You don’t need to be a novice to be confused about the subject of equine nutrition. Many long-time horse owners have never dabbled in the mysteries of feeding because their horses always were kept at boarding stables or managed by someone else. With all the confusing advertisements and conflicting information available on feed, it’s no wonder so many owners avoid the subject of nutrition, trusting that someone else’s recommendations will supply their horses with the necessary dietary ingredients for good health and performance.

But suppose you decide to buy a farm and bring your horses home. Suddenly you’re the one who has to make that trip to the feed store and bring home, well, something. You always took hay for granted; now you find yourself worrying about the relative virtues of Bermuda grass, timothy, alfalfa, and endophyte-free fescue. And those feed tags, with their apocryphal percentages and parts-per-million; they’re indecipherable!

At first glance, all of this might be true. But basic horse feeding isn’t rocket science. To help you delve into the murky world of equine nutrition, here’s what you really need to know about three key ingredients in your horse’s diet–fiber, protein, and carbohydrates.

Fiber Facts

Like all true herbivores, horses may satisfy their daily energy requirements by eating plant fibers. The tough, stringy stems and leaves of pasture grasses (or hay, the dried version) are their natural diet, and they’re superbly adapted to extract nutrients from those fibers. This is done with the help of a population of beneficial bacteria in the horse’s cecum (part of the large colon, or hindgut, which acts as a fermentation vat for plant tissue).

In his natural state, a horse wanders and grazes for 12 to 16 hours a day. His digestive system is designed to process small amounts of feed constantly as it comes alon