Decisions, decisions. I can understand how a person just getting started in the horse world could become confused when deciding what to feed and how much. Personally, I came from the old school of oats, corn, barley and molasses. Electrolytes, salt and a good quality hay, preferably more than one kind of hay. Usually if the horses in consideration were riding or show horses, then a good timothy and a good quality of clover hay was sufficient. Racing horses were fed the same but there was a good quality alfalfa added to the diet. Young horses from the time they were weaned, were given vitamins and different supplements with their daily grain. As young horses grow, their nutritional needs are different because of the constant developmental stages they go through, similar to those of growing children. In my experience, young horses seem to get fairly round on the corners and hold their weight well and all of a sudden they sprout up an inch or two at the withers and slim down, then they get a little round and hold their weight again, and then sprout up an inch or two and so on, seemingly until they reach about their third year. The sprouting still occurs until they reach four of five years of age, but not as often, and they become fuller.
There are many high quality mixtures of feeds on the market of which I have used in the past. Many of the companies producing the newest mixtures of feed, have been in business for years, feeding millions of horses and other animals, and they are constantly researching new and better forms of nutrition. My suggestion is to research the larger companies first. They will be happy to show you the different feed mixtures and explain what it is they have to offer. Most feed stores promoting the feed companies will ask you about your animals, what kind of horses you own, whether they have pasture and if they are being ridden, and if so, how often and how hard. There are guidelines on how to feed your horse on each bag of feed, just remember that these are suggested amounts. Time, trial and error will probably be your best teacher, but most feed stores will be able to guide you into the right direction and help you to decide on the correct amount of feed per horse, per day.
On the market are different prices of feed. The lower priced feeds of course have the lower end feed products in them and they do serve their purpose. On the other end, just because a feed is very high priced does not necessarily mean that it is the best feed for your horse. Feeds very high in protein may not be the best for horses that are not being ridden often, these feeds are more for performance horses, growing weanlings or yearlings and perhaps two and three year olds as well as broodmares but that is another episode. And, as we all know, you sometimes pay a higher price because of the brand name. Each company has the right to charge as they please, so if you find a particular mixture of feed that you like becoming a little too expensive, take a little time to compare with other name brands that are up and coming. As time goes on, and you learn more about your horse and his or her nutritional needs, you may at a later date and if you have enough horses to warrant the extra time and energy, go to a mill and design your own mixture of feed. If you run into problems with your horse not wanting to eat the feed you have chosen, you may need to upgrade or have your horses teeth floated (filing down of your horses teeth done by a professional in order to reduce sharp edges in the mouth). Follow your instincts and go with what feels right to you. If you do not get the results you are looking for, never be afraid to ask a fellow horseman. True horsemen are always willing to lend a helping hand. Doesn’t matter if it is just giving out advice or lending a working hand. Horsemen are usually very obliging.
Feeding horses is not something you should take lightly. You can damage your horse in more ways than one by feeding them too much feed or too little. You will always need to monitor the way your horses look weight wise. When feeding large amounts of horses at a time, basically the fatter horses got a little less feed and the thinner horses got a little more feed. With each breed, age of the horses, and their daily activity, comes a basic standard of daily feed. Look at your horses’ weight every single day. Look at the brightness of their coat. Look at their eyes, whether they approach their feed tub in the same manner every day, whether they are stepping as lively today as they were yesterday. If you see any changes in your horse from day to day, ask yourself why and try to figure out what things are different today in comparison to yesterday. A horse that does not go to his or her feed tub is an immediate red flag and you need to investigate and figure out what is the reason for this horse not wanting to eat. Colicing or sick horses will not eat. Remember, horses are creatures of habit. Usually horses will drink fairly soon after consuming their grain. If you keep a sharp eye on your horse or horses, you can then determine if you are giving them either too much feed or not enough. Each horse is an individual, has different metabolisms and different needs. Feeding horses too much can cost them their lives from laminitis or colic. These are very painful deaths. Feeding them too little can cause a barrage of ailments. So don’t be afraid. Be informed, be careful, be observant, and be the horseman you have always wanted to be with a little help from your friends.