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Getting Up to Speed With a Horse Diet for Your Steed

Table of Contents

Did you know that horses have small stomachs, which limit the amount of food they can digest? In fact, out of all domestic animals, horses have the smallest stomach in relation to their size. Because of their small stomach size, more frequent feedings are recommended for horses.

Of course, a lot goes into understanding a healthy horse diet than just knowing about the size of your steed’s stomach. That’s why we’ve compiled a complete guide on what you need to know about equine nutrition.

This guide talks about the proper equine nutrition, tips, and tricks to ensure you provide only the best supplements and diet. Plus, we’ll also discuss important factors to consider when trying to pick the right horse food.

Why Is Horse Nutrition Important?

Before we get into the nitty gritty of horse diets, let’s take a second to talk about why it actually matters.

The main reason why a good horse diet matters is that it directly affects equine performance and behavior. Having a horse that’s on a healthy diet helps your horse, whether it’s a working horse, show horse, or racehorse, maintain top performance.

On top of that, an ideal horse diet prevents sickness, mood troubles, and injury. When your horse has good nutrition, it’ll usually showcase the following characteristics:

The table below breaks down a couple of other benefits of good horse diets and why each is important.

Main Benefit


Muscle Maintenance

Horses need food to maintain their muscle mass and remain active

Digestive Health

Maintains a horse’s optimal gut health and nutrient absorption

Energy Production

Energy is essential for all types of horse functions, including temperature regulation


Maintains an equine’s good reproductive health for the fetus to thrive

Immune Function

Serves as defense of horses against illnesses

Types of Special Diet Horse Feed

Types of Special Diet Horse FeedTypes of Special Diet Horse Feed


Because of the horse’s unique digestive system, the animal’s dietary needs are quite different from other animals. As herbivores with long digestive tracts, horses are better suited to consume a high-fiber diet in small amounts throughout the day.

With that said, let’s take a look at a quick rundown of the types of horse feed you must take note of when caring for your equines.

Tender Plants and Pasture Grass

It’s a bit of a no-brainer that horses eat pasture grass. After all, a big chunk of your steed’s time is spent grazing in the fields!

Pasture grass and other wild plants are essential parts of an equine’s diet regardless of its age, weight, and preferences. As long as you’re feeding your animal good pasture, you can guarantee the right nutrients entering the horse’s body to keep him healthy.

One of the main reasons for this is that green pastures contain silica, an essential aspect of a horse’s dental health. Moreover, pasture grass is part of roughage, a vital component of a good horse diet.

Roughage includes any of the following:

  1. Hay cubes
  2. Sprouted fodders like barley and oats
  3. Silage

Remember that roughage is the foundation of your equine’s diet because it’s natural and organic, ensuring superior horse health without any yucky chemicals or additives.


Let’s say your horse doesn’t have quick access to high-quality pasture grass. What’s the next recommended source of food? Hay!

The thing about good-quality horse hay is that it can be tricky to source. This is why testing the hay is essential, which helps you identify the need for additional supplements should the hay lack the necessary minerals and vitamins.

But like any other feed, knowing your horse's best type of hay is also crucial. This primarily depends on:

  • The horse type
  • The environment where he’s thriving
  • His activity level

For instance, a high-strung thoroughbred horse with an efficient and quick metabolism is best fed with rich and fertilized hay. This is also ideal for performance horses. But generally, locally and naturally-grown hay is enough to maintain a healthy diet for your equine.

Besides looking for local, naturally grown hay, it also pays to know about the different types of hay. The below table goes over a couple of types of hay you can pick up. Can we get a hay-men?

Type of Hay


Beet Pulp

A good alternative to hay when soaked in water


Rich hay with high protein content


Rich and sweet hay with high iron content


Nourishing staple hay to free feeding

Orchard Grass

Recommended to be mixed with other hay types for optimal nutrient content

Coastal Bermuda

Optimal free-feeding hay when not fertilized and gets too rich when fertilized

Mixed Local Hay

Affordable and ideal for maintaining a healthy immune system for the horse


You can also feed grains to horses, especially oats and corn. While they are not as nutritious as grass and hay, feeding them with such in conjunction with other roughages can benefit their health.

However, you must avoid feeding equines wheat because this grain type is unsuitable for the animal.

Other fun facts about grain is that they don’t need that much time to be chewed, and they also don’t contain silica, which can cause dental problems and ulcers.

One thing to note is that you can overfeed horses with grains. Doing this can lead to your equine acquiring founder orcolic because the grains can ferment in their hindgut, which is no fun at all!

Concentrate Mixes

Concentrate mixes are a mixture of the following ingredients:

  1. Molasses for added flavor
  2. Grains
  3. Beet pulp
  4. Vitamins and minerals
  5. Flaxseed

Horse owners typically prefer concentrate mixes over pasture grasses because of their higher nutrient density and energy content. Moreover, concentrate mixes contain the right balance of vitamins, minerals, and other supplements that can benefit your horses.

Concentrates normally come in two main groups: pellets and grains.


Who doesn’t like a treat every now and then? Just like dogs, cats, and hey, even humans, horses are fond of a treat from time to time. If you’re going to give your horse a treat, a couple of healthy options include:

  • Carrots
  • Apples
  • Sugar candies or cubes
  • Grains and other vegetables and f

Remember—you must be cautious when feeding treats to your horses, especially when they are rich in sugar. Treats that contain meat and high sugar content are likely to cause discomfort in their intestinal 

Additionally, you must also remember to keep the treats to a minimum. Although it’s tempting to hand your horse treats whenever he begs for them, you’ve got to consider your horse’s feeding plan. Too many treats can lead to weight gain and other health issues.

Other Special Diet

Depending on your horse’s health and current condition, there might be other considerations to consider. These factors are critical in creating a healthy diet for your steed.

For instance, you must monitor an overweight horse's weight and health issues. Extra weight can cause additional strain on the joints and lead to other concerns. It’s always best to work with the vet to identify the best diet plan for your animal. This also ensures you don’t feed anything unnecessarily that can also contribute to the animal gaining weight.

Similarly, when your horse is underweight, you’ll need to consider whether the caloric intake matches the activity level and if other vitamins, nutrients, and minerals are needed.

In either case, considering a diet that adds inhorse supplements can be very beneficial..

One good horse nutrition supplement you can introduce is TRI-ACTA, which contains key ingredients for your steed, such as Chondroitin Sulfate, glucosamine, and MSM. There are no inactive ingredients or fillers in TRI-ACTA, so your horse gets the full benefit of these components without unnecessary caloric intake.

TRI-ACTA H.A. for Equine

Our maximum strength formula is perfect for horses that are ageing, experiencing arthritis and stiffness, are in training and competition, or under a heavy workload.


Horse Nutrition Advice

Now that you know what diets to consider for your steed, let’s talk a little bit about general nutrition advice. These tips and tricks are what will help you ensure you’re feeding your equine the best way possible.

Let’s check out some key advice to help your horse maintain a healthy diet.

Forage Is Key

First, you must know that long-stem forage is essential in a horse’s diet. It’s one of the most basic requirements and typically comes in fresh grass forms. Free-choice grass hays are your next option when fresh grass is not available.

A good way to make sure your horse gets long-stem forage is to always keep stacks of hay in front of your animals. This makes it easier for these animals to mimic natural grazing behaviors. Generally, horses need between 1 and 2% of their total body weight in forage, which should be divided among several meals.

Another key piece of advice is to monitor your horse’s overall health and speak with your vet about how this will affect their meal plans. For instance, horses with Cushing’s disease or equine metabolic syndrome should have restricted grazing times. This helps control their diet’s starch and sugar content.

Another situation where horses may need to limit grazing is if they have laminitis or founder. During the fall and spring, fructan content is high in grasses, which can negatively affect horses with these conditions.

Don’t Only Focus on Forage

Although forage is definitely a key part of your horse’s diet, it’s still not the only piece of your horse’s diet that matters. That’s because it doesn’t give the complete nutrition your equine needs. Grass doesn’t contain all the minerals your horse needs, while hay is deficient in specific vitamins.

One way to get around this problem is to include fortified grains in your horse’s diet, which may mean extra calories. Instead, you can provide your horse with multivitamins or supplements that contain the minerals he needs. You can also provide an additional protein source or amino acids, so you’re feeding your horse with a ration balancer.

If you’re supplementing forage, it’s essential to look for the following labels:

  1. Multivitamin or mineral supplements: one to four ounces
  2. Fortified grains: five to seven pounds
  3. Ration balancer: one to two pounds
  4. Complete feed: twelve to fourteen pounds

Another thing to remember when avoiding focusing on forage is that old horses may need even more supplementation assistance. Incorporating supplements like TRI-ACTA H.A. can help them avoid or heal the negative effects of aging, such as immobility or joint pain.

Remember the Essential Horse Nutrients

Another helpful piece of advice is to know exactly what nutrients our horse needs. Generally, equines need the following for their total 

  • Fats
  • Water
  • Carbohydrates
  • Minerals
  • Proteins
  • Vitamins

Like humans, water is also the most essential resource for your horse. Keeping him hydrated with a clean water supply prevents medical conditions and protects him from immune system diseases.

Besides water, horses need carbohydrates and fats to provide them with energy. Remember that higher carbohydrate and fat content should be supplied to growing horses or equines that engage in physical activities frequently.

Horses also need protein for growth and muscle development. Protein also contributes to the horse’s shiny and smooth coat, weight gain, and optimal milk production and performance.

Finally, vitamins are also essential. They range from Vitamins A, B, C, and D to E and L. These vitamins are typically found in green, leafy legumes and forages.

Get Your Eating Schedule Right

The right eating schedule can also affect your horse’s nutrition. You must feed your equine on a set schedule because these animals are used to developing and relying on habits. This also means changes in their eating routine can upset t

As a rule of thumb, horses need pasture or hay throughout the day with grain feedings at least twice. A horse with average weight can eat at least 20 pounds of food daily and drink at least eight gallons of water.

Eating schedules depend on the horse’s small stomach and delicate digestive system. Because of these factors, they must graze or nibble throughout the day instead of eating forcefully once or twice daily.

Recommended Horse Nutrition

As a horse owner, you must remember that poor nutrition can negatively impact the equine’s overall performance. It can also lead to sudden weight loss or weight gain and increases the risk of the animal becoming sick 

Horses have five basic nutrients needs:

  1. Energy
  2. Water
  3. Vitamins
  4. Minerals
  5. Protein

Let’s dive deeper into these nutrients and what you need to know for a recommended horse diet.


A horse’s energy is mainly sourced from fats and carbohydrates. The animal needs carbohydrates, especially for competitions, trail rides, and romps across pastures. More importantly, feeding your horse with grass and hay provides them with higher content of complex carbohydrates they need for good digestion.

At the same time, feeding an equine with an ideal amount of fat can help improve vitamin absorption. Fat contains fatty acids, which can also aid in maintaining an optimal energy level for the horse to power through the day.


Another natural nutrient essential in a horse’s diet is protein. You can find this source in grasses and hay stacks or add it to horse feeds. Protein is the main source of amino acids and equines need it for:

  • Tissue repair
  • Tissue growth
  • Maintain healthy muscles
  • Strong immune system

Growing horses need 12% to 18% of crude protein as part of their diets. On the contrary, mature horses need 8% to 12%.

Vitamins and Minerals

A horse’s diet should contain the following minerals:

  • Sulfur chloride
  • Phosphorus
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Chloride

These minerals are essential to keep a horse’s bones and teeth strong. They can also help maintain proper muscle growth, digestion, healthy nerves, and stable immune system function.

Aside from minerals, vitamins are also crucial for an equine’s blood clotting, reproduction, and maintaining the following body parts:

  1. Muscles
  2. Skin
  3. Eyes
  4. Bones
  5. Coats


Equines should drink at least six to eight gallons of water daily. Aside from keeping the animal hydrated, water helps with digestion, body temperature regulation, and vitamin absorption. Lack of water intake can cause certain medical conditions faster than a lack of food.

Equines thriving in hot environments or those more prone to sweat because of their high activity levels need more water than their sedentary counterparts.

Horse Nutrition Requirements


While equine animals such as horses rely on forages (preserved hays, pasture grasses, legumes) as their primary source of nutrition, you must also consider that the enzymatic digestion of fats, protein, and carbohydrates is essential. The digestion happens in the small intestine, where the following nutrients are absorbed:

  • Amino acids
  • Vitamins and minerals
  • Sugars
  • Long-chain fatty acids

Nutrient sources not digested and absorbed in the small intestine enter the large intestine, where microbial degradation occurs.

Generally, an ideal source of roughage comprises at least half of an equine’s total ration when you consider dry-matter weight. Vets also recommend horses must receive at least 1.5% to 2% of dry matter as part of their roughage daily. This can include legumes, range grasses, and preserved forages, including:

  1. Hay cubes, beet pulp, and hay-based pellets
  2. Haylage
  3. Other fiber-rich food sources

You must also remember that horse diet requirements depend on several factors, including the animal's age, whether there’s a medical condition, the animal’s housing or management, and the current environment.

For instance, stressed horses may need more Vitamin B. On the other hand, you may want to add antioxidants to provide for horses recovering from illnesses. Senior and aging horses also need more Vitamin C for a stronger immune system.

Speaking to your veterinarian is the best way to ensure your horse meets horse nutrition requirements.

Horse Feed Nutrition Information to Consider

Aside from knowing horses' five primary nutrient needs, there are other pieces of information to know when feeding your equines. First, you must understand that significant factors exist to help you and your vet design a diet plan that works, including age, activity level, health, and shelter.

Next, if you prefer feeding grains to your horse, you must provide him with smaller meals more frequently than feeding him with one large meal. Small meals allow horses to digest food better because their digestive systems are small and unique.

You’ve also got to think about the animal’s size. Bigger animals need meals with higher energy or protein content to increase their muscle mass. On the other hand, smaller animals can get away with lower levels of these nutrients.

Consulting with your vet is the best way to ensure you’re giving your steed the right levels of horse feed. Veterinarians are experts in providing nutrient recommendations, including feed stores, hay suppliers, and feeding habits.

Horse Nutrition and Feeding Mistakes to Avoid

Horse nutrition can be a lot more nuanced than you might think. As a result, it can be easy to make a few mistakes here and there.

A couple of common horse diet issues owners deal with include over and underfeeding. However, these aren’t the only nutrition mistakes that can crop up. To help you avoid common pitfalls, we’ve listed the most common horse nutrition and feeding mistakes to remember.


It’s all too easy to load your horse up with tasty treats and yummy eats. Unfortunately, this also makes it all too easy to overfeed your steed. And even though you want to provide them with treats, going overboard is a no-no.

Overfeeding can cause obesity, leading to other issues, including laminitis and equine metabolic syndrome. Remember that these equines have simple digestive systems. A simple diet filled with good pasture grasses or hay stacks combined with ample concentrate mixes and supplements is enough.

It’s also best to have your hay bales tested to check for any missing nutrients. This way, you know what additional supplements you need to provide for your horse.


If overfeeding is more common in growing horses, senior and aging horses are more prone to experiencing being underfed. Most of the time, feeding them with hay or pasture isn’t enough. You must mix concentrates, grains, and supplements into their diet.

You can also add supplements such as TRI-ACTA to help boost your horse’s joint condition as they age. Because TRI-ACTA contains only naturally-occurring joint health-boosting ingredients that naturally occur in your horse’s body anyway, you don’t have to worry about the supplement affecting your horse’s overall diet.

TRI-ACTA for Equine

Providing preventative support for younger horses and helping mitigate the early onset of joint degeneration and other mobility issues.


Calculating Volume and Not Weight

Most horse owners think measuring volume is the same as measuring weight. But it’s not the ca

Always remember to measure concentrates, grasses, and hay bales by weight. We recommend estimating the hay’s weight by small square bales. But you must also not forget that these small square bales don’t have the same weight.

On the other hand, grain concentrates should be weighed using the scoop method. Measuring your horse feed by weight ensures you give the exact amount to prevent over and underfeeding.

Not Taking Dental Problems Seriously

We know dental problems aren’t related to a horse’s nutrition. But you must understand that an equine can only eat properly when his teeth are in optimal condition. This means you cannot neglect dental issues, especially with senior horses. Aging horses are more prone to losing their teeth, affecting their diet.

At the same time, it’s also common for mature horses to develop sharp edges on their teeth. This can cause pain when they chew, so regular dental care is vital in horses.

Not Providing Enough Water

Clean and abundant water should also be a priority. It’s critical to your equine’s health because impaction colic will likely occur in horses not given enough water. The best water temperature is at least half a bucket of hot water combined with cold.

Remember, like humans, horses need to stay hydrated to stay healthy. Ensure your horse gets six to eight gallons of water a day to stay feeling his best.

What to Look For in Horse Feed Nutrition Options


Here’s the thing about choosing the suitable horse feed: there’s no universal answer. The right diet plan you provide your horse is not a one-size-fits-all. This is why considering certain factors is critical in choosing the best horse feed for your animal.

The table below breaks down a couple of factors to consider when looking for horse feed nutrition options and what each factor indicates.

Important Factors to Consider



Determine the nutrient requirements you must provide (young horses need more minerals and vitamins to support their growth, while senior horses need a fiber-rich diet)

Physiological Stage

Different nutrition is needed by stallions, pregnant, and growing horses

Relevant Medical Condition

You can use the Body Condition Scoring system as a tool to consider your horse’s medical needs in determining their diet, and help determine whether you’re overfeeding or underfeeding your horse.

High-quality Forage

Can compensate for the nutrients that are lacking in the horse feed


At the end of the day, getting a horse’s diet right will affect his overall health and wellness. The key is ensuring your animal has the right nutrients to stay healthy and live a long and happy life!

You must also ensure you don’t over or underfeed, which can lead to health hazards for your animal. And, of course, always consult your veterinarian to make sure that your horse’s diet is on the right track.

One way you can make sure your horse has all the right nutrients in its diet is by introducing supplements. Supplements such as TRI-ACTA and TRI-ACTA H.A. can be game-changers in supporting a healthy, happy horse. Get in touch with us today to learn more about these supplements and place

TRI-ACTA H.A. for Equine

Our maximum strength formula is perfect for horses that are ageing, experiencing arthritis and stiffness, are in training and competition, or under a heavy workload.