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Is Your Horse’s Diet Coming Up Short?


7 out of 10 horses aren’t getting a full serving of fortified grain or complete feed, according to our survey.

Why not? Unfortunately, there isn’t one simple answer. Luckily, we can help! In this article, we’ll review some of the most common reasons horses’ diets are lacking, and we’ll help you figure out how to make sure your horse has everything he needs to be his best.

Focus on forage

The foundation of your horse’s diet
Smart riders know that forage (hay and pasture) should be the foundation of a horse’s diet. Horses were designed to graze for up to 20 hours per day, but that much fresh, quality pasture is hard to come by for many horse owners, so we turn to hay. The general rule of thumb is that horses should be eating about 1–2% of their body weight in forage every day (for the average 1,000lb horse, that’s 10–20lbs daily!). While access to plenty of roughage is critical for healthy digestion and general well-being, even great quality hay starts losing its nutrients as soon as it’s cut. That means that while hay is an important part of your horse’s diet, by the time it’s dried, stored, delivered, and fed, it may have lost many key vitamins and minerals.

The scoop on grain

Be smart about what you’re serving up
Grain is not a feed source horses were built to digest. Instead of the steady intake of complex carbohydrates (fiber) that comes from grazing on forages, infrequent grain meals provide a concentrated source of calories and create a “feasting and fasting” cycle that can disrupt healthy digestion. However, this doesn’t mean that all grains are “evil.” For hard keepers and athletes in hard work, a full serving of calorie-dense grain may be an essential part of the diet. For most horses, however, less is more. Feeding the minimum amount of grain required to support healthy body condition, in small meals throughout the day, is the best way to ensure normal digestion and a healthy weight. That said, these partial grain servings create a problem of their own.

What’s in a “Scoop”?
Most commercial grains are fortified with vitamins and minerals to help meet your horse’s daily nutritional requirements. However, in order to receive enough nutrients from his grain, your horse must receive the full, manufacturer-recommended serving size for his age, weight, and workload. Herein lies a common conundrum—most horses simply don’t need that many calories, and over-feeding grain can lead to unwanted energy, digestive upset, and obesity. But with a partial serving of fortified grain comes a partial serving of key nutrients, meaning your horse may not be getting adequate levels of the vitamins he needs to truly thrive and perform his best.

Get to know your grains

There are many types of “grains,” but do you know what makes them different?

Complete Feed

completefeedA manufactured feed that combines grain and roughage; designed to partially or completely replace a horse’s forage, usually due to dental problems, or because quality hay is not available.
Examples: Purina® Equine Senior®, Nutrena Triumph® Complete Horse Feed.
Serving size: 15–20 lbs

Fortified Grain

fortifiedgrainA manufactured feed that includes added, guaranteed levels of protein, vitamins, and minerals; common types include pelleted and sweet feeds.
Examples: Purina Omolene #100®, Triple Crown 14% Performance, Nutrena SafeChoice® Original.
Serving size: 5–9 lbs

Whole Grain

wholegrainA cereal grain that has not been fortified with additional nutrients; may be processed by cracking, crimping, rolling, or heating.
Examples: oats, corn, barley.
Serving size: 1–5 lbs

Ration Balancer

rationbalancerA concentrated feedstuff (usually a pellet) designed to balance a forage-only diet by providing protein, vitamins, and minerals; not a significant source of calories; ideal for easy keepers.
Examples: Purina Nature’s Essentials® Enrich 32®, Nutrena Empower™ Balance.
Serving size: 1–21/2 lbs

Find out exactly what your horse needs in four quick steps!

1. Focus on forage

Make sure your horse is getting as much good-quality hay as possible (be sure to work with your veterinarian, especially if your horse is an easy keeper at risk for metabolic problems).

2. Weigh your grain

Determine whether your horse is getting a full serving of fortified grain or complete feed, as listed on the feed bag. Not sure how? Visit

3. Talk it out

Work with your barn manager, veterinarian, and (if possible) equine nutritionist to determine whether a ration balancer or multi-vitamin supplement is a better choice for your horse.

4. Find the right vite

If you choose to feed a multi-vitamin supplement, use our handy chart to find the perfect SmartVite formula for your horse’s age and workload.

Posted in Health & Nutrition

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3 comments on “Is Your Horse’s Diet Coming Up Short?
  1. Donna Carey says:

    Thanks for the tips! Here in Hawaii, I feed my horses Alfalfa Hay and Nutrena’s Safe Choice Original. Both are shipped to Hawaii. They love carrots, apples and fresh corn too.

  2. Candace says:

    Can the Smartvite supplements be used instead of a ration balancer?

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hi Candace, thanks for asking! The primary difference between a ration balancer and a multivitamin is that the ration balancer is designed to provide protein in addition to the vitamins and minerals. It is possible that your horse’s hay is providing enough quality protein in his or diet, but to know for sure you would need to do some additional investigating. Primarily you’ll need to know how much protein your horse needs based on their life stage and workload, as well as how much protein is coming from their hay source. One of our favorite resources for making this complicated information simple to understand is FeedXL: You can enter all the information about your horse and their current diet, and the program will give you insight into how balanced the diet is based on what you’re feeding. It’s a fantastic tool! – SmartPaker Casey

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