Selecting the Right Feed

Browsing through the aisles of your local feed store, it’s likely you have noticed the variety of horse feeds available.  National brands, regional brands and local manufacturers all crowd the shelves, adding to the confusion.  Which feed is right for your horse?  Here is a quick guide of what to consider when you are contemplating your feed selection.  Start by assessing your:

  1. Horse’s life stage
  2. Horse’s activity level
  3. Any health issues your horse may have
  4. Feed budget

Most feeds are designed to meet the specific nutrient requirements of life stages and activity levels of horses, and generally will specify on the packaging what they are designed for.  When estimating your horse’s activity level, be reasonable in your classification since over feeding energy can make him ‘hot’ and he may gain unwanted weight.  Generally when people see this happening, they tend to reduce the amount fed below the recommended feeding rate instead of changing to a lower energy feed.  This is not advised, as dropping below the recommended feeding rate means your horse is not getting the essential micro-nutrients he needs.  Try switching to a lower energy feed such as a maintenance feed or balancer.  Most maintenance feeds are formulated to provide mid to low energy levels.

If your horse has a specific health issue that can be influenced by his feed, make sure to seek out the information from the bag, your veterinarian or directly from the manufactor.  For example, horses with a history of feed-related laminitis are often best suited to a diet feed or ration balancer which provide much needed minerals and vitamins while keeping starch levels under control.

Complete feeds such as this textured one, are balanced on all nutrients.

Finally, consider your budget.  The features and benefits of feed typically drive up the cost; so ask yourself, can I afford to feed this product at the recommended feeding levels?   Note that feeding rates vary between products and this can influence the cost to feed your horse per head, per day; it is not enough to consider the price per bag alone.  If you are feeding an inexpensive feed but loading it with supplements, it may cost you more than purchasing a commercial complete feed and cutting out the supplements.

Complete feeds are formulated with all the necessary nutrients to meet your horse’s needs in the proper ratios.  When feeding a complete feed, be sure to follow feeding directions closely and monitor his weight through assessing his body condition score and calculating his weight periodically.

This is a very quick guide to help you navigate the increasingly complex decision of how to select the feed that is right for your horse. For more in-depth information, refer to a feed selector or ask a qualified equine nutritionist.

This entry was posted in Changing Horse Feed, Feed Costs, Feeding Management, Horse Feed, Horse Nutrition, How To, Supplements.
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26 Responses to Selecting the Right Feed

  1. Melissa says:

    I rescued a young horse 6 months ago and she was very wormy and starving to death litterally. She is gaining weight I just wanted to know what feed would be good for her to get weight on her and to make her grow the best. The vet seems to think she is about a year and half to two years old.

    • Gina T. says:

      Hi Melissa,
      First off, let me say thank you for rescuing the filly!

      Second, I’ll refer you to a wonderful brochure that we created in partnership with the Unwanted Horse Coalition, Intervet, and the American Farriers Association – you can find it at this link:
      http://www.nutrenaworld.com/nutrena/wcm/groups/public/@canweb/@loyall/@all/documents/document/na3023187.pdf

      For a specific feed, I would suggest starting with Life Design Senior - it’s highly palatable, so she’ll take to it well, and it’s extremely digestible and gentle on sensitive stomachs which she may be prone to after her neglect situation. It also has a wonderful amino acid profile which will help her build muscle back and bring her in to good muscle tone.

      Hope this helps – please let us know if you have more questions! Thanks ~ Gina T.

      • Julie Saylor says:

        I run a rescue and we take skinny, wormy, starved horses on a regular basis. I have to say I agree with the suggestion of the Life Design Senior. That is what we purchase for all skinny horses at the rescue no matter what their age. Senior feeds provide enough nutrients to help them heal, but is easy enough on their system to keep them from having complications.

  2. JACKIE ANDERSON says:

    What are you feeding horses that test positive for PSSM

    • Megan C. says:

      Hi Jackie,

      That is a great question! When you have a horse who has tested positive for PSSM, we always encourage owners to work with their veterinarian on the overall care and management plan for that horse. As far as nutrition tips go, it is advised to minimize the levels of starch and sugar intake in the diet, both from pasture and feed, and maximize the fiber intake. If possible, 20-25% of caloric requirements in the diet should come from fat. The majority of the diet should be high quality forage, with alfalfa or grass-alfalfa mix being the ideal. Supplemental Vitamin E (600-1000 IU/day) is a good option and free access to salt and clean water are essential.

      As far as specific feed products go, I’d recommend Safe Choice supplemented with Empower Boost . If the horse is older, Life Design Senior is a great option.

      I hope this helps, if you have more questions please feel free to let us know. Thank you! Megan C.

  3. Julie Saylor says:

    I recently purchased the Triumph Senior to see what it was like. How does it compare to the Life Design Senior in the way of nutrients? We rescue horses on a regular basis (almost daily right now). We have 8 skinny horses in “rehab” right now. The Triumph is usually in stock when the Life Design is not. I am interested in how the two compare for “rehab” purposes.

    Julie

    • Gina T. says:

      Hi Julie, Thanks for your question, and your interest in our line!

      To start, both products provide the same basic nutrient levels – protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. However, the Life Design Senior has a fat level of 6%, where Triumph is lower at 3.5% fat. Also, the Life Design Senior includes a lot of “extras” like the prebiotics and probiotics, organic trace minerals, etc.

      So, for your rehab guys, the Life Design Senior will add calories and other beneficial things like the probiotics, and get them up to speed faster. Once they are up and back to condition, though, the Triumph Senior can be a viable option for the long term if they maintain well once you have them in condition. Some may always need the extra power of the Life Design Senior, but many can do just fine on Triumph.

      Hope that helps – please do let us know if you have more questions!
      Gina T.

  4. Toni says:

    I have a 12 yr old tri paint mare that is used as a trail pleasure horse that I’ve owned for 5 years now. Thinking that as she aged she would lose some of her “hot” personality. Well even after 30-45 mins worked in a round pen and a 1 1/2 -2 hr trail ride she still has enough energy in her to keep up with the 3-5 yr olds in our group. After doing my own research on feed, (which you could spend an entire life time on feed n hay research), she’s currently on Triump 12/6 pellets. Do you have any suggestions before I spend the big bucks on vet bills/testing?

    • Megan C. says:

      Hi Toni,

      Thank you for your question and for trying Triumph! And I agree – researching feeding programs could be a fulltime job! With respect to your mare, one of the first questions I’d ask is, how much feed is she currently getting? She may be getting too many calories for her activity level.

      A quick check of Triumph feeding directions shows maintenance ration of 0.25 -0.5 pounds per 100 pounds of body weight. So if she is 1,000 pounds (for example) her ration would be between 2.5 – 5 pounds per day. If possible, back her down to the lowest suggested level for her bodyweight. The next question would be about forage. Is she on pasture or hay? If hay, is it grass or alfalfa? I’d suggest changing her to grass hay as the energy content tends to be lower in grass vs. alfalfa.

      How about her management situation? Is she turned out daily? If not, could this be added to her routine? I’ve recently pulled by two geldings onto the dry lot to allow my pasture some rest time. Just one week off of pasture and they are a little more ‘bouncy’! It is amazing how much roaming and grazing can affect their energy level.

      If none of the those changes do the trick, I would suggest changing to a lower calorie feed, such as Lite Balance or even Empower Balance. Both products are designed for horses who do not need additional groceries and therefore are lower in energy while providing all the balanced nutrients needed for good hair, coat and hoof quality.

      As a final thought, though feed can influence your horse’s energy level, their natural temperament does play a key factor as well. If she is a naturally forward horse (always going) feeding changes may influence her, but it is unlikely to drastically change her.

      Hope this helps – please let us know if you have more questions!
      Megan C.

  5. Denise Welsh says:

    My daughter has a 7 year old throughbred. We are having a problem with trying to find the right type of food for him. Whenver we give him any grain, he gets really hyper and she does not like to ride him. We stopped feeding him grain and just left him have hay and he is getting too thin, although his temperament was ideal. For the last 2 weeks, we are giving him small amounts of low starch food and rice bran pellets and he is reverting back to his craziness. Help!

    • Megan C. says:

      Hello Denise!

      Thank you for reading our blog and for your question! Your choice of feed for your daughter’s horse may be having an effect on his attitude, but let’s take a moment to examine other factors that may contribute.

      First, consider what kind and how much hay or pasture he is fed. Forage should make up the bulk majority of a horse’s diet. If he is losing weight, I would consider increasing the amount of forage he has available and make sure it is a good quality. Hay with little nutritional value can provide entertainment but it sounds like he needs some groceries!

      Next, what is his turnout situation? If he is stalled, can his turnout be increased? This will help with his overall attitude and likely make him a happier worker. When turned out, make sure he has access to fresh clean water, free choice salt and forage.

      Regarding your feed selection, first, how much is he actually working each week? Would you consider it light (1-2 times a week) medium (3-4 with moderate energy expenditure) or hard work (5+ days a week of work that expends significant energy)? Next, consider the amount of his current feed; is he getting the recommended amount? Too little? Too much? Check the feeding directions to be sure.

      Assuming his workload is light to medium, a great feed program to try is Empower® Balance for all the vitamins, minerals, amino acids and Empower® Boost for energy from fat. The Balance will provide him all of the nutrients he needs for maintenance while the Boost will provide ‘cool’ energy from fat which will help him with his weight.

      If your problems persist, please feel free to contact a Nutrena representative in your area for a feed consultation. Thank you and best of luck!
      Megan C.

  6. Cheryl says:

    hi, I have a 5yo Irish sports horse mare, she is very hyper all the time and I cannot calm her down. She is worked 4 times a week, doesnt get out to grass, although is turned it in a sand paddock. I feed her chaff, non-heating mix, and beetpulp. She also gets a net of hayledge day and night. Any suggestions as to what I can feed to calm her down?

    • Megan C. says:

      Hi Cheryl!

      Thanks for your question – basis your email address, it appears you live in the UK where feed options vary from those found in the US (we typically don’t have haylage for horses) so I will steer clear of commenting on your current program!

      What I can offer as advice for your mare, is to increase the amount of energy that is sourced from fat in her diet; this will likely mean backing off on other feedstuffs she is currently getting. A commercially mixed feed with 7% or more fat could help her as it likely would provide the energy she needs for work but is less likely to make her ‘hot’. As you make any change to her diet, it’s important to monitor her body condition score so she doesn’t fall outside the recommended zone.

      It’s also important to consider her temperament – many naturally ‘forward’ horses will be that way regardless of the feeding program. It’s great that you are considering all factors including her turnout! If possible, increase the amount of time she has access to ‘stretch her legs’ as this is good for her mind as well as her body.

      Keep up the good work and please let us know if you have additional questions!
      Best – Megan C.

  7. caroline givens says:

    both my horses are seniors now. i have been feeding them safe choice and a mixture of alfalfa/oats cubes which i soak then add to their feed once daily plus hay/ get turned out on grass depending what time of the year it is. i keep reading about life design is it as safe as safe choice? should i chance changing ? i worry about colic . they both have a great weight maybe a little to good weight but it is winter not much riding, and cold, i think this helps keep them warm. thanks for any advice cgivens

    • Megan C. says:

      Hello Caroline-
      Thank you for stopping by the blog and for asking a GREAT question! It’s one we get often. SafeChoice Original is designed to be fed to horses of all life stages, including seniors, so if yours are holding their weight well on SafeChoice Original, I recommend you stick with what works!
      SafeChoice Senior is a wonderful feed for horses who have difficulty chewing their hay/grass, horses who are recovering from severe malnutrition or as a complete feed when quality forage is not available. It has a higher amount of digestible fiber and is also a controlled-starch product, meaning you can rest assured that it is just as ‘safe’ as SafeChoice.
      If you start to see your senior horses dropping weight on SafeChoice Original and you notice difficulty chewing forage, it’s a great time to have your vet or an equine dentist check out their teeth. It’s also a good time to start considering a switch to SafeChoice Senior.
      It sounds like you’ve got a great program going and I encourage you to keep a close eye on their body condition score for changes either way. If you have any more questions, please let us know.
      All the best – Megan C.

  8. Cindy says:

    I’ve noticed my TB gelding lately has been eating everything like crazy! My horses are ridden 2-5 times a week depending on the weather and turned out daily; stalled at night. I normally feed a 70/30 alfalfa/grass mix twice daily (the usual routine) and a haynet loaded with grass hay free-choice daily (new winter routine). While the grass hay lasts 2-3 days before refilling, he is gaining weight and hungry all the time. He also is fed approximately 3lbs of pellets a day and dewormed on a regular basis. Any suggestions?

    • Megan C. says:

      Hello Cindy!
      Thanks for your question – sounds like overall, you have a good program in place. There are a few things we can look into with your current program to see if we can help your TB satiate his appetite.

      First, let’s consider his body condition score. Is he underweight? Overweight? Or right where he ought to be? Your course of action will depend on the answer to this question. For the purpose of this discussion, let’s assume he’s is right where he ought to be. Let’s also assume he is about 1200 pounds (you’ll want to weigh him to make sure). We can run through some scenarios and you can make adjustments to fit his situation.

      If his BCS is where it ought to be and he weighs about 1200 pounds, he should get somewhere between 12 to 21 pounds of good quality hay per day, to meet his requirements. Free choice grass hay is a great way to keep him busy at night in his stall, but make sure it’s of good quality. Mature grass hay is a good option to keep him ‘busy’ but might not be offering him the calories he is seeking.

      Onto his pellets. It is important to consider the recommended feeding rate for all feeds. For example, for a performance horse in ‘light work’ fed SafeChoice is recommended to be fed at a rate of 0.50-0.75 pounds/100 pounds of body weight. For a 1200 pound horse in ideal weight, that translates into 6-9 pounds of feed per day. Check your current product to see what is recommended. It could be there is room to increase his pellet ration which might help him.

      Another option is to provide additional fat to his diet. A balanced top dress product such as Empower Boost will give him extra calories for work without the risk of him becoming ‘hot’, because most of the energy is sourced from fat.

      Finally, given that it is winter, he might need some help keeping warm. Depending on the climate you are in and his coat, you might consider giving him a blanket during his turnout to help him retain those calories instead of burning them to stay warm.

      I hope this gives you some ideas of options with your gelding. Please let us know if you have more questions!
      All the Best ~ Megan C.

      • Cindy says:

        Megan, thank you for answering so quickly!
        This gelding is 15.3hh and just over 1000lbs last time weighed (1,063 in August 2011). What concerns me is his ‘sudden’ increase in appetite; it’s just not like him! This horse used to save his grain by eating just a bit of it, then moving on to his hay…sometimes two hours later he still had some grain to eat, and now he devours grain and the tasty hay (does’t care for the grass hay). My vet said that wasn’t ‘normal’ but he did that everyday for two years (as long as I’ve owned him). Just this winter, mild for southern Indiana, has he seemed sooo hungry. No, this horse is not needing weight. He looks like a QH-nice and stocky; very muscular, nice thick and shiney coat, beautiful hooves-just the epitomy of good health…just different now. Oh and yes, he has his “blankies”…rain sheet, stable blanket, and turnout blanket! Quite the spoiled one! :)
        Sometimes the problem is right under our nose but yet we can’t spot it. When I got horses again after a long dry spell (20 yrs) I vowed to give them the best I can so when one changes behaviour I get concerned. Can you think of anything else I should look at? Thank you Megan

        • Megan C. says:

          Hi Cindy,

          From what you mention, he’s in good weight and maintains a good body condition score. So long as you are providing him the quantity (in pounds) of feed that is recommended for his activity level and body weight, access to good quality hay and free access to salt and clean water, there’s not much from a nutritional standpoint he would be lacking. As I mentioned above, additional fat in his diet may be beneficial, but keep an eye on his body condition score – you don’t want it to work too well!

          I encourage you to monitor his weight (use the weight tape weekly to track his progress) and continue to keep an eye on his behavior. There may be multiple reasons why he suddenly has his appetite when he previously did not; it sounds as though you are working closely with your vet, so I’d encourage you to continue to do so. There may be something non-nutrition related going on. Sorry we couldn’t be of more help, but please keep us posted!

          Cheers!
          Megan C.

  9. Jan says:

    You are obviously a very good, responsible horse owner. One thing that comes to mind that you might consider (and maybe you already know this) is that an increasing number of horses have become immune to the majority of dewormers available. Also dewormers only work for particular stages of worms, while ignoring others. Our vets suggest doing a fecal test (cost is around $20) which will test for SOME of the types of worms and again only counts eggs, but could show you if or how heavily your horse is infected. It doesn’t test for tapeworms and our vet suggests using a product that will treat them once a year. Hope this helps.

  10. Sara says:

    I have a 15 year old standardbred gelding that i barrel race along with a 4 year old who is in training, right now i feeding 6 different types of grains among the two of them could you recommend and more complete feed?

    • Gina T. says:

      Hello Sara, Thanks for checking in with us. Product selection will depend on your goals for the horses, and also if they are hard or easy keepers. However, there is no reason you should need to juggle that many products!

      Assuming they both need plenty of calories given their activity level, we would suggest SafeChoice Original or SafeChoice Perform,. Both will provide needed calories for weight & condition, all the vitamins and minerals needed for overall health, as well as prebiotics and probiotics for better digestion and nutrient utilization. The Perform is a step up in calories from the Original, so if they seem to need a little more to maintain condition, go with Perform over the Original.

      Now, if they are easier keepers, you could feed at the lower levels of SafeChoice Original, or try SafeChoice Special Care. If one/both of them is REALLY an easy keeper, as in only gets a few cups a day of grain to maintain, then look at a product like Empower Balance. All the nutrition, but much lower in calories, and fed at a lower rate than a traditional horse feed.

      Hope this is helpful! You can find all sorts of information on the products on our website, as well as a handy “Horse Feed Selector” tool that will recommend products based on the needs of the horse.
      Thanks ~ Gina T.

  11. teresa hank says:

    I have a 22 yr old SSH that had a case of lamitities. He was on a senior feed of 4 lbs per day need to change his feed. He has dropped a little bit of weight. Switch to topline32 low starch might protein feed just started adding beet pulp. He also gets flaxseed and hero supplement. He gets 3lbs oftopline per day he gets 10 lbs hay per day I don’t want him to drop weight since switching him from senior feed. Blanket on with winter. He also get pre& robotics daily. Any suggestions? Thanks teresa

    • Gina T. says:

      Hello Teresa, Thanks for the question. Quite simply, he needs more calories than his current diet is providing. Before you do anything with his feed, though, our very first recommendation is to increase the amount of hay he is receiving. Horses should receive 1.5-2.0% of their bodyweight per day in hay – for a 1000 lb horse, that’s 15 – 20 lbs per day. You don’t mention how big your horse is, but 10 lbs is likely not enough for him, so start by upping him to the proper range and see what that does over a few weeks.

      If, after a while with that, you find he still needs more calories, we’d suggest either a return to a senior feed if possible (not sure why he had to stop), or if that isn’t an option, the addition of a rice bran supplement might do the trick.

      Hope that helps – if you have further questions, please let us know! Thanks ~ Gina T.

  12. Jo says:

    Hi!
    All winter my horses were fed SafeChoice SR, and two of them got half SC Sr, and half Perform SR. Now we are into the spring and everyones weight looks good.
    At this point they are all on the SafeChoice SR. but at reduced amounts which I read above might not be the best way to go. They do not need but a little feed per day right now to maintain a good weight. In fact, they are only being fed once a day along with hay and pasture, but not abundant by any means. Which feed would be best to drop back to for the spring and summer months that would include all the nutrients that they need, but not as many calories. Only one is ridden and that is about once a week. The other 3 are pasture ornaments. Thanks for any advice.

    • Megan C. says:

      Hi Jo
      Thank you for your question, it’s very timely! In fact, I’ve just gone through the same transition with my horses; I had them on SafeChoice Senior this winter, but with the warmer temps and spring pastures, have transitioned to a diet balancer, Empower Balance.

      A diet balancer is ideal if you horses are getting adequate calories from their hay or pasture. The goal then becomes balancing the rest of the nutrients to fill in the gaps that are missing in the diet. A diet balancer such as Empower Balance, is designed to do just that. It is a concentrated form of feed without the calories of a traditional feed. Please note that the feeding rate is significantly lower due to the high concentration of nutrients, so be sure to follow the feeding directions for your horses and weigh the feed prior to the transition. And of course, slowly transitioning over a 7-14 day period is ideal.

      Once safely transitioned, it’s important to keep a close eye on body condition score. If you notice a decline in weight while on the balancer, they may need a touch more in the calorie department. For that, we’d recommend SafeChoice Maintenance.
      I hope this helps; if you have additional questions, just let us know!

      All the best,
      Megan

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