How Often Do You Feed Your Horse?

Coming Up With A Feeding Plan

With Thanksgiving coming up tomorrow, and thinking about how much we tend to eat over the holidays, it made me start thinking about feeding my horses. How often should you feed? Is there a best practice model to follow when it comes to feeding horses?

how to feed horses

I don’t know about you, but every horse I have ever owned has never come with an instruction manual. And more often than not, I have found myself asking what is best, when it comes to everything horse related.

In a perfect horse world, we would be able to turn our horses out into lush pastures every single day. This way they could graze all day long, as nature intended. Unfortunately, most of us with horses don’t have a 10-acre pasture that we can turn our horses out into every single day.

So what are we to do?

While I was growing up with horses, it seemed that horses would be twice a day, morning and night. But horses aren’t really built to eat this way. They are grazing animals that were best suited to amble and graze all day long. In the wild, horses graze up to 18 hours a day.

how to feed horses

When you change nature’s intent. You can run into problems. Even though horses are huge animals, they have a very delicate GI system. And for us to keep our horses happy and healthy, we need to remember that when it comes to feeding. So when you are changing anything in your horse’s diet, it needs to be done slowly and over time.

Forage and Fiber

hay is for horses

The largest part of your horses diet will come from forage, or hay. Hay comes in many different varieties, depending on where you live. You can find orchard grass, Bermuda, timothy grass, brome, alfalfa, or a combination of grasses. This will probably be the largest part of your horse’s diet. And when feeding hay, it really is best to feed smaller meals, more frequently.

Grain and Supplements

Now this may ruffle some feathers, but I’m going to say it anyway. In most instances, your horse doesn’t really need grain. I don’t know if we feed grain because we feel we need too, or because we are giving our horses more calories. But grain feeding seems to go hand in hand with our routine feeding.

horses and grains

If you do feed a complete feed, or grain when you give your horse his hay, try to separate it out, and just like when you are feeding your hay in more frequent smaller meals, do the same with your grain. This makes it easier to dose out your supplements as well.

Feeding Less, More Often

If you are feeding your horse 2 large meals a day, try to space it out. Instead of feeding 2 large meals, space it out so you are feeding your horse 4 to 5 smaller meals a day. The idea is to keep his GI system working more consistently throughout a 24-hour period. We want to try and mimic what he would do if he were turned out 24 hours a day.

how I feed my horses

You may be thinking this just isn’t possible. But trust me, where there’s a will, there’s a way. You can make this happen, especially if you have your horse at home.

I will use my horses as an example.

I work 5 days a week. I leave for work at 7:30 AM, and I don’t return home until 6:30 PM. But yet I manage to make sure my horses get 5 smaller meals, every single day.

Our day starts early. I usually wake up at 5:00 AM, and the first thing I do is go out to my horses and give them each 1 flake of hay. Then when I am getting ready to leave, around 7:15, I go out and give them 2 more flakes of hay, and a portion of their pelleted feed (about 1 quart) and some supplements. I also make sure their water is topped off. They should always have access to fresh water.

feeding horse supplements

I am fortunate because my husband works from home, so he will turn my horses out for the day. But in anticipation of this, I take 2 flakes of hay, and put them out in their barren field. It’s winter time where I live, so there isn’t much grass for grazing. But throwing out some hay for them gives them something to munch on for their lunch. Later in the afternoon, around 4:00, my husband will entice the horses back to their stalls with a flake of hay. And then after I get home around 6:30 PM, I give them 2 more flakes of hay, along with another quart of feed and supplements. This is when I will clean their stalls, and top off their water buckets. I also will throw out one more flake into their pens, if it is not raining or snowing. If it is snowing, or wet outside, I will wait to give this last flake of hay until later at night, around 9:30 PM.

So lets build out this feeding plan:

  • 5:00 AM 1 flake of hay
  • 7:15 AM 2 flakes of hay and pelleted feed
  • 11:00 AM 1 flake of hay and pasture time
  • 4:00 PM 1 flake of hay
  • 6:30 PM 2 flakes of hay and pelleted feed
  • 9:30 PM 1 flake of hay

This means my horses have feed in front of them roughly 16 hours out of the day. By feeding this way, I am giving them smaller, yet more frequent meals.

a better way to feed horses

By feeding your horse smaller meals, spaced out throughout the day and evening you are helping to keep his gut working more naturally. There have been studies done that show horses have better gut health if they are fed more frequently. And you also can prevent or manage problems like ulcers, and even help with habits like weaving and cribbing by keeping your horse busy with food.

Making Your Feeding Plan Work

This may be a challenge for you if your horse is boarded, or loving away from your home, or if you work all day long like I do. But it can be done. If your horse is turned out, throw flakes of hay in different areas of his pasture. If you board, and have access to your own hay, offer to help out a fellow boarder by taking turns of feeding an extra flake of hay to your horses. If you horse is in a confined stall 24 hours a day, you may want to talk with the barn owner about feeding smaller and more frequent meals. It may cost a little more, but it will be worth it in the long run, when your horse’s health is concerned.

feeding horses better

Like I said, where there is a will, there is a way. You can make this happen for your horse. I think if you do, you will see an improvement in your horse’s demeanor, as well as his health. So make an effort to feed your horse more often. Try it for a month, and pay attention to your horse. If you don’t see a change, well you can go back to the way things were. But, if you do notice an improvement (and I think you will) keep it up. Your horse will thank you, and I am willing to bet will be healthier too!

About Lisa Goodwin

I am horse crazy and love DIY projects, and finding great deals on everything horse related. When I have a new idea, or find a great deal I love sharing this information with you.
You can find me over on my website, Budget Equestrian or catch up with me on my YouTube channel, The Budget Equestrian