Katie Hennessy

Making Sure Your Horse Gets All His Nutrients, Part I

With so many brands and types of horse feed available, it’s easy to get confused or be unsure about whether your horse is getting all the nutrients in his diet to stay healthy.[emember_protected custom_msg=”Click here and register now to read the rest of the article!”]
When taking care of your horse, there are six factors of nutrition that should be addressed: protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, fat, and water. Here is some information to help you figure out the protein and carbohydrate part of your horse’s diet:


There is a common myth in the horse industry that more protein in the diet means more energy for your horse. This is a false conception. Protein is important in the horse’s diet for growth and for maintaining overall health, but it’s actually a very limited energy source for horses. Protein requirements for horses will vary depending on age and the activity level of the horse.
A young growing or a horse in intense training will typically need a higher percent of protein in their diet than a mature trail horse. Too much protein can lead to excess urination, increased water needs, and spending more energy to eliminate excess protein. Too little protein can lead to poor hoof and coat growth, anemia, or a decreased appetite. If you’re unsure how much protein your horse is currently receiving or how much your horse needs, consult a professional nutritionist or your horse’s veterinarian.


Carbohydrates include sugars, starches and fiber, which are found in hay, pasture grass and grains. Fiber is a structure carbohydrates (SC), while sugar and starches are non-structural carbohydrates (NSC). During digestion, sugars and starches are broken down into glucose, which can be used immediately for energy or can be stored as fat. Since fiber is classified as a SC, it needs to be digested differently than NSC. Fiber needs to be fermented by the microbes in the horse’s hindgut and then turned into volatile fatty acids for energy. Some fibers are unable to be broken down and provide bulk through the gastrointestinal track.
The bulk of your horse’s diet should be forage (i.e., grass/hay), and as a general rule your horse needs to eat a minimum of one percent of his body weight in forage daily. Eating a large amount of forage also means eating a large amount of carbohydrates. While most horses don’t have a problem eating a lot of carbohydrates, there are certain horses that need a diet with as few carbohydrates as possible. Horses with insulin resistance or other metabolic problems need a restricted diet to minimize the risk of founder or other serious health problems. Please consult your veterinarian to see if your horse needs a special diet to keep him healthy.
In my next column, I will address two other important elements of your horse’s diet: vitamins and minerals.
BIO: Dr. Katie Hennessy graduated from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in 2008 with a degree in large animal health and equine medicine. After completing an advanced internship and working as an Associate Veterinarian, she is currently practicing at Polk Equine, LLC. Her expertise ranges from small and exotic creatures to large animals, specializing in equine medicine. [/emember_protected]

Accessibility Toolbar