Guidelines on the correct feeding of your horse

The following is basic guideline to feeding your horse and you may have to adjust slightly to the quantities depending on the breed and metabolism of the individual.

Roughage / Fodder:

  • In their natural environment horses will graze and forage 70% of their time.
  • Physiological and psychological problems occur if this natural desire to forage is not met. For example colic and ulceration of the stomach.
  • Roughage requires more chewing than concentrates which leads to more saliva being produced. The saliva helps to neutralise stomach acid which leads to healthy stomach environment. It is therefore important that horses have access to roughage at all times.
  • Good quality grazing and hay will improve the horse's overall condition. The most commonly used hay is eragrostis curvula  (Also known as Eragrostis, Oulandsgras or Weeping lovegrass), eragrostis tef (Also known as Teff or Tef) and oat hay.
  • The amount of roughage required varies depending on the work load or whether it is a lactating mare. A horse in maintenance will require on a daily basis approximately 1.3% of its body weight in fodder while a lactating mare will require approximately 3.2% of her body weight in fodder. A working horse in moderate work will require on a daily basis approximately 2% of its body weight in fodder, in conjunction with their concentrates


  • The general rule for feed concentrates is that 1% the horse's body weight should be enough. Horses can only digest approximately no more than 2kgs concentrate per meal. It is therefore better to feed the concentrates over three meals of 2kgs each should the horse require 6kgs per day.
  • Feeding more than 2kgs of feed concentrate at a time may lead to undigested concentrate passing into the hindgut of the horse which may lead to instability of the hindgut.
  • A feed with a 12% protein level is generally sufficient for adult horses in South African conditions.
  • The energy content of feed concentrate is not linked to the protein level of the concentrate. In other words you may find a concentrate which has 10% protein level but it has an higher energy content than a feed concentrate with a 12% protein level.
  • Strenuous work is to be avoided for at least an hour after feeding.


  • Clean fresh water must be available at all times.

Causes of poor condition in horses
The following are the most common causes of poor condition in horses:

  • Under fed
  • Poor quality feed and hay
  • Teeth needs to be checked by a vet or equine dentist every six months
  • Deworming needs to be done every 4 to 6 months. The general practice is to deworm in spring and autumn. In cases of heavy infestations shorter intervals are required. Avoid using the same de-wormer as the parasites will become resistant to the active ingredient. 
  • When all aspects of feeding have been assessed and the horse remains in poor condition, veterinary consultation is required to check for gastric ulceration or other causes.
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