In “A Beginner’s Guide to horse nutrition,” the video by A Life With Horses – Meryl Lynn Lombardi, you’ll find a comprehensive nutrition guide for horses. The video covers everything from what horses eat to how their digestive system works. It also provides tips on giving your horse the best food possible, taking into consideration their individual needs and any supplements or minerals they may require. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced horse owner, this video will help you ensure your horse is well-fed and healthy. So, if you’re looking to expand your knowledge on horse nutrition, this guide is a must-watch!

Table of Contents

Understanding Equine Dietary Needs

As a beginner in the world of horse care, it is essential to understand the dietary needs of horses in order to provide them with the best nutrition possible. Horses are non-ruminant herbivores, which means that their entire digestive system is designed to process plant matter. Unlike ruminant grazers such as cattle, horses have a small stomach but a long small intestine where the majority of nutrient absorption occurs. It is important to provide horses with the necessary energy, protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, salt, and water to ensure their optimal health and well-being.

Understanding the horse as a non-ruminant herbivore

Horses are natural grazers and their favorite food is grass. They are non-ruminant herbivores, meaning their digestive systems are specifically designed to process plant matter. Unlike ruminants, such as cattle, horses do not have multiple stomach compartments. Instead, they have a small stomach and a long small intestine where the majority of nutrient absorption takes place. It is important to mimic the horse’s natural diet as much as possible by providing them with plenty of grass and pasture.

The importance of energy, protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, salt, and water in a horse’s diet

Energy, protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, salt, and water are all essential components of a horse’s diet. Energy is necessary for a horse to perform daily activities and can come from sources such as grass, hay, and grain. Protein is crucial for muscle development and repair, and can be found in both forage and concentrated feeds. Fiber, primarily obtained through pasture and hay, helps maintain a healthy digestive system in horses. Vitamins and minerals play vital roles in various bodily functions, and their requirements may vary depending on the horse’s age, workload, and medical condition. Salt is necessary to maintain proper hydration and overall health in horses, and water is absolutely crucial for their survival.

Discussing the balance of nutrients needed for a horse’s survival

In order to ensure a horse’s survival, it is crucial to provide a balanced diet that meets all of their nutritional needs. This includes providing the right amount of energy, protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, salt, and water. A balanced diet helps support the horse’s overall health, promotes good digestion, and provides them with the necessary nutrients to maintain proper muscle development and overall well-being.

Importance of water in a horse’s diet

Water is a critical component of a horse’s diet and is essential for their overall health and well-being. Horses require access to clean, fresh water at all times, whether in their pasture, paddock, or stall. Water makes up a significant percentage of a horse’s body weight and is involved in many important bodily functions, such as digestion, temperature regulation, and joint lubrication. Without sufficient water intake, horses can quickly become dehydrated, which can lead to serious health issues. It is important to regularly monitor a horse’s water intake and ensure that they always have access to clean, fresh water.

Basic Equine Food Types

Understanding the different types of food that make up a horse’s diet is essential for providing them with the proper nutrition. Grass, hay, and pasture are the primary food sources for horses, and each plays a unique role in their overall diet.

Understanding the role of grass in a horse’s diet

Grass is a horse’s favorite food and should make up a significant portion of their diet. Horses are natural grazers and thrive when they have access to fresh, nutritious grass. Grass provides essential nutrients such as energy, protein, fiber, and minerals. It is important to ensure that the grass a horse consumes is free from harmful pesticides and toxins.

Distinguishing between different types of hay and their nutritional content

Hay is a crucial component of a horse’s diet, especially when fresh grass is not available. There are different types of hay available, including timothy, alfalfa, and Bermuda grass hay. Each type of hay has its own nutritional content, and it is important to choose the type that best suits the horse’s needs. Alfalfa hay, for example, is higher in protein and calcium compared to timothy hay, which may be beneficial for horses with higher nutritional requirements.

The role of pasture in a horse’s diet

Pasture is an essential part of a horse’s diet and provides them with fresh, nutritious grass. Allowing horses to graze on pasture not only provides them with a natural food source but also allows them to exercise and socialize with other horses. However, it is important to carefully manage grazing to prevent overgrazing and ensure that the pasture is free from harmful plants or toxins.

Why fresh water is critical for horses

Water is crucial for a horse’s survival and overall health. Horses require access to clean, fresh water at all times to maintain proper hydration and ensure the proper functioning of their bodily systems. Without sufficient water intake, horses can quickly become dehydrated, leading to serious health issues. It is important to regularly monitor a horse’s water intake and provide them with clean, fresh water in their pasture, paddock, or stall.

Understanding Equine Anatomy and Digestion

To properly understand a horse’s dietary needs, it is important to have a basic understanding of their anatomy and the process of digestion. Horses have a unique digestive system that influences the way they process and absorb nutrients.

Overview of the horse’s digestive system

The horse’s digestive system is designed to process plant matter efficiently. It consists of several key organs, including the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, cecum, large colon, and rectum. Each organ plays a specific role in breaking down food and extracting nutrients from it. The horse’s digestive system is adapted to process food in small, frequent meals, making them natural grazers.

Explaining horse’s inability to vomit

Unlike other animals, horses are unable to vomit. This is due to the structural differences in their esophagus and stomach. The muscular ring at the entrance of the horse’s stomach, known as the cardiac sphincter, is particularly strong and prevents the backward flow of food. As a result, horses have a limited capacity to expel ingested substances, and any harmful or toxic material must pass through their entire digestive system.

The process of nutrient absorption in horses

Nutrient absorption in horses primarily occurs in the small intestine, where the majority of digestion takes place. The small intestine is responsible for absorbing carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals into the bloodstream. The cecum, located at the beginning of the large intestine, is responsible for fermenting cellulose plant fiber with the help of microbes. This fermentation process provides horses with additional nutrients and energy.

Impact of diet on horse’s digestive health such as colic

A horse’s diet plays a significant role in maintaining good digestive health. Sudden changes in diet or feeding practices can lead to digestive upset and conditions such as colic. Colic is a description of symptoms related to abdominal pain and can range from mild discomfort to life-threatening impactions. It is important to provide horses with a consistent and appropriate diet to minimize the risk of digestive issues.

Feeding Parameters for Horses

Feeding parameters for horses depend on various factors, including their individual needs, age, medical condition, and workload. It is important to consider these factors when determining a horse’s diet and feeding routine.

Feeding as individual horses

Each horse is an individual and has unique dietary needs. Factors such as age, breed, weight, and activity level should be taken into account when determining the appropriate diet for a horse. Some horses may require more calories and nutrients, while others may need specific dietary restrictions. Customizing a feeding program for each individual horse ensures they receive the necessary nutrients to thrive.

Mitigating factors that alter nutrition needs

Various factors can alter a horse’s nutrition needs, including exercise level, pregnancy, lactation, and certain medical conditions. Horses in heavy work or training may require increased energy and protein to support their activity. Pregnant and lactating mares have increased nutritional demands to support the growth and development of their offspring. Horses with medical conditions such as insulin resistance or metabolic disorders may require specialized diets to manage their condition.

Diet variations based on horse’s age, medical condition, and workload

Horses have different nutritional requirements at different stages of life. Foals and young horses require diets that support proper growth and development, while older horses may have specific dietary needs to support their aging bodies. Horses with medical conditions such as laminitis or ulcers may require specialized diets tailored to manage their condition. Additionally, the workload of a horse, whether it’s a pleasure horse or a performance athlete, may influence their nutritional needs.

Guidance for portion control

Portion control is essential to ensure horses receive the appropriate amount of food to meet their nutritional needs without overfeeding. Portion control should be based on the horse’s weight, activity level, and body condition score. Monitoring a horse’s weight and adjusting feed amounts accordingly is crucial to prevent weight gain or loss. Regularly consulting with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist can help guide proper portion control based on an individual horse’s needs.

Special Dietary Needs for Working or Athletic Horses

Working or athletic horses have specific nutritional requirements to support their performance and recovery. Understanding these needs and adapting their diet accordingly is crucial for maintaining their health and success.

Nutritional requirements for dressage horses

Dressage horses require a well-balanced diet to support their energy needs and muscle development. High-quality forage, such as hay or pasture, should be the foundation of their diet. Concentrated feeds or supplements may be necessary to provide extra energy and nutrients. It is important to consult with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist to develop a feeding plan that addresses the specific needs of dressage horses.

Dietary adjustments needed when training for endurance

Endurance horses undergo rigorous training and compete in long-distance events. Their nutritional needs may differ from other horses due to the demands placed on their bodies. Endurance horses require diets rich in energy to fuel their performance and support their endurance capabilities. Adequate hydration and electrolyte balance are also critical for these horses. The specific nutritional requirements for endurance horses can vary, and it is essential to seek guidance from professionals experienced in conditioning and fueling these athletes.

Specific nutrition needs of show jumpers and barrel racers

Show jumpers and barrel racers are high-energy horses that participate in quick and intense activities. Their diets should consist of high-quality forage, along with concentrated feeds or supplements to provide additional energy. These athletes may benefit from feed options specifically designed for performance horses or those that include ingredients aimed at supporting muscle development and recovery. Consulting with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist can help create a feeding plan tailored to the needs of show jumpers and barrel racers.

Recognizing signs of nutritional deficiencies in working horses

Working horses, regardless of the discipline, may exhibit signs of nutritional deficiencies if their diet is inadequate. These signs can include poor coat condition, weight loss or gain, reduced performance, fatigue, or behavioral changes. It is essential to closely monitor working horses and adjust their diet accordingly to address any potential deficiencies. Regular check-ups with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist can help identify and address any nutritional issues.

Adding Supplements to Equine Diet

Supplements can be a valuable addition to a horse’s diet when used appropriately. Understanding when supplements are necessary and how to safely introduce them is essential for maintaining a well-balanced diet.

Determining when supplements are necessary

Supplements may be necessary in certain situations when a horse’s diet is lacking specific nutrients or when they have increased nutritional requirements. For example, horses on restricted diets, such as those with limited pasture access or hay-only diets, may require supplements to ensure they receive all necessary vitamins and minerals. Horses in intense training or competition may benefit from supplements aimed at supporting muscle recovery and overall performance. It is important to consult with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist to determine if and what type of supplements are needed.

Common types of horse supplements

There are a wide variety of horse supplements available on the market, each claiming to provide specific benefits. Common types of horse supplements include vitamin and mineral supplements, joint supplements, digestive aids, and coat and hoof supplements. The specific supplement needed will depend on the individual horse’s dietary needs and any specific health concerns. It is important to select supplements from reputable brands and consult with professionals to ensure their safety and effectiveness.

Exploring different brands of supplements

When considering supplements for a horse, it is important to research different brands and their reputations. Look for brands that prioritize quality, safety, and transparency. Reading reviews and testimonials from other horse owners can also provide helpful insights. Consulting with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist can help narrow down the options and ensure the selected brand meets the horse’s specific needs.

How to safely introduce supplements into a horse’s diet

When introducing supplements into a horse’s diet, it is crucial to do so gradually and carefully. Abrupt changes to a horse’s diet can cause digestive upset and may not allow sufficient time for the horse to adjust. Start by introducing a small amount of the supplement and gradually increase the dosage over several days or weeks. Monitoring the horse’s reaction and overall well-being is essential. If any adverse effects occur, discontinue the use of the supplement and consult with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist.

Safe Feeding Practices

Practicing safe feeding practices is essential for maintaining a horse’s health and preventing common issues such as colic or digestive upset.

The danger of sudden diet changes

Sudden diet changes can be harmful to a horse’s digestive system and may lead to issues such as colic. Horses have sensitive digestive systems that require gradual adjustments to new types of feed or changes in quantity. When making changes to a horse’s diet, it is important to do so gradually over a period of time, allowing their system to adjust and adapt to the new feed.

Awareness of toxic plants that should be avoided

Toxic plants can pose a significant danger to horses if ingested. Some common toxic plants include ragwort, yew, cherry laurel, and black walnut. It is important to familiarize yourself with the toxic plants that may be present in your horse’s environment and take necessary precautions to ensure they are not accessible. Regularly inspecting pastures and paddocks for any potential harmful plants and removing them promptly is crucial for horse safety.

Safe feeding practices to avoid colic

Colic is a common and potentially life-threatening condition in horses. Practicing safe feeding practices can help reduce the risk of colic. Providing consistent and regular feeding times can help maintain a healthy digestive system. Feeding smaller, more frequent meals can also aid in digestion and prevent overloading the horse’s stomach. It is important to monitor a horse’s appetite, digestive function, and overall well-being to detect any potential signs of colic early.

The importance of consistent, regular feeding times

Consistent and regular feeding times are essential for maintaining a healthy digestive system in horses. Horses have a natural grazing behavior, and a consistent feeding schedule helps mimic their natural eating patterns. Providing meals at the same times each day helps regulate the horse’s metabolism and promotes proper digestion. It is also important to maintain a consistent feeding routine when it comes to the types and amounts of feed given to the horse.

Involving The Equine Care Team

Providing proper nutrition for horses is a collaborative effort that involves various professionals in the equine care team. This team typically includes a veterinarian, equine dentist, trainer, and barn manager, all of whom contribute to ensuring the horse’s nutritional health.

The role of a veterinarian in monitoring nutritional health

Veterinarians play a crucial role in monitoring the overall health and nutritional needs of horses. They can perform regular check-ups, assess body condition scores, and provide guidance on appropriate diets based on individual horse needs. Veterinarians can also help diagnose and treat any underlying medical conditions that may affect a horse’s nutritional requirements.

How trainers and barn managers contribute to ensuring proper nutrition

Trainers and barn managers are responsible for implementing and overseeing feeding programs for horses in their care. They work closely with the horse owner, veterinarian, and equine nutritionist to develop appropriate diet plans. Trainers and barn managers often monitor a horse’s feeding routine, evaluate body condition, and communicate any changes or concerns to the owner and the rest of the equine care team.

The role of the equine dentist in assessing and promoting good nutrition

Equine dentists play a crucial role in assessing and promoting good nutrition in horses. Proper dental health is essential for proper chewing and digestion of food. Equine dentists can identify and address dental issues such as sharp points or malocclusions that may hinder a horse’s ability to eat and digest food properly. Regular dental check-ups and appropriate dental treatments can help ensure that horses are able to maintain a healthy diet.

Importance of regular health check-ups

Regular health check-ups are important for monitoring a horse’s overall health, including their nutrition. Routine veterinary visits allow for thorough examinations, body condition scoring, and assessments of dietary needs. During these check-ups, veterinarians can also address any concerns or questions regarding a horse’s diet and make any necessary adjustments to ensure optimal health and well-being.

Maintaining Equine Health Through Nutrition

Proper nutrition plays a vital role in maintaining a horse’s overall health and well-being. A well-balanced diet can have a significant impact on various aspects of a horse’s health, including hoof health, coat condition, overall performance, and overall well-being.

Relationship between diet and hoof health

A horse’s diet has a direct impact on its hoof health. Nutritional imbalances or deficiencies can lead to issues such as brittle hooves, slow hoof growth, or poor quality hooves. Providing horses with the necessary nutrients, such as biotin, omega fatty acids, and minerals like zinc and copper, supports healthy hoof growth and strength. Regular hoof care and nutritional supplementation, when needed, can contribute to overall hoof health.

Impact of diet on coat, mane, and tail health

A horse’s diet can significantly impact the condition of its coat, mane, and tail. Proper nutrition, including a balanced intake of protein, vitamins, and minerals, helps promote a healthy, glossy coat. Specific nutrients, such as essential fatty acids, also contribute to the overall shine and softness of the horse’s coat. Regular grooming and a well-balanced diet work hand in hand to maintain a horse’s coat, mane, and tail health.

Understanding how diet affects horse’s performance

A horse’s diet plays a crucial role in its overall performance. Proper nutrition provides the necessary energy, muscle support, and overall well-being for horses to perform at their best. Nutritional requirements may vary depending on the horse’s discipline, workload, and individual needs. Providing the right balance of energy sources, such as carbohydrates and fats, along with adequate protein and micronutrients, helps support a horse’s performance capabilities.

Tracking progress and adjusting the diet as needed

Regularly tracking a horse’s progress and adjusting its diet as needed is crucial for maintaining optimal health and performance. Monitoring a horse’s body condition, weight, coat quality, and overall well-being can help identify any necessary adjustments to its diet. Consulting with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist can provide guidance on implementing appropriate changes to support the horse’s changing needs.


Understanding equine nutrition is a fundamental aspect of providing proper care for horses. From understanding their unique digestive system to providing a well-balanced diet and considering individual needs, there are many factors to consider when it comes to feeding horses. By recognizing the importance of individualized diet plans, involving the equine care team, and maintaining a focus on the relationship between diet and overall horse well-being, you can ensure your horse receives the nutrition it needs to thrive. Continued research and learning about equine nutrition can further enhance your ability to provide the best possible care for your horse. Remember, a healthy diet is the foundation for a healthy horse.