How To Determine What To Feed Your Horse

A Guide on What To Feed Your Horse

Learning to determine what to feed your horse is crucial to their everyday care and well being. Here are a few of the most frequent queries I recieve.

Frequently Asked Questions:

  • My horse is an underweight Arabian, what do I feed him to make him gain weight?
  • Should I feed rice bran to my horse to facilitate weight gain?
  • What type of oil is best to feed my horse?
  • Does my 20-year old thoroughbred need a supplement?
  • What type of pellets should I feed my horse?

Although valid, these questions do not get to the root of the problem. To do so, I frequently ask a number of questions before providing a reasonable recommendation or potential solution. 95% of my recommendations have nothing to do with feeds but are directed towards the nutritional management of the horse.

horses eating from food trough

Body Weight

  1. What is your best estimate of your horse’s body weight?
    • How tall is your horse?
    • What is the breed or breed similarity?
    • Is the bone type, light, moderate or dense for the breed?

Notes of Interest:

  • Most horse owners estimate body weight by “eye ”, which can produce errors up to 20 – 25%. A 20% error in estimating body weight of a 1.000 pound horse would mean a possible inaccurate range of 800 – 1,200 pounds.
  • Two simple methods available to horse owners for estimating the body weight of adult horses include the weight tape and weight table.

Hay & Forage Feeding

  1. What type of hay do you feed?
  2. Is your horse pastured?
    • How long in the pasture?
    • Pasture type?
  3. How many pounds of hay do you feed daily?
    • If you do not have a weight-scale, how many flakes of hay & what type?
  4. Do you feed a hay pellet or hay cube?
    • If so, what type and how much?
  5. Do you have a scale or access to one?

Notes of Interest:

  • Hay selection & hay quality differ with regions of the country and sometime within states; hay bale weight will also vary on region.
  • Historically most horse owners have developed or learned to feed by scoops and flakes. This practice makes the assumption that all grains and grain mixes weigh the same and that flakes of hay are the same weight. …WRONG!
  • The type of forage is important, but whether the dry forage comes from a bale, pellet, or cube; …hay is hay.


  1. What supplements do you feed?
    • If so, how much?
    • Is the amount based on what is recommended on the package? ..or do you feed more or less?
    • Do you feed this supplement every day?

Notes of Interest:

  • Supplements are those items that are fed in small quantities such as a vitamins, minerals, herbs or functional ingredients.
  • It’s not unusual that owners feed a supplement based on perceived changes or just what they think the horse is missing; …and thus the supplement is not fed on a daily schedule.
  • Anytime one adds or top-dresses a supplement or adds individual feed stuff to a diet that is balanced, the relationship of nutrients to energy (called nutrient – calorie ratio) is distorted.

Exercise Intensity

  1. With each day of exercise, how long? 30 minutes, 1 hour, etc.?
    • Do you work him more than once per day?
  2. For each exercise day, how much time does your horse walk, trot, and cantor?
  3. Before you start the “cooling-out” at a walk, is his body warm, or moist, or wet, or lather?

Notes of Interest:

  • The length of time of exercise does not include the period that we frequently reference as “cooling-out”.
  • The walk, trot, & cantor time period estimates can be in minutes or as a percent of the total exercise time.
  • Do not use the area under the saddle / saddle pad for evaluating heat / moisture expenditure. The chest & neck are the best areas to use as a guide.

Body Condition Scoring

  1. Are you familiar with body condition scoring? If so, what is your horse’s numerical score?
  2. Is the horse is in the bottom, middle, or top third of the body condition scoring system of 1 – 9?

Notes of Interest:

  • In Dr. Bray’s Corner there is a Body Condition Scoring system with photographs.
  • The categories range from 1 (poor) to 9 (extremely fat) with 5 (moderate) to 6 (moderately fleshy) representing a satisfactory body condition for most horses.
  • All horse owners MUST learn the Body Condition Scoring System (BCS). The ability to determine changes in BCS, is the best means to gauge if you are feeding correctly.

Other Feeds Fed

  1. Do you feed any grains, grain mixes, or other feedstuffs?
    • How many pounds, or cups, or cans of other feeds do you feed?
    • If you use coffee cans, what size?
    • If you use a scoop you will need to transfer the scoop quantity to a volume measure.

Notes of Interest:

  • Feed mixes & individual feeds differ in nutrient and energy content; knowing the weight of what is fed is critical.
  • As a back up, if I know the feed & volume, I can usually reasonably estimate the weight and thus the nutrient & energy content of the feed.
  • Weighing feed every day can be a monotonous task; so, once the feed weight has been established, you can mark the container for that feed weight to expedite the feeding process.

Exercise Schedule

  1. How many days each week do you ride or exercise your horse?
    • Is the work schedule been the same for the past 2 weeks?
    • How long have you been working your horse with this schedule?

Notes of Interest:

  • This information is critical; it’s not unusual for the owner to share their good intentions but those good intentions are not the same as to what is being accomplished.

Safety Net

  1. Is there anything else that you would like to share that you feel is important?

Notes of Interest:

  • This question is a safety net. There may be something not covered in the question list that would influence the outcome, such as a recent injury, illness, or other note of history.