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How to Feed the Grass Kept Horse or Pony

In the wild horse's pick out the best grass to eat and then move on - they are browsers. If you have ever grazed your horse in a head collar, you will know he does not stay in one place and eat all the grass. He takes one mouthful and then moves several steps before taking the next, so therefore in a day, with no fencing to keep him in, he would have wandered a considerable distance.

The horse's digestive system has evolved to cope with small quantities of fibrous food regularly passing through it. Whether in the stable or in a field the horse is dependant upon us for his food and water to keep his digestive system working efficiently and if we copy how the horse eats naturally we cannot go wrong.

Pony eating

The horse need plenty of bulk food all year round to keep him fit and well, They do most of their grazing from dawn to dusk, so in winter they have less time in which to eat sufficient food. We as owners must be constantly aware that they have access to enough food for their needs.

Horses need food to do many things: -

    Keep them alive,
    Keep them warm,
    Keep them in good condition,
    Give them enough energy to work.

What to Feed

Each horse and pony is an individual and has slightly different requirements, but there are some basic guidelines to follow and the diet can be adjusted to suit the individual, depending on how he looks and behaves.

Resting horses and most ponies
Light work
(Hacks/evenings and weekends)
Medium work

Ponies will do very well on either seed or meadow hay, but it must be of good quality. If you can only give one type of extra food, good, clean sweet-smelling hay will keep most cobs and ponies in good condition throughout the winter.

When to Feed

Hay should be fed in the morning and again late in the afternoon, at the same time each day, horses are creatures of habit and will be waiting at the gate.

How much extra food you give will depend on a number of factors: -

  • The quality and quantity of grass in the filed
  • The type of work the horse is doing
  • The time of year.

If the year is split onto four seasons we can highlight when the horse is likely to need extra food.

December to April

Horses will need hay twice a day and if the horse is being worked he will need a small concentrate feed once a day. Ponies will usually be fine on just hay unless they are working very hard (hunting/eventing/show jumping).

May to June

The weather is warming up (well, sometimes) and the grass is growing. Ponies may need to be stabled or have their grazing restricted for a few hours a day or they will get too fat.

July to September

Ponies and Cobs will live out on good grazing without extra food. But during the summer holidays they may work long hours without access to much food. They may require a small haynet or maybe a small feed (pony nuts), especially if they are going to lots of shows and working quite hard.

Do not forget to give them plenty of access to water.

October to December

The nights are drawing in, the weather is getting colder, the grass is not growing so quickly and has fewer nutrients. Hay may now be needed, in small quantities at first, to supplement the diet.

How Much to Feed

If you are unsure of how much to feed your horse or pony, it is always better to start with a high fibre (grass/hay) and low concentrate (pony nuts) diet. Then if the horse behaves well and maintains his weight, and is not too lively or too sluggish then the balance of feed is correct.

If the horse becomes silly and too energetic then the concentrate ration should be reduced and more hay fed, however, if the horse is sluggish then he needs a little more concentrate. Always use a low-energy feed for light work i.e. horse and pony nuts or a light non-heating coarse mix.

Quantities of Hay

kgs (lbs)
kgs (lbs)
kgs (lbs)
kgs (lbs)
kgs (lbs)
January 12.5 (27.5) 8 (17.5) 6 (12.5) 5 (11) 4.5 (10)
February 12.5 (27.5) 6 (12.5) 6 (12.5) 5 (11) 4.5 (10)
March 12.5 (27.5) 6 (12.5) 6 (12.5) 5 (11) 4.5 (10)
April 9 (20) 5.5 (12) 3.5 (8) 3.5 (7) 2.5 (6)
May - - - - -
June - - - - -
July - - - - -
August - - - - -
September - - - - -
October 9 (20) 5.5 (12) 3.5 (8) 3.5 (7) 2.5 (6)
November 12.5 (27.5) 8 (17.5) 6 (12.5) 5 (11) 4.5 (10)
December 12.5 (27.5) 8 (17.5) 6 (12.5) 5 (11) 4.5 (10)

REMEMBER to change your horse or pony's diet slowly in April and September to allow the bacteria in the horse's gut to adjust to the different feed, i.e. increase/decrease the quantity of hay over a two or three week period.

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