Forage options and how much to feed your horse

I recently moved Athena from a lovely 2 acre pasture, to a barn setting. The pasture, was easy with 24/7 turnout and unlimited grazing. It made life simple. I never thought too much about the nutritional quality of her grass or how much she was getting. It just fell into the category of “it is what it is”. She grazed when she wanted to, which I’m pretty sure was most of the time, so I never worried about her getting enough. In fact I was starting to be a bit concerned she might actually be getting too much grass. Horses are said to self regulate how much they eat. Not Athena… Nom Nom Nom. If there is grass to be had she is eating it!

In addition to grazing, I supplemented with a vitamin and mineral supplement, but as I said, outside of that I didn’t give her feed another thought….until we moved to the barn. 

At the barn Athena has a large stall to dry paddock that she spends evenings and early mornings in and then her paddock leads to a grass pasture for day time turnout. It’s a wonderful set up and Athena is quite happy and content in her new home. But, the grass pasture turnout isn’t enough to account for all of her forage needs like the pasture did, and with evenings and early mornings spent in her stall and dry paddock there are daily feedings to account for the majority of her forage requirements. Which brings me to the dilemma… what do you feed and how much should you feed your horse??????  

Oh my gosh, the PRESSSURE! There are so many different choices and combinations. Straight hay in the varieties of  Alfalfa, Timothy, orchard grass etc. And then you can add in oats, beat pulp, rice bran and even coconut husks! It starts to sound like a scene from the Wizard of Oz…. “Alfalfa, Timothy, beat pulp oh my!” The barn doesn’t feed hay so I couldn’t abide by the 1 or 2 flake rule. So now what!?

First of all, don’t panic. It’s daunting at first, trust me I know, and I am by no means a nutritional expert, but after some diligent research I have discovered the following guidelines to help get you started.  
A horses needs roughly 1.5 perfect to 3 percent of it’s bodyweight in forage a day. This is roughly 15-20lbs  or 6.8kg to 9.1kg for a 1000lb horse. This is, as I said a very rough average. Your horse may require more or less depending on their workload, metabolism, time of year and how much pasture turnout/grazing they have access to.

So how do you feed this amount of forage? Let’s look at a few options:
1.) Hay- this is a very common option and works well in many parts of the country.  Here in Hawaii all of our hay is shipped in, making it very expensive and the quality is not great soooo we have gone to other alternatives, which brings me to number 2…..
2.) Timothy cubes. We like to use Triple Crown Naturals Timothy Balance Cubes. They keep well, even in our humid climate, are easy to order and ship to Hawaii and easy to feed. Each horse gets three, 8 quart buckets of soaked cubes. Each bucket is filled to varying levels based on that horses’s particular needs.

To determine how much to feed Athena I actually took a scale to the barn, I know…total geek moment. But, how else was I going to determine how much to give her using the above suggested weights?  I weighed out each of her food buckets and am happy to report that an 8 quart bucket filled just below half way is 5.4 pounds of dry cubes. So for 3 buckets she is getting 16.2lbs of cubes per day, plus light grazing.  We ride 5 days a week doing light dressage flatwork and hilly trail rides. She gets a snack of soaked alfalfa cubes for a little extra protein after we ride that is about a quarter of my 8 quart bucket. Athena is an easy keeper, and with her easy keeper metabolism and current workload, this seems to be working well. I’m sure she might disagree.. but her weight looks great and she has plenty of pep in her step, all signs that it’s working well. If and when her work outs get more intense I plan to add more to her feed. 

  • Just as a side note, Triple Crown does make alfalfa and oat hay cubes as well so you can really decide what works best for you and your horse. 

3.) Premium Chopped Grass Forage is another forage option. This product, also made by Triple Crown(other companies make it too) is chopped and then packaged. Unlike cubes the hay stems are slightly longer and less processed as they are not pressed into cubes.  I actually love the idea of a less processed product and plan to give it a try in the coming month. Stay tuned for our review! 


So there you have it, with 3 great forage options and a basic idea of how much to feed you can now start to plan the foundation for your horses diet.  Don’t forget to include a good multi vitamin or ration balancer to insure your horse is getting proper vitamins and minerals, and of course you can add in other supplements such as joint support, mare care etc based on what your horse needs. Additionally, if you find that hay alone isn’t enough for your hard keeper or senior horse you can also add in fillers such as rice bran, beet pulp or coconut husks. But that’s a conversation for another day!

Happy nutritional planning!