5 Tips for Feeding Horses That Travel Frequently

Are you and your horses heading south for the winter? Prepare in advance to keep your equine charges healthy during and after transport.

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Feeding Horses That Travel Frequently
Pay special attention to what kind of hay your horse consumes before, during, and after transport. Many factors—including plant species, maturity at harvest, and storage conditions—can affect a hay’s digestibility, and hay quality can vary drastically between regions. Safety note: This trailer is parked. Never leave your trailer's doors open when the vehicle is moving. | Photo: iStock

Like birds of a feather, many equestrians that reside in Northern regions stick together and flock south for the winter to beat the cold and snowy weather. The stress of travel, however, plus potential feed changes, particularly forages, can be a recipe for disaster for a horse’s wellness.

Here are five tips for feeding horses that travel frequently:

1. Keep ’em Hydrated

A stalled horse with free-choice access to water will drink, on average, 18 to 40 times daily for 13 to 26 seconds each time. So, when hauling long distances, you should offer water at least every four to eight hours and more frequently in hot and humid weather.

Also remember that water can vary in taste and odor, which can cause a horse to drink less. To avoid this, consider bringing a water supply from home for when you’re on the road and/or precondition your horse to drink water containing a flavored additive. Start introducing the flavoring one to two weeks prior to transportation, and continue adding it after you arrive at your new destination. Horses seem to prefer sweet tastes such as apple flavoring; try Kool-Aid, apple juice, or even an electrolyte supplement to see what your horse likes best.

2. Meal Planning

If you are staying at your destination long-term, check with local feed dealers in advance to see if they stock not only your horse’s brand of grain, but also the exact product you feed. Further, if you’ll need to purchase hay, find a supplier and inquire about the types available (more on this in a moment), costs, delivery options, and the quantity available. Don’t wait until you arrive to find feed for your horses.

3. Don’t Pack Light

Pack at least one to two weeks’ worth of feed and hay when you hit the road with your horse. Why? If you must transition to another brand or type of feed—either hay or grain—you will want at least five to seven days to slowly introduce the new fodder.

4. Hay Dilemma

Pay special attention to what kind of hay your horse consumes before, during, and after transport. Remember, many factors—including plant species, maturity at harvest, and storage conditions—can affect a hay’s digestibility, and hay quality can vary drastically between regions, especially when going from north to south or vice versa (see table below). As we’ve already discussed, bring a supply of your horse’s normal hay with you and make any changes in the forage portion of your horse’s diet slowly.

Common Northern vs. Southern Hays

Hay Type Crude Protein Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF) Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF) Nonstructural Carbohydrates
Legume Hay (Northern) 21% 30% 39% 11%
Mixed Grass Hay (Northern) 12% 38% 60% 12%
Perennial Peanut Hay (Southern) 11% 39% 47% 15%
Bermudagrass (Southern) 11% 35% 66% 13%
Information provided by Dairy One

Another way to help minimize drastic changes in forage quality when on the road is to incorporate some type of fiber cube or pellet into your horse’s diet. These products, such as alfalfa cubes or timothy pellets, tend to be more consistent in nutrients and digestibility from region to region and allow for a consistent source of fiber in the diet.

Finally, if or when you do purchase hay at your destination, remember that all the options available at home might not be available there. And while horses can consume many types of forage, some are best avoided. If you’re unsure whether a certain type of hay is safe for your horse to consume, do some research or consult a veterinarian or equine nutritionist before you buy.

5. Ask The Experts!

If you don’t know what grain or hay will suit your horse best when he arrives at his destination, need help planning an appropriate diet, or have any other questions, don’t hesitate to consult with your veterinarian or an equine nutritionist. Further, the Cooperative Extension System, a free resource available across the United States, often has specialists on hand to assist owners with feeding decisions.


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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