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February 2024

Ultimate Guide to Horse Feed: Types, Nutrition and Feeding Tips

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Understanding Horse Feed

Proper nutrition is key in maintaining the overall health, performance, and longevity of your horse. Just like humans, horses require a balanced diet consisting of essential nutrients to support their bodily functions and meet their day-to-day energy requirements.

What To Feed A Horse

What to feed a horse? Well, in a word: fibre! Fibre should form the cornerstone of your horse’s diet. Horse’s have evolved to eat low-energy foods near constantly. This ‘slow feeding’ method is required for their digestion, and it helps avoid gastrointestinal problems for your horse.

How to get enough fibre into your horse? Luckily, there are a wide range of horse feed options available. Options for feed include hay, grains, and concentrates. There are benefits and considerations to be made for each food type – and understanding the difference between them best equips you to provide your horse with the right possible diet. Remember, considerations are to be made for your horse’s specific dietary needs as feeds are designed to suit different horses.

Nutritional Requirements for Horses

A horse’s diet should be made up of a variety of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Getting the right balance will optimise their energy, growth, and muscle development.

Types of Horse Feed

Pasture Grass

Pasture grass contains most of the nutrition your horse requires. It also contains silica, which is important for your horse’s dental health.

Be aware that some horses (sometimes called ‘easy keepers’) gain weight easily and will need their access to lush pasture limited to avoid weight problems. Additionally, pasture grass isn’t always available year-round, so other feed types need to be considered.


Hay is a staple in a horse's diet and provides essential fibre for digestive health. Its rouge texture (roughage) is also a requirement for your horse’s digestion, as it aids the passage of food and waste products through their gut. A horse will need to eat 1-2% of their body weight in roughage per day.

There are different types of hay, with differing nutritional profiles. The most common hays found in Australia include lucerne hay, grass hay, oaten hay, teff hay and rye hay. While each has their pros and cons, it’s important to select what works best for you and your horse as some horses will require more calories and thus richer hay is best.

Whichever hay you feed your horse, it’s important to ensure hay is clean and free of mould.


Grains are often used to supplement a horse's diet, providing additional energy and nutrients. Oats are the most popular grains for horses, though barley and corn are also common grain choices. They can be a good source of supplement energy for active horses as they’re calorie dense.

Grains should be fed to your horse in moderation, as they are high in starch and sugar. While this doesn’t mean your horse can’t have them, it does mean that they should only form part of their diet as a horse’s digestive system depends on near-constant chewing – something that grains don’t provide. They also don’t contain silica. Grains are not suitable for horses with metabolic issues; if your horse puts on weight easily legumes (such as lupins) can be a safe alternative.


Concentrates (such as pellets and sweet feeds) are specially formulated feeds that offer a convenient source of nutrition for horses. These feeds are typically designed to provide a balanced diet in a compact form, making them ideal for horses with specific dietary needs or those who require additional supplementation (such as hardworking horses or mares that are in foal).

Petstock Has a Variety of Horse Feeds

These feeds are specially formulated to contain a balance of essential fibre, calories, vitamins, and minerals.

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Our Top 5 Horse Feeding Tips

preventing dietary-related issues. Our top feeding tips will help you establish a feeding routine that keeps your horse in tip top shape.

1. Balancing Act

One key aspect of optimising your horse's diet is finding the right balance between grass, hay, grain, and other food sources. While hay provides essential fibre, grains offer additional energy and nutrients which may be needed for hardworking horses. Finding the optimal ratio based on your horse's activity level and nutritional needs is crucial for their overall health and performance.

Remember, what your horse likes best is not the same as what they should be given on a day-to-day basis. Just like a child will choose sweets over vegetables, horses will seek out sugary treats and high-calorie grains over hay and grass if given the chance.

2. Consider Supplements

In some cases, horses may require additional supplementation to meet their nutritional requirements fully. This is particularly true for horses with specific health conditions or those undergoing intense training. Consult with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist to determine if your horse would benefit from additional minerals and vitamins in their diet.

You can also provide concentrated feed to your horse to ensure their requirements are met and they’re getting the benefits of a varied diet with one feed source.

You should also provide your horse with salt. Since roughage and concentrated feed contain little salt, and your horse loses both sodium and chloride through sweat, you will need to make up for this deficiency with a supplement. Consider placing a salt lick in your horse’s stall to address this.

3. Well-Watered

Ensuring your horse remains properly hydrated is just as important as their diet. Access to clean, fresh water should be always available, especially during hot weather or periods of increased activity. Monitor your horse's water intake closely to detect any signs of dehydration.

4. Weight Watchers

Regularly monitoring your horse's weight and body condition is essential for gauging the effectiveness of their diet. You want your horse to be just right, neither too thin nor overweight. Remember, some horses (easy keepers) will put on and retain weight easily and will need their access to food sources monitored, while others (hard keepers) will need additional calories to maintain a healthy weight. You will need to monitor your horse’s weight and body condition and adjust their diet accordingly: remembering that different horses have different calorie requirements.

5. Prevent Dietary-Related Issues

By optimizing your horse's diet and feeding practices, you can help prevent a range of dietary-related issues, such as colic, obesity, and nutritional deficiencies. Consistency, moderation, and attention to detail are key to ensuring your horse's diet supports their overall health and well-being.

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10 Tips For Storing And Handling Horse Feed

Proper storage and handling of feed is essential to maintain its quality and prevent contamination. Here are our top tips for best practice when it comes to storing and handling various types of horse feed.

1. Choose a Suitable Storage Area

Select a storage area that is clean, dry, and well-ventilated to prevent mould and spoilage. Ideally, the storage space should be away from direct sunlight and protected from pests (such as rodents and insects).

2. Use Airtight Containers

Store feed in airtight containers or bins to maintain freshness and prevent exposure to moisture and air. Plastic or metal containers with secure lids are ideal for keeping feed safe from contamination.

3. Keep Feed Off the Ground

Elevate feed containers off the ground to minimise the risk of contamination from dirt, moisture, and pests. Use pallets or shelves to create a raised platform for storing feed bins or bags.

4. Rotate Feed Regularly

Practice first in, first out (FIFO) rotation to ensure older feed is used before newer batches. This helps prevent feed from becoming stale or spoiled over time. Label feed containers with the purchase date to track freshness.

5. Avoid Cross-Contamination

Keep different types of feed separate to prevent cross-contamination. Store hay, grains, and concentrates in separate containers or compartments to maintain their individual integrity and nutritional value.

6. Monitor Temperature and Humidity

Regularly monitor the temperature and humidity levels in the storage area to prevent conditions that promote mould. You can use a thermometer and hygrometer to do this.

7. Clean and Disinfect Containers

Regularly clean and disinfect feed containers to remove buildup of feed residue, mould, or bacteria. Use mild detergent and hot water to wash containers thoroughly and rinse them well before refilling with fresh feed.

8. Handle Feed with Clean Hands

When handling feed, ensure your hands are clean to prevent contamination. Avoid touching feed with dirty hands or utensils and wash your hands before and after handling feed to maintain hygiene.

9. Store Supplements Separately

If you store supplements or medications with horse feed, keep them in separate containers to prevent accidental ingestion.

10. Check for Signs of Spoilage

Regularly inspect feed for signs of spoilage, such as mould, unusual odours, or insect infestations. Discard any feed that appears mouldy, discoloured, or otherwise compromised.

Horse Feed FAQs

What is the best type of hay for horses?

The best type of hay for horses depends on factors such as their age, activity level, and dietary needs. Generally, high-quality grass hay issuitable for most horses.

How much grain should I feed my horse?

The amount of grain to feed your horse depends on several factors, including their size, activity level, and overall health. It's essential to consult with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist to determine the appropriate grain ration for your horse.

Can horses eat fruits and vegetables?

Yes, horses can eat certain fruits and vegetables as treats in moderation. However, it's crucial to avoid feeding them large quantities or foods that may be toxic to horses, such as avocados or onions. Fruits and vegetables such as carrots, apples, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and watermelon (skin removed) are good treat options.

How often should I feed my horse?

Horses should ideally be fed small meals throughout the day to mimic their natural grazing behaviour. Aim to feed your horse three to four times daily and always provide access to fresh water.

What supplements are essential for horses?

Essential supplements for horses may include vitamin and mineral supplements to fill nutritional gaps in their diet, joint supplements for older horses, and electrolytes for horses undergoing strenuous exercise or in hot climates.

How can I prevent colic in horses?

Preventing colic in horses involves implementing good management practices, such as providing a consistent diet, ensuring access to fresh water, and maintaining a regular deworming schedule. Additionally, avoiding sudden dietary changes and providing ample turnout and exercise can help reduce the risk of colic.

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