Feeding Frequency for Horses

Horses October 27, 2014 Print Friendly and PDF

Ashley Griffin, University of Kentucky

Feeding Guidelines

When feeding the horse, there are three general guidelines one should follow. 

  1. Feeds should be fed at least twice a day.
  2. Feeds should be fed in equally divided amounts.
  3. Feeds should be fed near to or at the same time each day and at even intervals throughout the day.

Let’s look at the reasons why farm managers, nutritionists, and veterinarians follow these guidelines.

In the wild or out on pasture, horses eat frequently as they graze throughout the day. This is because their stomachs are small and cannot digest large quantities of feed at one time (see Digestion Unit). Although this is the ideal way to feed a horse, it is difficult for horse owners to feed multiple times during the day. However, feeding one large grain meal will cause digestive upsets, such as colic, due to an overload of starch in the large intestine. To prevent digestive problems, the total grain intake should be divided up and fed over two to three feedings per day if total grain intake exceeds 0.5 percent of the horse's body weight. By feeding frequent small meals, the small intestine is able to digest more starch so less will reach the large intestine, decreasing the incidence of colic.

A horse’s total feed intake should be divided equally among the number of feedings and should be fed at the same time or close to the same time every day. Infrequent meals or a sudden change in feeding habits can result in a change in the intestinal motility and blood flow, resulting in an increase in the risk for colic. This occurs mainly in horses that are stabled or kept in a paddock. The risk for this type of colic can be decreased by:

  • keeping forage available at all times
  • feeding two to three smaller meals throughout the day
  • feeding the horse as little concentrate as necessary in one feeding.

Individual feeding programs should be developed for individual horses to meet their nutrient requirements and maintain proper body condition.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.