Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Feeding Your Horse to Avoid Problems


Pet Column for the week of May 20, 1996


Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
By Linda March
Information Specialist

All horses, no matter what age, need a properly balanced diet that is built around a forage
base. Their bodies are built to use forage best.

"Feeding horses is simple and needs to be kept that way. Don't ever supplement unless it is
with the advice of a nutritionist or veterinarian," cautions Dr. R. D. Scoggins, retired equine
extension veterinarian at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine at Urbana.

Horses require grain less often than owners think. Hard-working horses, such as race
horses or eventing horses that train every day, may need grain to maintain their body
condition. Nursing mares may also need grain to help them maintain body condition.

"Other horses only need what grain it takes to catch them," quips Dr. Scoggins.

Hard-working horses have a higher energy demand than others, especially if they are in
poor body condition to start with. These animals may benefit from the extra energy that
corn adds to the diet. Proper mineral balance is also very important in the horse's diet at all
stages of life. To give the foal a good start before it hits the ground, the mare needs the right
amount and correct balance of minerals, especially copper, zinc and selenium (if you live in
a selenium-deficient area such as Illinois). Once the foal is growing, properly balanced
minerals in its diet will help prevent joint diseases.

Horses are nibblers. They have a relatively small stomach and need frequent smaller meals
to avoid problems like colic. If grain is necessary, provide a maximum of one-half pound of
grain per 100 pounds of body weight at a time. Good quality hay should be available free
choice.

When temperatures dip and horses are outside, give the animals more forage. "The heat of
fermentation will keep the horse warm. Corn gives energy, not extra heat, to a horse," he
notes.

Over-conditioning (fat) is hard on your horse. The extra body weight can lead to lameness
and make subtle lameness worse. Extra fat may increase the incidence of fatty lipomas in
the intestines. It also adds to the general wear and tear on the horse's body.

Dr. Scoggins warns, "Never feed 'screenings' or 'fines' to a horse." Corn screenings have a
higher mold content than whole corn and are often related to moldy corn poisoning in
horses.

Other tips Dr. Scoggins gives for horse owners are: 1) Don't store greater than a two-week
supply of processed grain. 2) Clean out the inside of storage bins, especially in summer
when mildew builds up. 3) Keep the food supply covered to avoid contamination with
rodent feces. Diseases such as leptospirosis, salmonella and equine protozoal myelitis can
be transmitted through feed contamination. 4) Wrap round bales and store inside if
possible. This will decrease the amount of mold and dust and help control COPD
(congestive obstructive pulmonary disease). 5) Feed only an amount of hay the horses can
clean up. This will decrease the amount of mice and vermin in the hay, therefore decreasing
the likelihood of botulism. 6) Maintain an adequate water supply for the horses, keeping it
clean, ice-free, and of a drinkable temperature in the winter. This will also help prevent colic
and impaction of the intestine. 7) Don't grain a horse within one hour of hard work (either
before or after working). 8) When trailering, give the horse good quality grass hay and no
grain. Also, make sure it has plenty of water on the trip.

If you have questions about feeding your horse to avoid problems, call your equine
veterinarian.