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Feeding and General Care of Your Horse

For the average horse, it is better to feed more hay and less grain. This makes the horse spend more time eating and less time cribbing. One and one-half to two pounds of hay per one hundred pounds of body weight is the average amount required per day for each horse.  This amount may be less for some “easy keepers.”  Figure 1.5-2% or so of a horse’s weight to feed as hay each day, or 15-20# (1/3 of a bale).

Grain.  If the horse is worked one pound of grain per hour worked can be supplemented.  We like to see about four pounds of grain MAXIMUM per horse per day, unless the animal is heavily worked, pregnant, or nursing.  A gallon of oats weighs about four pounds while a gallon of corn weighs seven pounds. One quart of corn grain, a coffee can full, weighs about one and one-half pounds. Oats weigh one pound per quart. Corn has more energy than the other grains. For example one quart of corn is equal to two quarts of oats. Fermentation occurs faster in corn and that is why oats are usually recommended. This avoids accidentally causing a grain overload, founder or colic. Barley is between corn and oats for energy value. Wheat and milo can also be used but we don’t usually recommend these grains.

Changing Feed. When changing feeds, especially increasing grains, SLOWLY increase the amount of grain or supplement (i.e. one-half pound per animal per day maximum increase). Changes in hay do not present many problems. A lot of grain too quickly can lead to grain overload and should be treated within four hours of engorgement. Call for advice if your horse has eaten twice the usual amount of grain or if over five pounds of grain per adult horse has been eaten and your horses were not used to grain. The sooner they are treated the better.

Cattle Feed. Supplements for cattle should not be fed to horses especially if they contain Rumensin, lincocin or tetracyclines. These antibiotics can be fatal to a horse.  Dogs will also develop toxicity and die from feed containing Rumensin (monensin) and other ionophores.  To prevent choke we do not recommend feeding horse or livestock cubes over 3/4” in diameter, with 1/2” size or less pellets preferred.

Good Hay. Alfalfa is a good feed that contains two times more protein, five times more calcium, and five times more Vitamin A than grass hay.  We recommend it for young, growing horses. Older horses do not require the extra protein in alfalfa. Any hay that is dusty is poor food for horses and should be avoided.  Because of the leaves, alfalfa hay catches more dust and can predispose a horse to heaves.  Horses with heaves should not be fed alfalfa hay.  A good hay is clean and green-colored with very few weeds. A mixture of grass and alfalfa is a good hay.  Some horses that develop heaves, or emphysema, can be fed alfalfa hay cubes or hay which has been sprayed with water before feeding to remove the dust.  Normally we only recommend the small cubes for heaves, for convenience when traveling and when the cost is less than hay.

Pasture. Usually horses are healthier if they have access to pasture. If the horse has not been on a pasture while it has gradually greened up, slowly introduce the animal to it. Increase grazing time by one to two hours daily to allow the system to adjust to the green grass. The green grass of early spring can cause grass laminitis in horses that are predisposed to this fairly rare problem; do not allow these horses prone to grass founder to graze.

Lawn Clippings.  We do not advise feeding the lawn grass clippings to horses because grass can sour if not properly cured; fresh clippings can cause a choke. The herbicides and insecticides applied to lawns can also cause severe problems.  Placing leaves in the pasture can cause an impaction, while shrub and garden trimming of azalea, rhododendrons, yews and other plants can cause acute poisonings and death.  

Location of Feed. The placement of food is important. Try to locate the feed at the horses’ shoulders.  Higher can predispose them to lung problems and a lower level, or ground feeding, encourages parasite problems.  It is best to feed twice a day. Never give over fifty percent of the ration as grain or supplement even if the horse has been worked very hard. The average horse should eat fifteen to twenty pounds of hay per day, or one third of a hay bale. Feed according to the body condition. You should not be able to see the ribs but you should be able to feel them.

Water.  Good water should be available free choice. We expect an adult horse to drink ten to twenty gallons per day.  Never give cold water to a horse that has recently been exercised. Allow a cooling down period first.

Salt.  The brown trace mineral salt is preferred and since these blocks contain over half sodium chloride a white block is not needed in our opinion. We recommend the micro mineral blocks that contain copper, cobalt, vitamin E, etc unless you give a supplement such as su-per form, etc.  A normal horse consumes at about one pound per week.  Some salt blocks have an insecticide that controls fly larvae in the manure.  It should be noted that this fly control is only for the face fly and not the housefly. Cleaning up manure daily is the best start for fly control.

Shelter.   A barn, shed, or covered windbreak is recommended for adverse weather conditions.  

Other Care.  Other factors to consider are foot trimming or shoeing, as directed or needed, every five to eight weeks. Deworm your horse four to six times a year. The teeth may need to be floated. This is the filing of sharp points. The horse will need yearly vaccinations.  In some stall and mud situations the feet should be picked out daily to prevent thrush, while some horses on a dry pasture can go 1-2 weeks without the need for picking out the sole with a hoof pick. 

Deworming and Vaccinations. Routine deworming horses help prevents colic, a major cause of death.   We recommend a yearly vaccination for Tetanus, Eastern & Western Encephalomyelitis (sleeping sickness), Influenza, the West Nile Virus and Rabies.  These immunizations are usually given in the spring or early summer.  Equine Protozoal Myelitis (EPM), rhinopneumonitis (herpes), and the strangles (Strep.) vaccinations are also given to some horses, especially if they are in a stable environment or show circuit.  Giving Rhino and Flu once or twice a year may decrease the chance of a horse developing heaves.  If you feed large hay bales to horses we may recommend the botulism vaccine.  If you live in a rattlesnake area we may recommend the rattlesnake vaccine.  Equine Viral Arteritis, Potomac Horse Fever, salmonella and other vaccines are also available but not usually recommended for every horse every year, yet we do give many of these vaccines every 2-5 years.  Venezuelan encephalitis (VEE), Rotavirus, anthrax, enterotoxemia, leptospirosis and some extra-label vaccines are also periodically needed if indicated and/or a pregnant mare.  A horse should have a test for Equine Infectious Anemia (Coggins) when purchased and on a yearly basis if the horse is on a show circuit or travels interstate a lot.  Coggins tests are required for health certificates.  Traveling interstate and sometimes intrastate may require a brand inspection and/or a lifetime trailering permit.  Traveling over 75 miles within the state of Colorado requires a brand inspection, unless you have a permanent card for lifetime trailering.  Any newly purchased horse requires a brand inspection; a bill of sale is also required for the sell or transfer of all livestock.  All premises where livestock are kept are to be registered with the USDA: 

We have a strategic deworming program where we send reminders, alternate the dewormers and included is a yearly fecal exam.  We recommend that at least weekly you halter your horse; this way it is easier to work with them when needed. 

There are many different ways to care for and feed your horse adequately.  These differences can be individually discussed with the veterinarian.  We have other handouts regarding foal care, breeding, etc.




Deworming Horses


     Strategic Deworming is a concept where you adapt the deworming schedule for each geographical area, each herd and sometimes each individual.  There are some animals which seem to be the “carriers and shedders” in the herd or flock and then there are a few others who seem to have a better immunity system for some of the species of parasites.  In livestock the individual fecal tests to look for those shedding animals is not as practical as that for a horse herd, unless there is a problem.  A group fecal of any animal species is recommended at least every 1-<2 years to look for what species of parasites are on the premises, the estimated amount in the patient(s) and/or if there is a resistance to some of the dewormers being utilized.  We recommend this fecal exam a couple weeks before you plan to deworm the herd, flock or individual; all we need is 4-5 tablespoons of feces, and for a group fecal this is 1/2-1 tablespoon from 4-8x different looking feces/different patients mixed all into one zip lock bag.  In a different year a fecal exam can be collected a couple weeks after the deworming.  It is okay to keep the stool sample at room temperature if you are dropping it by within a couple hours, or you can refrigerate it.  (Do not intentionally freeze the fecal sample.  If we are looking for lungworms on coughing animals this sample should be left at room temperature and dropped by within a couple hours; same protocol for a diarrhea patient.  It should be noted that the coccidia, lungworms and trichomoniasis parasites that we do see in some horses, are not part of the parasites considered in the routine deworming programs; these parasites are found on the additional fecal tests we do for diarrhea or coughing patients).  Do not let any fecal sample get “cooked” by leaving it in a hot car for a couple hours, etc. 

     It is thought that if you live north of us and/or in the mountains, the best time to deworm a horse is during the summer, while if you live south of us the best time is in the winter.  Some feel that since the larvae of most parasites die after 85 degrees F, there is no need to deworm in the summer in areas which achieve this temperature.  To an extent this is true, but “neither all of the animals nor all of the horses read the same book”.  Some parasites instead pass eggs, such as coccidia.  The deworming a horse regularly every 6-8 weeks is an outdated theory from the 1990’s; our clinic also does not highly recommend the daily deworming either.  Parasite resistance to deworming products is now a concern, and it does occur in our area.  With some large groups of horses we may recommend that if the pre-deworming group fecal test has a high egg count, then we may consider a 1-2 week post deworming group fecal test.  If there are 6+ head of horses this test will be cost effective if we find resistance to one of the dewormers.  As part of our program where the client purchases their dewormers at the clinic every 3-4 months, we do provide a free fecal after the 4th dewormer purchase/horse in 1-<1.5 years.         

     In the fall we recommend a dewormer which gets the tapeworms, such an avermectin product with praziquantel, then in the winter one of the fenbendazole/oxibendazole products.  Before the horses are turned out to pasture we recommend that the spring dewormer be pyrantel (unless this was used in the fall for tapeworms, and then the praziquantel product in the spring).  We also recommend a dewormer in mid-summer and/or a fecal test.