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5 Horse Diet Basics

Updated: Feb 28

There are so many options and advice out there on how to feed our horses that it can be very confusing for the beginner and experienced horse owner alike. There's a big market out there and feed companies jostle for our attention. It doesn't need to be so complicated.

We all want our horses to look amazing and have long lives.

  1. Horses eat grass. Wild and domestic horses subsist mostly on pasture. If you don't have pasture, either because you horse is stabled, or your turnout area is small, you need to supply hay, ideally, a grassy lucerne, or teff if you can get it. As a rule of thumb, horses eat 1 - 2% of their bodyweight in pasture. If they are not able to meet this on pasture, you will need to add hay. Keep a close eye on your horse's condition and increase or decrease hay according to their weight.

  2. Your job is to supply what's not in pasture / hay. For a horse that manages very well weight-wise on pasture alone, they will generally still be deficient in a number of trace minerals - salt, and generally also copper, zinc and iodine. You can supply salt in a lick, which horses will readily access, but trace minerals are more difficult to supply since they are often less palatable. Sound Advice Trace Mix contains the minerals that are missing from pasture / hay on average.* You can meet their trace mineral needs by feeding Trace Mix in a small amount of lucerne chaff.

  3. If your horse is underweight on pasture / hay you will need to supply additional calories. If your horse is not in work, or elderly, or stabled / not on abundant pasture, it might be worthwhile investigating why your horse is not maintaning their weight. Have their teeth been floated recently? Have you wormed them recently? Is there another reason your horse is not maintaining their weight on abundant pasture?

  4. When you select a hard feed to add to hay and pasture, think about why you have selected what you are feeding. Are you following the advice of your feed store staff? Have they studied equine nutrition, or are they getting their information from feed company sales reps?

  5. Is it cheap? Why is it cheap? Does it say what's in it, or just make vague claims like 'cereal grains'? Does it promise to be a 'complete feed' and you don't need anything else? How can they possibly know that is true for your horse?

As a general rule, we discourage horse owners from buying 'complete' or pelleted feeds. It's like heading down the cereal aisle in the supermarket. One side of the aisle has Coco Pops and Fruit Loops, and even Nutri Grain, which is the same thing, even if it has athletes on the label. On the opposite side of the aisle is actual grains. If you want oats, buy oats. If you want wheat bran, buy wheat bran. If you want soy meal, buy soy meal, etc. That way you know what is in the bag.

We offer nutrition consults for horse owners if you want specific advice for your horse. This takes the guess work out, and demystifies the feed labels. We can also help you find cheaper alternatives to feeds you may be paying too much for. This can be done online, or by a home visit in the Hunter Valley.

* When we first started the nutrition side of our business, we sampled a vast number of hays and pastures in different parts of the Hunter Valley, Central Coast and North Western Sydney to determine which minerals were missing from pastures and hays. Our Trace Mixes are based on optimum amounts of averages of what is missing from pastures and hays in our region.

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