Feeding a Young Horse

What is the best feed for a 4 year old Thoroughbred that is turned out several hours in a grass pasture? Horse is not excerised by means of lungeing or riding and is a little on the rounder side. I plan to do pleasure riding and some dressage about 3 times a week, for 30 minutes to one hour. She has good feet, maybe a little flat, and a nice shiny haircoat but at the moment she is experiencing hives. She is eating hay—some alfalfa, some oat, and some grass. She gets one measure of an all-purpose supplement, one half scoop of whole oats and access to a mineral/salt block.
– Eva

Dear Eva,

Two things struck me about your question. One, you say your horse is a little on the rounder side, yet you’re feeding her oats. If she’s slightly heavy then she doesn’t need the additional calories from grain so you can discontinue this practice. And save a little money!

Two, at the moment she is experiencing hives. It concerns me that a young horse like this is already exhibiting a skin allergy so I think the number one priority here is figuring out what she’s allergic to and eliminating that from her life. Consult your veterinarian about this issue.

Otherwise, as long as you’re feeding about 2% of her body weight each day in hay and you’re mixing the grass and alfalfa—not alternating it—I believe the all-purpose supplement is probably supplying any vitamins and minerals she might need to round out her diet. Access to a salt block is probably sufficient for now. However, as you start working her or the weather gets warmer and she starts sweating, consider adding loose salt or electrolytes to her diet. Salt blocks were made for the rough tongues of cattle and many horses won’t lick enough to meet their sodium requirements. Providing loose salt/electrolytes or adding them directly to the diet are better options. I wish you and your young horse much success in the future!

Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA SmartPak Staff Veterinarian and Medical Director Dr. Lydia Gray has earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and a Master of Arts focusing on interpersonal and organizational communication. After “retiring” from private practice, she put her experience and education to work as the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s first-ever Director of Owner Education. Dr. Gray continues to provide health and nutrition information to horse owners through her position at SmartPak, through publication in more than a dozen general and trade publications, and through presentations around the country. She is the very proud owner of a Trakehner named Newman that she actively competes with in dressage and combined driving. In addition to memberships in the USDF and USEF, Dr. Gray is also a member of the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association (IDCTA). She is a USDF “L” Program Graduate and is currently working on her Bronze Medal. Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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7 comments on “Feeding a Young Horse
  1. Laurie says:

    Hi, I have a 4 year old Quarter horse & I have always had her in a stall. I was thinking of putting her in the pasture with the other horses,what are your thoughts?

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hi Laurie, thanks for your question! Horses are very social animals and are usually much happier when they’re a part of a herd. Additionally, horses were built to roam freely and graze constantly, not to be confined to a stall and fed large, infrequent meals. For those reasons, we recommend giving your horse access to pasture and interaction with other horses. However, it’s important to make the transition carefully both to fresh grass and to a herd. A sudden intake of rich pasture can upset your mare’s digestive system, so if she hasn’t had a lot of access to pasture, and/or if the field is very lush, it would be best to make the transition very gradually, starting with just 30 minutes to an hour out in the field, perhaps with handgrazing. Existing herds always have an established pecking order and as a “newbie,” your mare will have to find her place. As horses are getting to know each other there are often displays of aggression, like biting and kicking, so it’s important to closely monitor the group during your mare’s first few days in the group. If this is the first time you have turned a horse out on grass or with other horses, we suggest you work with a veterinarian, trainer or other knowledgeable person so that you and your horse are not put into danger. Safety first!

  2. Mark says:

    Dear Dr. Gray,

    I have a 5 year old gelding. He is a French Trotter. He stays out in pasture with his buddies during the day and they all come into the barn at night. I ride him 3 to 4 days a week in the close to our house. My question is… Is it really necessary to clean his sheath? I have been told to do it “once a month” to “not at all”. My mom said they never did it to their horses when she was growing up and they did not have any problems…I have watched the videos online and are comfortable doing it. However, he really does not like it when you touch the area and always lifts up a hind leg…. Just curious how you felt about sheath cleaning..

    Thanks,

    Mark

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hi Mark, thanks for your question. Since you mentioned that your horse is particularly sensitive about having his sheath handled, our recommendation would be to have your veterinarian clean his sheath, once or twice per year, during your gelding’s physical exam. Your vet will be able to sedate your horse, if necessary, to ensure everyone’s safety as well as being able to perform a thorough cleaning. Best of luck!

  3. Tarrah says:

    Same as Mark, I wondered if sheath cleaning is necessary if no problems are obvious. My gelding also raises his rear leg, flattens his ears. He lets me touch everywhere else. He’s a draft, so I don’t want to risk being kicked.

  4. MALCOLM says:

    i just bought a yearling filly she came from a well respected breeder. she had a few scratches on her hip we have her for 1 week and she gashed herself twice. we have barb wire but we have other horses that dont have a problem could i credit this to being young or her just learning her boundries she will be 2 in march.

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hi Malcolm,

      Barb wire may not be the best type of fencing for horses, especially young ones. You may need to look into other fence types such as wood, plastic, wire or electric that are safer.

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