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Exploring Feed Grains for Horses: Corn

A common feed choice among horse owners, corn is slightly less palatable to horses when compared to oats, but more palatable than other types of grains. Nonetheless, excessive amounts of corn used as a feed should be avoided.

Potential Corn Issues

While corn is a tasty feed option for horses, it is more prone to mold than other grain options. In addition, corn lacks the safety margin against over-consumption that oat grain has to offer. In fact, when corn is fed, it does lead to an increased risk of cecal acidosis resulting in diarrhea, laminitis, founder and colic when compared to other grains. It is also important to note that only 41 percent of corn’s gross energy is given off as heat as compared to 66 percent with oats. Similarly, approximately 98 percent of starch from oat grain is absorbed in the small intestine while only 70 percent is absorbed from corn. 

Health Benefits of Corn

While corn is lower in fiber when compared to oats, it is higher in energy and density than oats. If an equal amount of energy is fed, however, corn does not have a greater tendency to lead to obesity in horses when compared to other grains. It also is not any more like to make a horse “high” than other grains.

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Exploring Feed Grains for Horses: Barley

While oat is the most popular are most common grain fed to horses, barley is also a good option for horse owners to feed to their horse for added energy. Similar in appearance to oat grain, barley is somewhat harder, but typically less palatable to horses when compared to oat or even corn.

Preparing Barley for Feeding

In order to achieve the greatest health benefits and digestibility, barley should be crimped or rolled before it is fed to horses. It should be noted, however, that this process the does increase the feeding value for horses with good teeth.

Health Benefits of Barley

Barley offers a number of health benefits for horses. First, it actually has a higher fiber content than many other grains, including corn, wheat, milo, rye and rice. Generally speaking, it is considered to be an intermediate between oats and corn in terms of fiber level and energy as well as safety and heat produced. While it is more similar to corn in terms of density, slightly less of its starch can be digested by the small intestine when compared to corn. Due to its high quality, barley is a very desirable grain for horses and can be fed as the only grain in the diet with no adverse effects.

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Exploring Feed Grains for Horses: Oats

As a horse owner, there are many different types of grains that you may feed to your equine friend in order to keep it healthy. The seeds of cereal plants that belong to the grass family, grain is primarily fed to horses to serve as a source of energy. One of the most commonly fed types of grains are oats. Here is a closer look at oats and how they are beneficial to your horse.

A Long History of Feed

Generally speaking, oats are the most commonly fed type of grain used with horses. This is at least partially due to tradition, but also due to the fact that oat is easily acquired and it is the safest and most palatable option for horses. The grain itself is soft and easy to chew and, unless the horse has poor teeth or is very yong, processing the oats is not necessary or beneficial.  

Health Benefits of Oats

Oats have a fiber level of 10 to 12 percent and, therefore, is less likely to cause digestive issues when compared to other grain options. They are also an amorphous starch, which makes them easily digestible. Whole oats also represent 35 to 45 percent more body heat production when compared to equal amounts of corn.

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Keeping Your Horse Healthy with Vitamins

Just as it can be a good choice for you to take vitamin supplements in order to improve your health, the same can be true for your horse. Some of the vitamins that you want to make sure your horse has in its diet include:

  • Vitamin A: Necessary for vision, cell growth, proper muscle function and mucous membrane healthy. Found in fresh pasture and hay. An 1,000-pound horse needs approximately 15,000 IU per day. Vitamin A supplements are rarely necessary for horses, but may be needed if your horse lacks access to a pasture or good, green hay.
  • B Vitamins: Necessary for metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Produced by the bacteria that live in the large intestine as well as in good-quality pasture and hay. Most horses do not require supplements, but they may be needed if your horse has poor-quality hooves. In this case, 20 mg per day of biotin may be helpful. B vitamins may also help to calm a nervous horse.
  • Vitamin C: Helps to protect body cells and the formation of collagen. Synthesized from glucose by the horse’s liver. Supplements generally are not needed, but older horses may respond better to vaccinations if they receive a daily supplement of 20g of vitamin C.
  • Vitamin D: Assists with absorbing calcium from the small intestine, which is essential for maintaining healthy bones and joints. Produced naturally by the horse’s body when exposed to sunlight. An 1,100-pound horse needs approximately 3,000 IU of vitamin D per day. 

These are just a few examples of the vitamins that your horse needs to be healthy. To learn more, contact your veterinarian. 

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Deworming and Vaccinating Your Horse

Caring for the health of your horse involves ensuring you properly worm your horse and provide it with the vaccinations that it needs. Here are some basics that you should know about each process.


Many horse owners prefer deworming their horse once in the spring and then again in the fall. Most dewormers are in the form of a paste inside of a syringe. The syringe is simply placed in the horse’s mouth and then squirted into the horse’s mouth. After the paste is squirted into the horse’s mouth, you should hold its mouth up so the horse swallows the paste rather than spitting it out.


Your horse needs to receive certain vaccinations in order to protect it from certain diseases and illnesses. Many vaccinations are given annually, but others may be required on a bi-annual basis. Vaccines that all horses should receive include Rabies, West Nile Virus, EEE/WEE and a tetanus shot. There may be additional vaccinations recommended for your horse depending on its current health condition, age and where your horse lives. 

Most horse owners choose to have the veterinarian administer vaccinations, but it is also possible for you to administer them yourself if you conduct the proper research to ensure you are administering it correctly.

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Tips for Exercising Your Horse

Just as with humans, it is essential for your horse to get plenty of regular exercise. Not only will this help your horse to maintain a healthy body weight, but it will also help your horse to maintain and build muscle while also improving circulation. Even just finding ways to exercise your horse for 20 minutes twice per week will go a long way toward increasing its stamina and holding its muscle tone. Here is a look at a few ways that you can exercise your horse:

  • Turnout: Simply turning your horse out to pasture for at least half of the day will help it to get the exercise that it needs, as it can run around and play with other horses if you have more than one. 
  • Riding: Riding your horse is the most fun way to ensure it gets the exercise that it needs. When you ride, you have the ability to control and maintain the horse’s speed, which will further help to build its stamina and muscle. 
  • Lunging: Lunging involves working your horse in a circle either on a lunge line or with a rope in a round pen. Lunging is a great alternative if you are not able to ride. It can also be a great way to burn some of its energy before you go on your ride. 

Other options include hand-walking, just as you would take a dog out for a walk, and ponying, which is a process where you ride one horse and lead the other. This is a great option for exercising two horses at one time!

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Creating the Right Diet Balance for Your Horse

To keep your horse healthy, most experts recommend ensuring your horse consumes 1.5 to 2.5 percent of its body weight each day in the form of forage. In short, forage should be the basis of all horse feeding programs and should serve as the primary source for all of the basic nutrients that your horse needs.

Of course, if you have a great pasture and if your horse is allowed to spend as much time on it as it wants, it is possible for it to eat more than it needs to stay healthy. In addition, not only can pasture intake be difficult to limit, but it can also be difficult to monitor unless you are going to watch your horse and record its eating habits for the entirety of the time that it spends at pasture. 

For this reason, you will need to do some estimations to ensure your horse is obtaining the right amount of forage. A 1000-pound horse, for example, should consume about 200 pounds of forage. If your horse spends eight hours in the pasture, you can assume it will consume approximately one-third of its daily intake during this time. Therefore, the remaining two-thirds of its required daily intake will need to be obtained in the stall, perhaps in the form of hay. 

Ideally, you should make up for this loss of forage as much as possible with hay and grain should only be added to help meet your horse’s energy needs. It is important to note that the amount of hay and grain that you need to feed will be affected by the quality of your pasture. As such, since your pasture quality will be affected by weather conditions, you may need to make seasonal adjustments to the amount that you feed.

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Calculating Your Horse’s Weight

When determining how much you need to feed your horse, you first need to decide whether your horse needs to gain weight, lose weight or maintain its current body weight. Once you have made this determination, you can then use simple math to help you determine how much to actually feed to your horse.

To properly determine how much to feed your horse, it is best to first calculate its weight. Of course, most horse owners do not own a scale that is large enough to actually weigh their horse. Therefore, you will need to use weight tape to help you calculate an estimated weight of your horse.

The formula used for estimating a horse’s weight with weight tape depends on the age of your horse as well as its breed. Other factors that will determine how to calculate the weight include whether or not your horse is lactating or pregnant as well as whether it performs heavy work or is either underweight or overweight. 

Generally speaking the formula that is used to determine an estimated weight includes multiplying the heart girth in inches times the length in inches, as measured from the point of the shoulder blade to the point of the rump. You should then divide this figure by 330. Keep in mind that the weight tape should be placed moderately tight when taking measurements, so that you should still be able to fit a few fingers under the tape. By determining the weight and taking in other factors, such as age and amount of activity the horse engages in, you will be better able to determine how much energy your horse needs to obtain through feed.

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Determining Your Horse’s Body Type

Aside from providing water and shelter, determining the proper diet for your horse is one of the most important steps you must take as a horse owner. Before you can choose the proper diet, however, you must first determine whether or not the horse is healthy. A handy way to accomplish this goal is to use the Henneke Body Condition scoring system, which ranges from 1 to 9. 

According to the Henneke Body Condition scoring system, a horse with a score of 1 is considered to be emaciated while a score of 9 is considered to be obese. Therefore, it stands to reason that the ideal range of scores would be from 4 to 6, with a score of 5 being the target goal. A horse with a score of 5 will have moderate fat cover over the crest of the neck as well as behind the shoulders. A horse with a score of 5 will also have moderate fat over the ribs, the loin and the tailhead. In this ideal condition, the ribs should be easy to feel, but should not be seen 

Determining where your horse falls on the Henneke Body Condition scoring system will give you a good idea as to whether you need to work toward helping your horse lose weight, gain weight or maintain its current physique.

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Cleaning Your Horse’s Hooves: What Do I Remove?

The first time you clean your horse’s hooves, you may feel a bit overwhelmed, confused or even nervous or scared. By having a clear idea of what to expect and what needs to be removed from the hoof when you clean it, however, you can feel a bit more confident as you head in to handle this task for the first time.

After you have safely secured your horse and prompted it to raise its foot so you can access the hoof, you should then use your hoof pick to begin clearing out any dirt, manure, matted hay or straw and any other debris that you encounter in the hoof. As you remove this debris, you should work from the heal to the toe, being careful to pay close attention to the cleft around the frog so you do not damage it in the process.

Once you have cleared the debris from the hoof, you can then take a stiff brush to brush away the bits of dirt and chaff that have been left behind. You may even want to use an illuminated hoof pick in order to get a better look at all of the nooks and crannies within the hoof.

Finally, you can clean off of the sole of the hoof by picking gently around the area of the hoof that is just inside of the hoof wall. This area is characterized by looking simply like a white line. Be sure that you do not jab the area while also looking for any grit or small stones that may need to be removed. 

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