Horse Diet Q & A

posted: 05/15/12

What do horses really eat? Here is the inside scoop on horse diets from Dr. Joe D. Pagan, President of Kentucky Equine Research, Inc.

Q. What do horses eat? And why?

A. Horses evolved as wandering herbivores, living primarily on a diet composed of grasses and other plants. After being domesticated, horses have been adapted to eat diets containing added cereal grains, protein supplements, vitamins and minerals. These are fed to meet the added nutrient demands due to rapid growth and athletic performance.

Q. What are horse treats?

A. Horse treats are tasty snacks given to horses as a reward. They usually aren't fed to meet specific nutrient requirements.

Q. Do horses really eat peppermints? Why?

A. Horses are sometimes fed peppermints as a treat. Most horses are very fond of their taste, but a few don't like them very much.

Q. What are horses favorite foods?

A. For most horses, oats are a favorite food. Others prefer sweet feeds which are a sticky combination of cereal grains and molasses.

Q. Do horses need vitamins? Why? A. Horses require a wide range of nutrients including energy, protein, vitamins and minerals. The amount of each depends on what the horse is doing. High performance horses such as racehorses require large quantities of vitamins to aid in the metabolism of their food into energy for exercise. Q. What else do horses eat? The most important thing to remember about feeding a horse is that it needs plenty of forage (hay or pasture) in its diet. Horses are literally "hay burners" and they need lots of good quality forage to stay healthy. Additional feed is only needed if the forage doesn't meet all of the horse's nutrient requirements. This is generally the case with performance horses that work a lot or with growing horses and broodmares. About Dr. Pagan Dr. Pagan received his B.S. from the University of Arkansas in animal nutrition and received his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Cornell University in equine nutrition and exercise physiology. He formed Kentucky Equine Research (KER) in 1988 to be an international research, consulting and product development firm dealing in the areas of equine nutrition and sports medicine. Kentucky Equine Research works with breeders, horse owners and feed manufacturers around the world to develop and manage feeding programs for a wide variety of performance horses. KER served as equine nutrition consultants for the last three Olympic Games and is the official equine nutritionist of the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF). Visit the KER website.

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