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The most natural diet for horses is composed mostly of grasses containing the essential nutrients that equines need. Even so, after the weather becomes colder, horses often do not have as much access to nutritious grasses. So, they need hay, grasses baled at the summer’s end. Horses require a minimum of 1% of their body weight with this dry forage. Grazing upon this forage is also an action that serves to occupy them if they are stalled.

As horses age, they are sometimes no longer able to eat and digest hay and grasses, while others may have certain conditions or just not have hay available to them. Fortunately, there are nutritious foods that horses can eat to fulfill all their needs; these are referred to as “complete feed.” Here are tips for choosing the appropriate equine feed offered by Progressive Nutrition’s general manager Tom Trotter and Randel Raub, the director of Equine Business Development and Technical Services at Land O’Lakes Purina Mills:

What a Horse Needs

As with humans, a horse needs to have both the necessary nutrients and calories. Younger, active horses can consume oats added to their diets for energy, along with hay or grasses for their digestive tracts, but they also need some complete feed that contains the necessary nutrients. Older horses need what is called a “senior feed.” This is a more easily digestible feed that is easy to chew. It is dust-free and highly palatable, based on digestible fiber rather than grain. This feed is also lower in sugar and starch content than regular feed. It contains added B and C vitamins. It is 14% crude protein and additional fat.

How to Identify Complete Feed

Because the hay component or forage is built into complete feed, this mixture can be fed without hay since it provides the adequate amounts and types of fiber a horse requires. A complete feed provides the protein, vitamin, and mineral components needed in a horse’s diet, thus eliminating additional supplementation. It should also have “lesser digestible fibers.” This composition will help maintain the horse’s gastrointestinal health, thus reducing the chances of colic. Such feed is excellent for older horses.

Sometimes, horse owners can not obtain the hay they need for the winter because of droughts or other weather problems. But, they can purchase a complete horse feed as a substitute or as a way to stretch their hay for the winter. Following the directions is wise as doing so ensures that the proper amount of feed is given to a horse under existing conditions.