Most horses eat hay and some form of concentrates a day, such as grain or pelleted feed. They generally get concentrates one to two times a day, with the amount and type varying with each horse.
The gastrointestinal tract in horses is designed to regularly be ingesting small amounts of food all throughout the day. Non-ruminant herbivores are designed to consume a high fiber, low starch diets by foraging throughout the day.
This unlike other herbivores, such as cows, sheep, goats, and deer, that chew their cud. A horse will produce 20-80 liters of saliva a day, to aid in the process of digesting.
The stomach also digests protein and regulates the food that passes into the small intestine. Once in the small intestine, more digestion of protein happens, in addition to simple carbohydrates and fats.
The colon works to absorb nutrients and water that comes with food through the digestive tract. Some of the most common causes for colic are excess gas build up in the colon, dehydration, parasites, excessive intake of sand, stress, changes in diet, blockage in the digestion track and too much grain intake.
Signs of colic include rolling, laying down, stretching, pawing, kicking, lack of fecal production, lack of interest in food and water, elevated heart rate and sweating. If your horse is showing any signs of colic, you want to notify your vet immediately.
While waiting for the vet to arrive, it is a good idea to walk your horse, as this stimulates gut movement and prevents any injuries from excessive rolling. A balanced diet and constant access to fresh water can help prevent colic in horses.
Since horses are herbivores, their diet largely consists of hay and grass. Horses also typically eat grain or other concentrates to help meet their dietary needs, and they also enjoy many types of fruits and vegetables as treats.
Horses have a unique digestive system and it is very important for them to maintain a proper diet in order for them to be healthy. Each horse is unique and will have a different feeding plan based on their age, weight, and exercise.
Horses have a jawline that is perfect for eating raw plant material. Horses also have 12 premolars and 12 molars that help them grind tough leaves and stem.
Horses teeth grow throughout their lives as they get worn out from chewing tough plant matter. The digestive system of a horse has been designed to turn grass into energy.
Horses use bacteria in their cecum and large intestine to ferment and digest fiber. A horse’s hind gut also works as a large fluid reservoir as fiber binds with water.
The stomach of a horse can only hold a small amount and thus empties quickly. Food passes through their bodies at a rate of about one foot per minute, which is why horses graze for such a long period.
The grass is the natural food of horses and is great for their digestive system. However, when you leave out your horse to graze in the pasture, ensure that there are no harmful plants.
When pasture isn’t available, like in the cooler months, hay is the next best thing for your horse. Fruits and vegetables are great for horses as they add the necessary moisture to the feed.
Also, vegetables like turnips, potatoes, tomatoes, kale, broccoli, and cabbage must be avoided as they can make your horse gassy. Concentrates that are grains, like corn, oats, and barley, are good for your horse.
For instance, feeding horses dried fish is a common practice in winters in Iceland. The meat, apparently, provides them the extra protein needed to survive the harsh winters.
What horses really need is plenty of good quality roughage and clean water to keep them hale and hearty. The horse relies on hind gut fermentation which means that its cecum and colon is inhabited by microorganisms (bacteria, protozoa and fungi) that degrades fiber.
However, the microbial flora inhabits the entire equine gastrointestinal tract, high counts of total anaerobic bacteria has been found throughout the digestive tract and even in higher numbers in the stomach than the small intestine. Concentrations of the fibre-degrading bacteria, as cellulolytic bacteria, are high in the hind gut and low in the stomach and small intestine which shows that fiber degradation takes place in the hind gut.
The horse’s diet has an impact on the composition of the microflora and therefore also which types of short-chain fatty acids that are produced. High performing horses can have large fluid losses during intensive exercise and a high forage diet seems to be an advantage for the fluid balance of the horse.
Although they can survive solely on grass, hay, and plants, people still have their confusion about whether they’re herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores. Studies show that some species rely on others as their source of food, and some eat other animals.
Unlike many other animals, horses rely on plants as their primary source of food. Animals have different jawlines, and the shape of their skulls and teeth can tell you what dietary habits they’re inclined to.
They also have big canines that make it easier to grip the flesh and cut through it quickly. They follow their prey and get as close to them as possible, and they make a sudden sprint to attack them.
A predator’s jaws are created in a manner that gives them a significant advantage when it comes to hunting. Their jaws are equipped with sharp incisors and large canines that help in crushing and breaking down the fibers into digestible form.
Most omnivores show the behaviors of stealth when it comes to hunting, but they are also able to forge, dig, browse, and gather plant material. Herbivores have a totally different jawline as their bodies are adapted to eating only pure, raw plant material.
They’re easily able to cut, nip through the gross, or hold on as they pull back at branches of trees. Rabbits, mice, and cattle have different types of incisors that help them eat.
Herbivores animals have some common traits like alertness and the ability to run very fast as it’s their primary way to survive. They’re bred so that they’re able to run races, pull heavy loads, or jump high and give performances.
The digestive system of horses is very well-equipped at turning grass into energy. Since canines are mostly used for chewing and tearing flesh, horses aren’t equipped to do that.
A horse’s stomach can hold a small amount and empty it quickly as it passes through their bodies at a rate of about 1 foot per minute. Horse breeders provide them with alternative sources of energy like grains.
The grain helps to give them a boost, which enhances their energy and makes them work harder. Horses hold a great deal of water and mass that fills up their enormous gut.
Meats and animal products go bad very quickly, and they have toxins that don’t always get destroyed by cooking. These can be contracted via food that could possibly be contaminated with bird or rodent carcasses.
Hence, consuming meat once or twice may not hurt them but doesn’t mean it is the perfect addition to a horse’s diet. Herbivores, including horses, have evolved in a way that they can graze continuously throughout the day.
But at times when pasture isn’t available around the year, there are a few alternatives that one can give to their horses. Grains are meant to supplement hay and prove to be a rich source of vitamins and minerals.
Did you know an average horse can drink up to 5-10 gallons of fresh water a day? An average horse needs to consume hay, which is about 2% of their body weight in one day.
The time, environment, conditions, and harvesting process all have a significant impact on the quality of the hay. When serving them feed, you should allow your horse to enjoy hay first before consuming rich, calorie-dense grains.
It is crucial to ration the amount of grain, based on how much your horse requires. Grain portions should be based on your horse’s weight and activity level.
If you’re giving your horse too little a quantity of grains, it means you’re depriving them of some essential nutrients that could be beneficial for them. Small, frequent meals help in recreating the sort of experience a horse will have in nature.
However, this may not be fulfilling for them as it would be better to feed them at least three times a day with a gap of 8 hours in between each mealtime. Consistent feeding helps horses feel used to the surroundings, and a lack of this could also trigger health issues and stress.
The herbivorous nature of horses, and them being the PRE animal, helps us understand some of their behaviors and traits. They are not omnivores. We can understand that when a horse encounters danger, their steady response is to flee from the situation.
They’re equipped with speed and alertness, which helps them avoid risk and understand when they’re facing danger. Some studies have also shown that due to the fear of predators, prey chooses to live together in groups.
Equine digestive systems are incredibly delicate and are best suited for plant matter and not meat. Their jaws are designed in a way that helps them to grind and break down complex fibers instead of flesh.