gut health with a gradual change of diet is ideal. Even if you don’t like what the previous owner fed or it isn’t a balanced diet, buying one sack or tub of feed and then changing over gradually is a good plan.

Make all dietary changes gradually for a new horse.
Make all dietary changes gradually for a new horse.

If you aren’t able to carry on with the previous feed and change gradually, or your horse wasn’t being fed anything on top of forage, then you can start from scratch. The best diet to start with is just forage. Turning your horse out onto appropriate pasture (limit grass intake if necessary) and feeding plenty of forage whilst they’re stabled (ad lib if possible) will help them to settle into their new home and maintain good gut health.

Forage alone isn’t a balanced diet so you will need to ask a source of vitamins and minerals to provide essential nutrients, and you may need to add concentrate feed if your horse is in work and won’t get enough energy (calories) and/or protein from the forage.

Until you get to know your new horse, it is worth feeding just a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement or balancer to balance their forage unless they are underweight, and assessing their condition over the first few weeks. You can mix these products into some chaff and/or unmolassed sugar beet. Even working horses only need concentrate feed e.g. coarse mix, nuts or cereal grains if they cannot maintain condition on forage alone. If, after the first few weeks your horse loses weight or condition then you need to assess whether the forage is good enough for them and consider adding concentrate feed.

Start simple and add products as you get to know your new horse.
Start simple and add products as you get to know your new horse.

As you get to know your new horse better, you can adjust the diet further to include therapeutic supplements if these are required. The diet should always be balanced for vitamins and minerals before you add other supplements such as those to support the hooves, respiratory system, or skin, because shortages of essential nutrients may be contributing or causing the health problem.

Don’t forget to add electrolytes salts to working horses to replenish salts lost in sweat, and consider vegetable oil e.g. flaxseed (rich in skin-supporting omega-3 oils) for horses who need an extra shine or extra skin support.

Do use a new feed or supplement for at least two weeks – and preferably longer – to give it a fair trial for your horse. Some supplements e.g. those for joints and hooves need much longer before a fair assessment can be made. Then go out and enjoy your new horse!

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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”.