Feeding Your New Horse

Set your new horse up for success by following these tips to transition his diet and avoid gastric ulcers.
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Feeding Your New Horse
Ask if you can take or purchase a bale of his current hay, and purchase the same performance feed the horse is eating. Start off by feeding the same amount of hay he current eats, and over the first week the horse is in your care, mix in your hay gradually, increasing the amount until you’re only feeding your grass hay. | Photo: iStock
Q. I’m shopping for a new horse and looking at a preliminary eventer, although we will only be competing at novice level. Currently he’s being fed four good-sized timothy hay flakes and about 9 pounds of a performance feed. I’ll be boarding at a facility that offers orchardgrass hay and alfalfa; it also offers a choice of three feeds from a national feed companies. I understand that sudden dietary changes increase the risk of colic and am wondering what I can do to ease the transition if I purchase this horse?​

A. You’re correct that changes in diet increase colic risk. While we often think about dietary changes for horses already in our care, my experience is that relatively few people consider dietary changes that can result when a horse changes owners. Risk factors for colic can remain elevated for some time, because forage changes can increase colic risk for as long as three weeks. Therefore, you will need to stay diligent for at least the first month that he’s in his new home.

Consider Stress Beyond Dietary Changes

When buying a horse, you aren’t just changing his diet but also his environment and management. Some horses are very attached to their people and herdmates, which can also complicate the transition, as it takes time to build a trusting relationship with a new owner and integrate into a new herd. These stressors increase horses’ risk of developing equine gastric ulcers, so this is something else you should consider.

Get Information About His Current Diet

The first thing I recommend is to ask the horse’s current owner or manager about his current diet and routine. Initially, you’ll want to try to keep the diet and management as similar to what the horse is used to as possible. Ask if you can take or purchase a bale of his current hay, and purchase the same performance feed the horse is eating. Start off by feeding the same amount of hay he current eats, and over the first week the horse is in your care, mix in your hay gradually, increasing the amount until you’re only feeding your grass hay

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Written by:

Clair Thunes, PhD, is an equine nutritionist who owns Clarity Equine Nutrition, based in Gilbert, Arizona. She works as a consultant with owners/trainers and veterinarians across the United States and globally to take the guesswork out of feeding horses and provides services to select companies. As a nutritionist she works with all equids, from WEG competitors to Miniature donkeys and everything in between. Born in England, she earned her undergraduate degree at Edinburgh University, in Scotland, and her master’s and doctorate in nutrition at the University of California, Davis. Growing up, she competed in a wide array of disciplines and was an active member of the U.K. Pony Club. Today, she serves as the district commissioner for the Salt River Pony Club.

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