Properly feeding a horse at rest
A horse at maintenance is one that is required to do very little exercise. Whether the horse is enjoying a vacation or recovering from an injury, the following are some basic principles for ensuring that it receives a suitable diet according to its nutritional needs.
Whether a horse is at rest or at maintenance, its energy requirements are normally met through a forage-based ration. In that case, hay is appropriate for supporting its physiological function, basal metabolism and voluntary activity. Since hay is the main feed in a horse’s ration, quality hay should be served in abundance.
The quantity of hay given to a horse should be weighed so that it corresponds to at least 2 to 2.5 % of its weight. In general, a 500-kg horse can easily and voluntarily consume more than 10 to 12 kg of hay per day. Grass forage (timothy, brome) and, in some cases, legume forage (alfalfa, clover) is often sufficient to meet the calorie needs of a horse at rest.
However, a horse receiving only hay MUST be given a complementary source of vitamins and minerals, whether in unlimited quantities in the form of a block or during meals in cubed or textured form.
To learn the real nutritional value of your hay, you can have it analyzed at the cooperative nearest you.
The calorie needs of a horse at maintenance are influenced by its weight, body composition, environment, age, level of voluntary activity, temperament and basal metabolism.
Draft horses, ponies and some saddle horse breeds (such as the Canadian or Haflinger) typically maintain their body condition more easily.
Conversely, hot-blooded horses, such as the English thoroughbred, generally have more difficulty maintaining a suitable weight because of their temperament, level of voluntary activity and high basal metabolism.
Moreover, more active horses also have greater protein requirements, since they generally have more lean tissue to support.
Weather: a major factor
Outdoor climate directly affects each horse’s calorie needs. Like humans, tolerance for temperature extremes varies greatly from one horse to the next. Older, growing or leaner horses are more affected by low temperatures and, consequently, have greater calorie needs. In such cases, a strictly hay-based ration may be insufficient, and the addition of concentrates can really help maintain the horse’s body condition at the desired level.
Horses living outside in groups
It’s important to take a horse’s inherent nature into account, especially if it’s living outside, in a group. Wild horses live in herds and establish specific social structures. Important measures must therefore be taken to ensure that each individual, regardless of hierarchical rank, has access to enough feed, water, and protection from inclement weather and sun.
Make sure to set up several feeding points (depending on the number of horses) and ensure that there is enough distance between them to avoid bullying. Ideal rations are formulated to provide more hay than grain to decrease the risk of gastric ulcers and colic, and lower stress by satisfying the need to chew for extended periods.
While waiting for your horse to become more active again, be sure to adapt its diet according to its needs, which, as we saw earlier, can vary from one horse to the next and according to the environment.