Designing Your Horse’s Diet

Developing your horse’s ration involves more than just tossing together nutrients. Follow this step-by-step approach to balance your horse’s diet.
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Designing Your Horse
Formulate each horse's diet based on his age, body codnition, dietary goals, and health status. | Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

A step-by-step approach to ration-balancing

To some, listening to fingernails on a chalkboard sounds more pleasing than sitting down to balance a horse’s diet. But it’s an important part of horse ownership. The National Research Council’s (NRC) Committee on Nutrient Requirements for Horses (who authored a document of the same name in 2007), states that the goal of any equine diet is to “provide nutrients that efficiently maintain a horse’s body and well-being and support functions related to growth, production, and work.” The committee advises the government on the nutrients required by all equids.

Whether building a plan for feeding a new horse or troubleshooting a current horse’s diet to see what could be missing, ration evaluation is key to health and performance. With the NRC’s requirements as our guide, we’ll take on ration-­balancing one step at a time. So embrace your inner mathematician, and let’s get started.

Step 1. The Steed Deets

First things first: Gather information about the equid you’re feeding. The NRC publishes tables of data (available here: nrc88.nas.edu/nrh) listing daily requirements for energy, protein, vitamins, and minerals based on a horse’s weight and physiological class (think growing, pregnant, lactating, or performance). But creating a balanced diet depends on more than just science

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Written by:

Kristen M. Janicki, a lifelong horsewoman, was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Sciences from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and later attended graduate school at the University of Kentucky, studying under Dr. Laurie Lawrence in the area of Equine Nutrition. Kristen has been a performance horse nutritionist for an industry feed manufacturer for more than a decade. Her job entails evaluating and improving the performance of the sport horse through proper nutrition.

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