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For working horses, their diet mainly consists of grass during the day, and hay and grains for in the evening when they come into their stable.
Horses may also eat snacks such as fruit, vegetables, and salt and mineral licks. Additionally, horses also need a constant source of water to drink.
However, a wild horse’s diet will differ as they only have access to natural plants such as grass. Wild horses generally spend 60 – 70% of their awake time grazing.
A good diet is crucial to a horse’s health. Since horses have a unique digestive system, they need to eat several small meals throughout the day and always have access to fresh water.
A horse’s age, workload and weight will all factor into a horse’s specific diet. Below we will go into more detail on what types of food horses eat.
Hay is the most common source of food for domesticated horses. Since most domesticated horses live in a stall at some point, hay is a large part of their diet.
Hay is generally made in square bales and round bales. Square bales are ideal for feeding stabled horses, as they can be separated into flakes. Round bales are much larger and are typically used for horses in pasture when there is not enough grass.
Hay contains important nutrients and vitamins for horses. There are different types of hay including timothy, alfalfa, oat, bermuda and orchard. Hay should be given to a horse throughout the day to mimic their natural grazing pattern, as horses in the wild graze for 60-70% of the day.
Fun Fact: Did you know horses can’t burp or throw up? See our fun horse facts guide for more information!
Grass is an important part of a horse’s diet. It provides horses with vital nutrients that are important to their gut health.
Allowing your horse to graze on grass is ideal, but there’s not always readily available grass for horses to eat, which is why hay is so commonly used.
Grass is the most natural form of forage for horses, so allowing them pasture time when possible is beneficial to their health.
Horses should be limited on their grazing time when introduced to lush pastures, as too much rich grass at once can cause serious health problems such as laminitis.
Horses should also not be fed piles of grass trimmings from lawn mowers as it can lead to overeating.
Large amounts of grass trimmings also have no air flow in them which can also cause health problems because they may develop mould and deadly bacteria’s.
Concentrates consist of any mixes of grains, cereals and minerals used in a horse’s diet. Concentrates are beneficial to horses overall healthy, especially working horses and growing horses, as well as horses that need to gain weight.
Common concentrates include sweet feed, pellets and oats, with beet pulp and molasses frequently being mixed in. Most horses that work regularly have a diet that consists of hay and some form of grain or pellets. Concentrates help give horses necessary energy they need for a working lifestyle.
Concentrates need to be given in proportions appropriate for each horse, as too much grain can cause a horse to easily gain weight. Giving your horse too much grain can even lead to colic or founder.
Salt and minerals are an essential part of a horse’s diet. They can be included in concentrates or given as blocks for horses to lick at their leisure.
Salt is important for horses as it encourages them to drink. Sodium is essential for hydration and fluid balance in horses, as it is one of the primary forms of electrolytes found in their bodies.
Horses that don’t have access to salt and minerals may become dehydrated and may even lose weight over time.
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Though not needed in their diets, many horses love getting treats. Vegetables, fruits, peppermints, sugar cubes and store bought horse treats are some of the most popular treats to give horses.
Treats can be a great way to reward your horse. They can be used to reinforce positive behaviours or even if you just want to indulge your horse. Just be sure not to give your horse too many treats, as it may cause them to become overweight.
Apples, carrots, bananas, pumpkins and watermelon can be healthy vegetables for your horses eat in moderation.
Peppermints, sugar cubes and store-bought horse treats can be great for indulging your horse as a special reward.
Though some people do not like to give treats to their horses, they can be a great way to bond with your horse when done right.
Also, a good way to get the most of your horse treats is to use toys for horses. Some toys such as horse balls allow you to put treats in them and they slowly fall out as the horse rolls it.
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Like every animal on earth, water is a vital part of a horse’s diet/intake. On average, horses need to drink 5 – 10 gallons of water a day to stay hydrated. Horses should always have available water to drink 24 hours a day.
WARNING: Please note, this article is only a fun general guide as to what horses eat. There are some things horses can’t eat such as fresh cut grass or too much grass.
Additionally, even too much food horses can eat can be dangerous. If you’re not sure if a horse can eat something o what quantity to give them, always consult a professional such as a vet or qualified equine dietitian.
To learn more about what specific food and their respective quantities horses need to eat, see this great article by the PennState University.