We love seeing our horses thrive, right? At Silver Lining Herbs, we love helping horse owners provide better care to their equine companions. By feeding your horse a proper diet and providing healthy living options to them, you can help your horse live well beyond the typical 35 years of age. If you’re wondering how to provide a better diet, lifestyle, and health regimen for your horse, you’ll want to read our “do’s and don'ts” tips for a healthier, happier horse.
Healthy living starts with healthy habits (and routines)
“Practice makes perfect (or progress),” as the saying goes. Your horse’s overall health depends on how well you — the horse owner — can provide healthy food, exercise, and sleep for your equine companion.
Before we dive into the do’s and don’ts of raising your horse to be their best, we’ll need to look at the different types of routine horse health care a horse should ideally receive.
Different types of routine horse care
Ideally, you want to offer as much consistency in your horse’s day-to-day routine so your horse can live their best life.
The most common categories of routine horse care include:
- Proper shelter (e.g. a horse stall or stable)
- Medical attention
You’ll want to make sure that your horse has plenty of each — and in the right amount — to ensure your horse is healthy and feeling well. With the right resources, horses can experience a lifetime of happy adventures.
We’ll discuss each of these resources and categories in greater depth throughout the rest of this article. Let’s dive in!
What horses eat
Most horses tend to eat many, small meals throughout the day and can spend up to 15-17 hours on their feet munching and grazing. Whether it’s open pastures in their cozy barn stall, you’ll want to offer your horse access to the following foods.
DO feed your horse the following:
- Grass and tender plants- horses love it, but eating large quantities — especially when in bloom in Spring — can cause laminitis.
- Hay/haylage- especially during autumn to early spring, when pasture grass isn’t available
- Select grains- barley, corn, and oats — in moderation — can help with digestion. Grains like wheat can cause ulcers, dental problems, colic, or even founder, so make sure to never feed horses wheat.
- Fruits and veggies- add these to your horses feed. A carrot cut lengthwise and stuck in your horse's feed works great.
- Concentrates (like grains, barley, corn, and oats)- for sensitive horses on diets (e.g. pregnant, nursing, young, or old horses) and performance racehorses who need extra nutrition.
- Salt blocks- especially during the summer, horses love these little treats! A horse can lick a block all day long. Just make sure you don't give your horse more than one at a time.
- Water- at least twice a day (about eight gallons a day) — and not right after a meal or if thawed from a vat of frozen water.
- Herbal supplements for horses- can be a wonderful source of vitamins and minerals for your horse if they happen to be short on nutrition. Whether you choose ashwagandha or parsley, herbal supplements can be a natural part of a horse's diet and can help horses live healthier.
DON'T feed your horse the following:
- Garden waste (yuck)- a horse needs fresh food, and the toxins from garden sprays can be harmful and poisonous to a horse. Colic can result if garden waste is consumed.
- Moldy or dusty hay- haylage that has sat out for long periods of time can mold. Moldy hay can damage a horse’s lungs and is definitely something they shouldn't eat.
- Bran- unless required for a specific diet, feeding a horse bran can result in blockages in a horse’s digestive tract (consult your local veterinarian if in doubt).
- Stone fruits- apples, plums, and peaches are a no-no for horses. Horses have extremely long esophagi, and if a horse consumes fruits that haven’t been pitted, a horse could choke.
- Veggies from the cabbage family- while not lethal, veggies can give your horse flatulence, leave your horse feeling bloated, and generally make horses feel uncomfortable.
- Potatoes and tomatoes- a horse shouldn’t eat members of the Nightshade family because these foods can cause intestinal issues, colic, increased heart rate, and decreased gut functioning. A horse shouldn’t eat these foods.
- Meat- horses are herbivores, so they shouldn’t eat meat (well, they can, but eating meat can cause serious issues). Eating meat is unhealthy for horses, as their livers aren’t built to process the toxins found in meat.
- Processed feeds (like molasses and other sugars)- while a sugar cube now and then isn’t going to kill your horse, eating large quantities of sugars and processed feeds can cause weight gain, laminitis, and potentially insulin resistance.
- Diets rich in concentrated food (alfalfa only)- research shows that for endurance racehorses, a limited diet of alfalfa can help a racehorse thrive. Alfalfa is nutrient-rich and high in protein and fiber. While a moderate amount is okay, feeding large amounts of alfalfa to endurance racehorses is ill-advised. Diets of concentrated ingredients may be beneficial for working horses, but it’s always best to contact your equine specialist or veterinarian to determine how much alfalfa is right for your horse.
Consider seasonal care and your horse’s life stage
A healthy horse eats frequent meals, in relatively small quantities, and receives clean water — especially during the hot summer months. Providing the right type of seasonal care is crucial to maintain your horse’s health.
If a horse doesn’t receive the right care in each season, your horse's digestive system could flare up, and its body weight could fluctuate.
We recommend the following seasonal care to ensure your horse stays healthy year-round (so vitamin and mineral imbalances don’t occur).
DO practice the following seasonal and life-stage habits:
- Regular dental and health check-ups- regular dental and health check-ups- a horse’s teeth are flat and aren’t made to eat and tear through large meals of nutrient-dense food. Smaller pieces of food can easily get lodged in their teeth, which can cause oral hygiene issues. Taking your horse to the vet for vaccinations and dental care once a year will ensure your horse keeps munching on fruits and vegetables (like kale, broccoli, and horse celery) without compromising oral hygiene.
- Horse maintenance and care- consider hiring a blacksmith or farrier every six to eight weeks for routine hoof trimming and shaping to ensure your horse can work and live well all year round.
- Deworming for parasites (as needed)- as the Spring harvest blooms, worms come out and play. Since horses eat grass outside for most of their waking days, they're more likely to pick up parasites from worms. As new grass blooms in Spring, consider deworming your horse and providing special Spring maintenance for your horse.
- Warm shelter- horses produce enough heat to stay warm during winter. But you’ll still want to provide adequate shelter from the rain, wind, snow, and most importantly, biting insects. As always, do your best to remove manure daily from your horse’s stable.
- Daily exercise- most stable horses live very controlled and sedentary lives that — when compared to wild horses — are much less taxing. Like humans, horses benefit from regular exercise. But horses’ bodies can shoulder a great deal of manual labor and work. You can help your horse combat obesity and live a better life by having them engage in regular exercise. Not exercising enough could affect your horse’s weight.
DON’T practice these seasonal and life-stage habits:
- Feed hay exclusively- horses should eat and munch on bales of hay horses, but eating pounds of hay per day can result in your horse not receiving the required nutrients and vitamins to live a healthy life. As part of your horse's feeding schedule, make sure you're providing herbal supplements to your horse if you suspect they're not receiving the required nutrients and vitamins for a healthy life.
- Sore your horse’s hooves- many owners still unfortunately engage in the harmful practice of hoof soring to create an artificial gate in horses (for show purposes). Doing so can cause permanent damage to your horse’s feet and can leave them emotionally scarred for life.
- Make sudden changes to your horse’s diet and routine- since horses graze about 15-17 hours per day, a horse must eat several small meals of leafy plants and flora at consistent feeding times throughout the day. If you choose to make changes in diet, make sure you are providing enough of your horse’s previous food along with the new food you want to introduce to your horse. You’ll need to limit and ration how much new food you replace with the food in your horse's current diet, because going from all one food to another can cause digestive issues. Even though a horse would gladly eat the food, you need to remove old food slowly so your horse can adjust to their new diet.
- Have your horse eat right after exercise- try and wait an hour or so after riding your horse — or three hours for a strenuous workout — to avoid the risk of your horse contracting colic. Small amounts of food may be okay, but we recommend checking with your equine practitioner before feeding your horse after a strenuous workout.
- …Or before a hefty workout- the same principles above apply to a pre-workout meal. Eating a great deal of food is something horses shouldn’t do even if the food is small — such as a plant clipping, sprout, or two.
- Have your horse eat large meals- an average 1,000-pound horse eats about 15-20 pounds of hay per day. But they can't eat all of that food at once. If they do, your horse may experience serious digestive issues. A horse detox might be needed if they eat the wrong foods in the wrong quantities. In general, you’ll want to make sure your horse is eating small meals daily.
Better habits and horse care start today
As you consider creating healthier horse care habits, know that Silver Lining Herbs has your back every step of the way. Whether you’re providing care for a strong and sturdy racehorse or a delicate nursing mare, better habits — like access to pasture throughout the day or the occasional block or loose salt treat — will ensure your horse is ready for anything.
Our podcast, eBook, and horse blogs are jam-packed with information about everything as diverse as the seed head of grasses, how celery could affect your horse, what to look for in hay, how much hay is right for your horses to prevent colic, the optimal equine diet, and so much more.
For more advice on what to feed horses and what you’ll want to remove from their diet, don’t hesitate to contact us at any point. We’re all ears.