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Creating The Correct Diet For Your Horse

Creating The Correct Diet For Your Horse


Horses by nature are grazing animals.  Because their stomach empties approximately every 3-4 hours, they eat many times throughout the day.  A horse’s natural diet is mainly grass, which is high in roughage. We should strive to keep our domesticated horses diets as close to what they would eat in the wild, fiber-based, such as grass, hay, haylage, hay replacement, etc… Here are some tips for creating the correct diet for your horse.

Tips For Creating The Correct Diet For Your Horse

The essential nutrients for a horse—water, carbohydrates and fats, protein and vitamins and minerals. Coming up with the correct diet for your horse can be difficult if you don’t know what you are looking for.  One of the first things to know is which mineral types are used in your supplements and are they bio available so that the nutrients are absorbed more efficiently, or are your supplements being flushed out of your horses system before they can be absorbed?

Tips for creating the correct diet for your horse.

All Life Stages/All Performance Levels/All Forage Diets

At Equine Challenge™ we believe forage specificity is paramount before horses get sick, not after! Sadly, more times than not we consider diet specificity when our horses become sick and we want them to recover functionally and quickly.

Equine Challenge™ is pro-active nutrition which provides the basic building blocks for day to day life and allows the flexibility to meet the nutritional needs of horses, regardless of age or how little or how much is physically demanded.

Not only are our ingredients synergistically proportioned in the bag, they are synergistically balanced to compliment whatever forage you feed your horse, be it alfalfa, grass or oat hay.  Our horse supplements can be mixed with your 

horse’s grain, hay pellets or simply fed by itself right out of the bucket.Equine Challenge Supplements will get your horse metabolically sound while supporting the immune system, digestive system, optimal hoof growth and healthy skin and coats.

Choosing The Right Grain


Oat grain is the most popular cereal grain fed to horses. It’s popularity as a grain for horses is may be due to the fact that it is the safest and most palatable to horses. Oat grain has a soft kernel and is easy to chew. Processing oats is not beneficial except for horses with poor teeth or those that are very young. The fiber level of oats is 10-12% and is therefore less likely to cause laminitis or digestive problems as compared to 

Grains Fed To Horses, Oats, barley, wheat, corn, Not All Grains Are Meant For Horses

other grains.  Oats are an amorphous starch, the most easily digestible of all the grains.  They are broken down in the small intestine and are absorbed long before reaching the caecum.  Crystalline starches are difficult to breakdown so starch enters the caecum where it starts to ferment leading to colic, laminitis, founder, etc…  Whole oats represent 35 – 45% more body heat production than an equal amount of corn.  In the colder snaps of winter weather we recommend feeding the majority portion of your whole oats in the evening feeding which will produce more body heat in the morning (1:00 am to 4:00 am) when it is most needed.  If your horses are losing weight given the colder weather, increase your whole oats in the evening feeding.  For information on grains commonly fed to horses please visit our page on grain types.

Choosing The Correct Hay For Your Horse

Hay types and varieties, which hay is best for your horse? Types and availability vary depending on region, and hays are representative of the climate in which they were grown.

Creating the correct diet for your horse

Grass hay types are divided into two categories based on where they are grown, cool or warm season. Cool season grasses include orchard, tall fescue, timothy, brome, rye and bluegrass. They grow mainly in areas with warm days and cool nights.

Warm season grasses include Bermuda, big bluestem, and teff.  They grow in climates characterized by hot days and warm nights. Warm season grasses are becoming much more popular due to their low levels of nonstructural carbohydrates (consuming high levels of these sugars and starches can lead to conditions such as insulin resistance, laminitis, etc….), and digestibility that are similar to some cool season grasses.

Legumes (alfalfa) and cool season grasses require similar growing conditions. You generally see them growing in the same areas. Alfalfa is the most common legume owners feed their horses. A large majority of the hay grown in the United States is alfalfa or a grass/alfalfa mix.

Cereal grain hays include oat, barley, and wheat.  The ideal cereal grain hay is one cut at a leafy stage, when the seedhead has not yet emerged.  This hay will have good protein and digestibility. When cereal grain hay is harvested with seedheads fully extended, the main nutrients are in the actual grain and the rest of the hay is basically just straw and typically low-quality.

Cereal hays should be avoided with horses with EMS, Cushing’s, IR or sugar and starch sensitivities, as these forages are high in carbohydrates.


Normally the season’s first hay cutting offers the highest nutrients. This hay usually has a soft texture and is very leafy.  Hays harvested later in the season usually have coarse, thick stems and fewer leaves than plants harvested early. The older the plant at harvest, the lower its nutrient value and palatability. Later cutting can still be a good choice for some horses such as easy keepers.

What To Look For Before Loading That Hay

  • Hay free from dust, mold, and foreign objects. When horses sift through moldy or dusty hay, those irritants are released into the air and, when inhaled, can negatively impact a horse’s respiratory system. Foreign objects such as sticks, weeds, insects, and twine can also potentially harm a horse if ingested.
  • A high leaf-to-stem ratio. Choose hay that contain a high proportion of leaves vs. stems and seed heads, the plant’s highest concentration of nutrients is in its leaves.
  • Hay soft to the touch.
  • A pleasant smell.
  • A bright green color.

Which Hay Is Right For Your Horse?

Choose hay that is considered good quality for all ages and work levels of horses upon visual inspection.

Match the most nutritious hay to meet the nutritional need of the individual horse.

For those horses that need higher nutritional needs add a grain such as whole oats to the diet and of course, Equine Challenge Supplements to complete and balance the diet.  Equine Challenge offers forage specific vitamin & mineral supplements to balance both alfalfa forage diets and grass forage diets.  We also offer regional blends to include No Selenium added for forages grown where the selenium levels in the soils are high and for forages grown in the Southwest, we have your horses covered there also.  If you have questions as to which Equine Challenge Supplement will best meet the needs of your horse, please contact us at 800-806-6150 or email at

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