Choosing The Best Horse Food
Natural Horse Food - There are several different kinds of horse food, the most natural being pasture. Pasture is in many cases all that is required for a horse, as long as it is a quality pasture in terms of what grasses are growing there. When there is insufficient pasture to accommodate one or more horses, the most appropriate horse food is hay, whether given as a supplement, during winter when grazing becomes difficult or impossible, or in some cases is the only practical horse food available. In most instances, quality hay is as good for the horse as is pasture, although most horses will prefer green horse food over dry horse food, given that option.
Grain And Concentrates - The other major categories of horse food are natural grain, such as oats, and prepared concentrates, usually referred to either as formula, or simply grain. Concentrates or grain are seldom fed to a horse as the sole food item, but rather as a supplements, and sometimes simply as a treat. Care must be taken in the amount of grain given to a horse. One just doesn't fill a hopper with grain and let horses go at it. If an unlimited supply of grain is given to cows, they will eat all they can, which will usually end up killing them. Horses are a little smarter in that regard, as they will eat their fill and return later for more. Unfortunately, by eating their fill they are apt to get colic, and could become very sick. In most instances, a pound or two is the maximum amount of grain that should be given to horses at any one time. It's mainly horses that are working hard, foals during their first few months of growth, and pregnant and nursing mares, that have a need for supplements, as hay alone often does not provide all the needed nutrition.
Horse Treats - Another category of horse food is treats. Treats can consist of anything from carrots to apples, both of which horses love, to commercial treats, a favorite being apple and oat biscuits. Treats are not meant to be given as an entire meal, rather a few at a time, as the name implies. When giving apples or carrots, or any hard fruit or vegetable to a horse, it's advisable to cut the item in small enough pieces so as to avoid the possibility of something becoming lodged in the horse's throat.
Salt Blocks - Horses also need salt and minerals. While minerals occur naturally in good pasture and quality hay, it's always a good idea to provide horses with a salt lick, or salt block. There are several different types of salt block, some containing minerals, some containing trace selenium, some containing only salt, and so on. To determine the best type of salt block to purchase, it's helpful to find out what other horse owners in the area use. This is particularly important when it comes to selenium blocks. Horses need selenium, but don't need too much of it. Selenium occurs naturally in most natural horse food, but in some areas may be lacking.
Insofar as hay is concerned, the quality and composition can differ. For most horse owners a grass-alfalfa mix is usually the preference, with timothy being the more common type of grass. Some alfalfa in hay is desirable, as alfalfa provides more protein than does grass.
Alfalfa Cubes - Alfalfa can also be purchased in small cubes. Most horses aren't fed cubes day in and day out. Cubes are used mostly when going on extended trail rides or other outings where good grazing may not be available. When transporting horses across the country in trailers, hay is the preferable horse food, but it takes up some room, and a supplemental supply of concentrates and alfalfa pellets can come in very handy.
When horses are pastured, they will graze much of the day, in fact they almost always appear to be doing so. This will usually not be the case when feeding them hay unless a large feeder is used. Horses won't usually get sick from eating too much hay, but too much of this particular horse food can make them fat and lazy. The best way to give horses hay is to feed them smaller amounts two or three times a day.
Not to forget. Every bit as important as pasture, hay, concentrates, treats, and salt blocks, is an adequate supply of good, clean water.