Horse Nutrition: The Fundamentals
All horse family members have evolved to rely on grasses for their sustenance. Horses and donkeys, in particular, can absorb nutrients from coarse grasses and plants that would be insufficient for a bigger horse to eat. Their teeth are designed for chewing crude plant fiber, and their lengthy, sluggish digestive system absorbs nutrients and energy from the plants they eat effectively.
Some horses are easy to care for and can survive on very little grass, and others will go hungry due to a lack of food. A horse that is putting forth a lot of effort may not be getting enough nutrients. Whether or whether your horse will flourish on a grass diet, especially if it isn’t top-notch, depends entirely on the sort of horse you have and the job it does.
Nutrients with Grass
Horses should acquire all of the nutrients they require on the highest quality grass. After all, this is what they would consume in the wild. Unfortunately, relatively few landowners have high-quality pastures due to no fault of their own. Overgrazing, dryness, cold, poor management, poor soil, and snow cover all impact the quality of the grass and the capacity of the horse to obtain appropriate nourishment. Good pasture management and soil amendments can help compensate for some of these issues.
Even with proper care, a long growing season, and decent soil, most horses will require mineral, feed, or concentrate supplements for at least part of the year.
1 Grass growth may be slowed in the early spring, winter, and fall, making the grass less than ideal for your horse. Prepare to add hay and a multivitamin/mineral supplement to your diet. Keep an eye on your horse’s health and look for symptoms of weight loss. Again, because each horse is unique, what works for one may not work for another.
Limit the number of horses on pasture and rotate pastures to give the grass time to recover after grazing to avoid overgrazing. Horses will cut the grass down to the soil level, which means grass may burn and dry up before it has a chance to grow under hot, dry circumstances. When many horses are housed in a limited space, the earth becomes compacted, making it difficult for anything except the most aggressive weeds to thrive.