Hay Feeding Plan
Feeding your horse smaller more frequent meals is better for her digestion than feeding her two large meals a day. However, horse owners usually need to work to support their horse habit, so your horse is probably on the nine-to-five feeding schedule, where she gets fed half her meal in the morning before you go to work and half in the evening when you get home. While this is not ideal for the digestive function of the horse, thousands of horses survive just fine on this kind of schedule. Perhaps a neighbor would be willing to throw your horse a flake of hay in the middle of the day, or a responsible neighborhood kid would love to do it when he gets home from school. The size of a flake of hay can vary almost from bale to bale, but the average-sized horse should be fed around 2.5 percent of its body weight each day, with at least half of that in the form of hay. A 1,000 pound horse requires roughly twelve to fifteen pounds of hay per day.
Perhaps your horse is lucky enough to have some pasture to graze in during the day while you are gone. If the pasture quantity is small or the quality is unknown, you should feed your horse hay, too. The pasture can still provide good entertainment. Your horse can feel more natural as she wanders around the field, even if she can't get her full nutrition out of the pasture. However, you will want to be careful that your horse doesn't become overweight eating grass of little nutritional value.
If the pasture is lush and large, you may not need to feed your horse hay during the growing season, or you may only need to give your horse one hay feeding each day. Overeating of forage often produces a rounded belly in horses, fondly referred to as a “hay belly.”
Horses put on pasture for the first time or at the beginning of the grassgrowing season need to be introduced to it gradually, perhaps for an hour the first day and an additional hour per day over the course of a week. Horses can founder and get very sick from overeating rich pasture before their stomach bacteria is adjusted to this new item.
If your horse stays out on good pasture most of the time and appears to be getting fat, you may need to fit him with a grazing muzzle to restrict his intake, especially in spring when the grass is most lush. These devices attach to the horse's halter and have an opening that allows the horse to drink water but will not allow him to bite off as much grass as he normally would. Another alternative is to limit the number of hours he spends in the pasture.
A horse can deplete a pasture very quickly, eating the grass right down to the dirt and never giving it enough time to grow again. A rule of thumb for grazing pasture is an acre per horse. If you have room, rotate your pastures to allow the grass to recover.
If your horse spends the day in an area larger than her stall that provides turnout but no grazing, spread two or three flakes of hay in different places so that she can wander a little to eat her hay, even if it is only a few feet. During the winter months in cold climates, you should give your horse enough hay to keep her warm, but do not allow her to become overweight by overfeeding her during her least active time. You will need to observe your horse's body condition carefully and adjust your feeding amounts accordingly, always making any changes gradually.