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How Much Should You Feed Your Horse?

Answer these questions and get expert advice on determining how much to feed your horse.

┬ęPractical Horseman. All Rights Reserved.

What's His Age & What Does He Do?
Nutrient requirements vary with a horse's age and role. For example, a lactating broodmare has different requirements than a 10-year-old pasture potato. The table below gives guidelines for major nutritional classes. The numbers are percentages of the horse's weight--that is, so many pounds of dry feed per 100 pounds of body weight.

What's His Weight?
To use the table, you must know your horse's weight. The average mature stock-type horse weighs 1,200 pounds. Lighter breeds such as Arabians average about 1,000 pounds. If you can't actually weigh your horse, estimate his weight with a weight tape (available from feed stores), or use this equation:

W = (HG2 x BL) / 330
W = Weight in pounds
HG = Heartgirth in inches. To measure, run the tape around the horse at the highest point of the withers.
BL = Body length in inches. Measure from the point of the shoulder along the horse's side to the point of the buttocks.

Example: A light working horse with a heartgirth of 70 inches and body length of 69 inches.
W = (702 x 69) / 330 = 1,024 lbs

The table shows that this horse will need 10 1?4 to 20 1?2 pounds of hay (1 to 2 percent of body weight) and 5 to 101?4 pounds of grain (0.5 to 1 percent of body weight) each day, and that his total daily feed consumption will be 15 1?2 to 25 1?2 pounds (1.5 to 2.5 percent of body weight).

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What's His Condition?
The table gives you a range. Use your horse's condition (degree of fat cover) to help decide where he belongs in that range. For example, if you can see his ribs, he may be too thin; up his feed. If you can't feel his ribs, it may be time to cut back.

A more precise way to determine fat cover is through numerical condition scoring, which involves observing (by sight and/or feel) fat at six specific body sites, and comparing the observations to a table. For more information on body condition scoring, see How to Assess Body Condition.

CLASS FORAGE
(% of body weight)
CONCENTRATE
(% of body weight)
IDEAL TOTAL
(% of body weight)
MATURE HORSES
Maintenance
Mares, late gestation
Mares, early lactation
Mares, late lactation
1.5-2.0
1.0-1.5
1.0-2.0
1.0-2.0
0-0.5
0.5-1.0
1.0-2.0
0.5-1.5
1.5-2.0
1.5-2.0
2.0-3.0
2.0-2.5
WORKING HORSES
Light work1
Moderate work2
Intense work3
1.0-2.0
1.0-2.0
0.75-1.5
0.5-1.0
0.75-1.5
1.0-2.0
1.5-2.5
1.75-2.5
2.0-3.0
YOUNG HORSES
Nursing foal, 3 months
Weanling foal, 6 months
Yearling foal, 12 months
Long yearling, 18 months
2-year-old, 24 months
0
0.5-1.0
1.0-1.5
1.0-1.5
1.0-1.5
1.0-2.0
1.5-3.0
1.0-2.0
1.0-1.5
1.0-1.5
2.5-3.5
2.0-3.5
2.0-3.0
2.0-2.5
1.75-2.5

1Examples: horses used in pleasure, equitation, or working 1-3 hours per day.
2Examples: horses in ranch work, roping, barrel racing, jumping, etc., or working 3-5 hours per day.
3Examples: horses in race training, polo, etc., or working more than 5 hours per day.

Kathy Anderson is an Extension Horse Specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

This article originally appeared in the January 2005 issue of Horse & Rider magazine.

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