What do Horses Eat ?

What do Horses Eat ?

Feeding your horse requires a varied diet, adapted to its size, activity and special needs. A horse's diet consists of grass, forage, concentrates and some fruit and vegetables such as apples and carrots. Allow your horse to eat slowly and monitor his appetite.

horse who is eating

To better understand the nutritional needs of the horse

The horse is a herbivore that, in its natural state, spends most of its time grazing. Like all animals, the horse needs a varied and balanced diet, adapted to its activity, age and size. The daily ration must cover the requirements for maintenance and work. In addition, regardless of its nutritional value, the ration must have sufficient volume to ensure that intestinal transit takes place under good conditions. This volume is largely provided by hay, straw or grass.

Why it matters

Unlike cattle, the horse does not chew its cud. Its stomach is relatively small and fragile. The horse cannot vomit either, as certain muscles at the entrance to its stomach prevent it from doing so. It is therefore necessary to divide the daily ration of the domesticated horse into 3, 4 or 5 meals.

What you need to know

Choose a varied diet

Your horse feeds on grass (if it is lucky enough to have a meadow), fodder (hay, straw), concentrated feed (cereal grains as they are or processed feed containing cereals, oilcake, co-products, minerals, vitamins) and certain fruits and vegetables which it is often very fond of (apples, carrots).

Put your horse out to pasture, but not just any old way

Your horse eats a lot of grass in the pasture : it is known that it can eat up to 250 lbs per day. However, calculating the amount of grass eaten is of little use : what matters most is the overall condition of the grass. It is sufficient that the grass is of average quality to contain all that is necessary for the horse's development. However, one must be very careful about the maintenance of a meadow where horses are present. They are nomads at heart and are used to being very selective in their choice of grass. After a while they will have eaten some of the grass down to the roots and left some untouched. The actual usable area will quickly be halved. For the long-term management of a meadow, it is essential to divide it into plots. Where possible, it is also strongly recommended to put cows on the grassland. Having two species on the same piece of land will enrich it and prevent it from degenerating.

horse eating in the field

Never neglect the fodder

Always take care to give your horse enough fodder (grass, hay, straw). During the winter, the grass does not grow any more, but fortunately the surplus grass from the spring growth can be kept and stored as hay. When stored dry, it can be kept for several years. Good hay is not dusty and smells good. Beware : the pre-hay that you find in big bales is not hay. It has all the substances present in hay but there are no more vitamins, due to the acidification that ensures its preservation. You can also supplement his diet with food supplements, especially for growing horses, which support their bone metabolism. 

Let him take his time

Your horse must be given time to eat and chew properly. The base of the ration must be made up of coarse food rich in cellulose and poor in directly assimilable energy (grass, hay, straw). The horse is thus obliged to chew for a long time and to impregnate the food bowl with saliva. It takes about 45 minutes to eat a kilo of hay and 20 minutes for a pounds of cereals.

Know how to evaluate your ration

As each horse is unique, there is no single recipe that works for all horses. To feed a horse or pony properly, you must take into account its breed, age, weight, daily activity, season and quality of feed. Here is an indicative table that can serve as a basis.

 Activity level Food 650 lbs horse or pony 1000 lbs horse 1300 lbs horse

Meadow hay

8 lbs/day 10 lbs/day 8 lbs/day
Medium Meadow hay 8 lbs/day 10 lbs/day 8 lbs/day
Sustained pace Meadow hay 8 lbs/day 10 lbs/day 8 lbs/day

Knowing a few tricks

Remember not to feed your horse directly on the sand or dirt to avoid "sand colic". If he is a bit of a glutton, put pieces of salt stone in the feeder to curb his appetite. And, to avoid disturbing the start of his digestion, avoid making him work in the hour following the distribution of food.

Make it gnaw

We tend to forget this, but the horse is also a "rodent". They especially love to gnaw on wood and branches at certain times of the year, especially in autumn. In the past, meadows were always bordered by hedges, so the animals could easily supplement their ration by eating from the hedges. It is very interesting to give tree branches and prunings to the horses, which love them. Exotic, ornamental and coniferous trees should be avoided. Hazel, willow, hawthorn, ash and fruit trees are not a problem. Don't forget plants such as nettles and charcoal, which, once mown and dried a little, are very popular food.

brown horse eating

7 foods that horses can eat :

Grass in pasture

When living outdoors, the horse eats mainly grass and plants.

Beware of fresh grass, which is very present in pastures at the end of winter. If consumed in too large quantities, it can cause laminitis if the horse is not used to going out to the paddock.


Although the horse may also eat straw, hay is the most important forage consumed by the horse. Along with grazed grass, hay is one of the basic foods that make up a horse's diet.

Be careful to give your horse good quality hay : if it is mouldy or too dusty it can damage your horse's lungs and cause serious diseases such as emphysema.

The grains

Grain, consisting of oats or maize, is not a natural feed for the horse. Nevertheless, grain is traditionally fed to horses that live in stalls. Grain should be fed in several meals throughout the day, in reasonable quantities depending on the way the horse works.


Concentrates can include cereals, forages, molasses, vitamins and minerals. They are used to provide energy for your horse. They can be used to supplement old horses, competition horses or pregnant mares.


Minerals and salt are included in concentrates or fed separately as part of the normal diet of horses.

It is not uncommon to feed salt blocks to horses to supplement the hay and grass rations they receive.

Fruit and vegetables

Often given as a reward, fruit, vegetables and other treats provide extra water to the horse's body.

However, be careful not to give too much : they can cause colic and obesity if eaten in excessive quantities.

horse eating a carrot


Of course, water is not a food that is eaten by the horse, but it is still part of its diet. The horse should be able to drink as much as it wants. The water supplied should always be fresh and clean.

Which foods are dangerous for horses ?

Potentially, everything is dangerous for the fragile digestive system of the horse, except grass in its two forms : fresh grass and hay (dry grass), the only food that can and must be available at will. For the rest, everything is dangerous, if there is too much of it. So let's see which foods are problematic in practice when they are over-consumed.

Can straw cause stasis colic ?

The majority of horses do not have free access to hay and are on straw bedding. The logical result is that they eat more than 6 lbs of straw per day and risk constipation : hard, dry droppings that accumulate in the curves of the large intestine (areas of narrowing of the intestinal lumen), causing transit to stop (stasis). This process is painful and triggers the well-known abdominal pain syndrome in horses called "Colic". Here, this type of colic related to constipation is called "Coprostasis Colic".

Initially benign, if everything is done in time, colic can go wrong and develop into a fatal condition (pain, spasm, intestinal torsion or displacement).

horse eating grass

Can concentrates cause laminitis ?

Concentrates are all feeds given as a supplement to hay. They are so called because they concentrate a lot of calories in a small volume. They are cereals (oats, barley, maize), oils, by-products.

They are distributed at a rate of a few kg per day, and this number of lbs must be less than the number of lbs of hay per day, for a good balance. If too much is fed, it is very dangerous, causing serious problems such as fermentation, gas, diarrhoea, colic and, above all, the risk of chronic or acute laminitis. The starting point of laminitis is the release of toxins from the digestive tract, leading to general intoxication and circulation problems, particularly in the feet.

Typically, a horse that escapes and attacks a wheelbarrow of pellets will trigger acute laminitis within hours. This is an emergency for the veterinarian, who will try to empty the horse's stomach and implement all possible preventive measures.

What are the risks of feed by-products for horses ?

  • By-products that should be ingested in moderate quantities are, for example, molasses, which is often used to keep the pellets "together" (so that they are not crumbly). Too much molasses (often to mask a bad taste) can cause diarrhoea and stomach ulcers.
  • Wheat is also not recommended, as it is too fermentable and can trigger blood strokes or gastric ulcers.
  • Bran and husks (teguments, remoulds) can, when used in too large quantities, by their high phosphorus content, hinder the absorption of calcium and other trace elements, thus causing deficiencies that are harmful to the general state of health.

What are the risks of treats for horses ?

As we have seen above, wheat is a risky cereal for horses, so it should be used with great moderation when giving dry bread as a treat to horses.

Chocolate is a special case because although it is toxic in high doses (presence of an alkaloid of the caffeine family, theobromine), it is in any case banned because it is positive at anti-doping tests, even in low doses, and should therefore be avoided absolutely.

Prefer apples cut in 4, carrots, raw artichoke in pieces (good for the kidneys and liver), a handful of cornflakes, a sugar, and commercial sweets. Keep it simple, and above all, think of the hay.

By Luisina Giovannini

I created Horse Placenta with the aim of showing all the beauty of this incredible animal which is the horse. I hope you have enjoyed reading this article. I invite you to continue reading to find out more.

Recent articles

Ride a Horse

Riding a Horse

Equestrian Center

Horseback Riding

Horse Coat Colors

Horse Breeds

Horse Behaviour