What Does My Horse Need? – A Look at Feeding

Nutritionally, the steppe animal horse is designed for an almost continuous food intake, meaning an average feeding requirement of 16-18 hours per day. The horse can consume about 2.5% of dry matter in relation to body weight. In view of the shrinking pastureland, additional feeding is therefore unavoidable.

Diet Food vs. Complementary Food

In addition to classic feed such as oats and maize, the market offers compound feed such as mueslis and supplementary feed. Due to the increased awareness of horse feeding and health maintenance, supplementary feeds are experiencing a real high: There is a corresponding supplementary feed for seemingly every problem - but therein lies the problem: Often, too much is fed and many feeds have not been scientifically investigated at all. Feeds with an actual health aspect are called dietetic feeds. This means a distinction is made between diet feed and supplementary feed. Dietetic feeds include feeds for specific nutritional purposes that have a positive effect on horses in a disease state.


Caution of Over Feeding

Most compound feeds are already vitaminized and mineralized compared to feed materials, but each manufacturer aims for a different feeding concept. The combination of feed from different manufacturers can therefore quickly lead to an oversupply. Although all feed manufacturers are subject to strict requirements and controls, the ingredients should still be analysed in detail and the amount of feed should be weighed. The same applies to supplements for the skin, muscles or hooves. The compositions often differ greatly, which means that maximum quantities can easily be exceeded. Many minerals can influence each other in their mode of action and even prove to be harmful to health. Any excess puts a strain on organs such as the liver and kidneys. An excess of calcium, for example, has a detrimental effect on zinc utilization in the body. 

Rations Calculation
In order to avoid an over- and undersupply, the supply of energy, protein as well as trace and bulk elements should be determined by calculating the feed ration. The total ration must be taken into account, including feed materials, hay and all supplementary feed. On the basis of the ration calculation, a horse owner can first get an idea of the care of his animal and then supplement it with other feeds if necessary. 
Body Condition Score
As a benchmark for assessing body fullness, the Body Condition Score can help. Six specific body regions are examined and rated on a scale of 1-9. In addition to the nutritional status, which is often misjudged, it is primarily the significantly overestimated intensity of stress that leads to an oversupply of energy. The vast majority of horses are usually only lightly worked – this includes an hour of work with 30 minutes of walking, 20 minutes of trotting and 10 minutes of canter. Horses that are worked at this level about five times a week have an additional energy requirement of only 20% above the preservation level. If the basic requirement is calculated depending on the horse's body weight and care, the calculation is supplemented by other factors: work intensity, nutritional status, health problems, stress, excessive sweating, outside temperature, age, dental health, etc.  Regarding all advertisements and promises, however, the horse owner should also take on an important observer role: So I should ask myself, does my horse look good? Is the coat shiny? Is it ready to perform? Are the hooves okay?
Back to the Roots

It is a tiresome topic in many stables: the hay. The quality of hay has deteriorated in recent years, mould concentrations are increasing, the protein content is decreasing and often too little is being fed. If you have an uneasy feeling about the quality, you can have the hay examined by means of nutrient analysis. On this basis, the ration can be calculated accordingly and sensibly supplemented with supplementary feed. You can find out whether the hay corresponds to the quality you want for your horse. The horse already receives most of its nutrients when it is kept in a species-appropriate manner: with access to pasture grass, light, air, exercise and roughage. Only if the basics are right, a horse can stay healthy.


In Review

Minerals are divided into trace elements and bulk elements, which can be traced to the needs of the horse.

Bulk elements

  • Calcium: building block of the bone structure, involvement in energy metabolism
  • Phosphorus: building block of the bone structure
  • Magnesium: crucial for enzymes in muscle and nerve tissue
  • Sodium: regulation of acid, base and water balance
  • Chlorine: regulation of acid, base and water balance

Trace elements

  • Iron: formation of hemoglobin, important for oxygen transport
  • Copper: blood production, maintenance of connective tissue function, crucial for bone and cartilage development as well as nerve tissue
  • Zinc: component of enzymes in carbohydrate and protein metabolism, crucial for skin and hair metabolism
  • Manganese: important factor in enzymes for mineral and fat metabolism
  • Cobalt: central atom of vitamin B-12
  • Iodine: component of thyroid hormone
  • Selenium: Protection of the cell membrane, especially the muscles, oversupply can lead to serious disorders

Vitamins play an important role in many metabolic processes. Deficiency symptoms can manifest themselves in very different ways. Some vitamins, such as the water-soluble B vitamins, vitamin K and vitamin C, can be produced by the horse itself and do not have to be supplied from outside.


  • Vitamin A: protection of the skin and mucous membranes, positive effect on vision and fertility
  • Vitamin D: promotes the absorption and storage of calcium
  • Vitamin E: protection of cells
  • Vitamin K: blood clotting factor
  • Vitamin B1: carbohydrate metabolism
  • Vitamin B2: a component of enzymes
  • Vitamin B12: Enzyme effect
  • Biotin: important for skin, hooves and hair
  • Folic acid: metabolism of carbon