Feeding the Modern Horse, Properly

Feeding Horse

To understand how to feed and to manage equine nutrition, we must understand the digestive system of the horse and how the horse differs from other animals.

Horses are ‘hay burners’. This means horses can convert cellulose (fiber) to energy in the pouches of their digestive systems. In the wild, horses have the capacity to produce all the nutrients needed for survival by consuming water, minerals, plant materials, and cellulose. Bacteria in the hindgut use cellulose derived from hay and other roughages to produce energy. These same microbes also produce the building blocks to manufacture most of the essential nutrients that simple stomach animals such as people must ingest.

Unfortunately, this eco-system does not have the capacity to furnish the quantity of nutrients to compensate for the added work and stress of the modern horse. In addition, modern agriculture is producing grains (oats) and pasture grasses that have a different nutrient content than the forages from which horses evolved. And lastly the mineral content of soil from which the grasses and grains grow has changed due to leaching from rainfall. We are faced with the nutrition challenge to fortify the horse’s eco-system without producing nutrient excesses and/or deficiencies.

Frank Gravlee, DVM, MS, CNS spent years formulating hundreds of diets for individual horses by testing forages, feeds and blood samples. His research determined that is best to feed nutrients and calories separately – instead of using all in one feeds. This feeding separation allows the horse owner to adjust the body condition of the horse while supplying the proper amount of nutrients.

How to feed the modern horse, properly:

1. Provide hay and/or pasture for roughage and nutrients.
2. Provide additional needed nutrients and balance the hay and/or pasture diet using a scientifically based nutrient source low in calories.
3. Adjust body condition by increasing or decreasing the feeding of non-fortified calorie sources, such as whole oats, beet pulp and vegetable oil.

Recommended nutrient source: Barn Bag®

Learn More About Barn Bag®

J. Frank Gravlee, DVM, MS, CNS 
Founder of Life Data Labs, Inc. 
Developer of Farrier’s Formula® 
H. Scott Gravlee, DVM, CNS 
Equine Nutrition Consultant