Owning a horse is the classic dream of most little girls, and many people who set up a hobby farm are interested in acquiring one. However, very few of these people have any practical knowledge of horses and how to care for them, including the most fundamental question of all: how much and what to feed them. Horses are one of those animals that will just keep eating if you let them, so you can't count on a horse to push himself away from the feed bucket. Fortunately, this is one question that has a set of easy answers.
Horse Feeding by Weight
The typical horse needs between 2 and 3.5 percent of its body weight in food per day. For a horse weighing 1,000 pounds, that means between 20 and 35 pounds of food. However, exactly how much food a horse will need varies with what the horse is doing and what kind of food the horse is getting. A working draft horse or a race horse in training may require more and better food than a pet pony that is ridden around about once per week.
Horses are grazing animals, and grazing animals need at least 3/4 of their diet to be forage. A horse with a not-so-demanding lifestyle can get by on 15 pounds or more of forage per day. This can either be pasture grass or hay. If a farm has plenty of pasture and can rotate its horse stock so that the grass is not exhausted, there is no need to ever provide the horses with hay except during the winte, or during periods where the horses are kept in the barn all day. On the other hand, if there is one small paddock per horse, lots of hay will be needed all year around.
The typical hay bale weighs 40 pounds and costs anywhere from less than $2 to as much as $15, depending on where you live. Even with plentiful pasture, keeping a horse will demand a considerable amount of hay during the winter and early spring months, when the pasture grass will be unavailable. Horse farmers with enough pasturage actually set aside some tracts of land for growing grass, which they then cut and bail for their own use in the late summer.
Grains and Pellets
The remaining 1/4 of a horse's feed should be made of grain or a concentrate pellet feed. The classic version of this kind of horse feed is oats, but other feeds that combine oats, corn, corn starch and/or molasses are available. The sticky feed using corn starch and molasses should be avoided most of the time, because it can cause long-term health problems in horses. A 1,000-pound horse living a moderately demanding life will need no more than 5 pounds of oats, and perhaps as few as 3 pounds, per day.
Horses love their little treats, and while they will happily munch down sugar cubes, these are not good for them and should be used sparingly. Better horse treats are carrots and apple slices.