Horse Feeds & Supplements: What to feed?

Horse owners often wonder if they are providing enough nutrition to their horses.  In today’s world of hundreds of supplement selections available at the local tack shop or on-line, owners can start to feel as if they must be doing something wrong if they aren’t supplementing the normal hay and grain rations provided.  Here’s a few key tips to make sure you are doing everything right for your favorite equine friend – keeping in mind, of course, that quality hay/pasture fed at approximately 1.5% of body weight is the key base to all horse rations.

Feeding a commercially prepared grain:

  1. There are a myriad of choices available on the market today, to fit all types of horses.  Work with your local feed retailer, or contact your feed company of choice, for assistance in selecting what suits your horse best.
  2. Then, make sure you are feeding within the directions on the feed tag or bag.
    1. If you are feeding above the recommended range in order to keep condition on your horse, consider moving up to a higher fat feed that packs more calories per pound.
    2. On the flip side, and much more common, is feeding below the recommended feeding allowance because the horse is an “easy keeper”.  In that case, the concentrate is not providing enough of the nutrients for the horse, and you should look for a lower calorie or lower feeding rate product to ensure your horse is receiving the nutrition it needs.

Feeding supplements:

  1. If you are feeding a quality commercially prepared feed, and you are feeding within the recommended amount for your size horse, then vitamin and mineral supplements are not needed, and often recommended against.
    1. There are a host of nutritional inter-dependencies, such as copper and zinc or calcium and phosphorus working together, that commercial feed companies account for when designing products, and adding a vitamin and/or mineral supplement can interfere with those ratios and potentially cause problems.
  2. Gut health, as well as hoof & hair coat, supplements abound.  Before you buy one, check your feed tag to see what it might already be providing.  Many premium horse feeds today already contain yeast and/or probiotics for gut health, and several contain biotin & methionine – the two key components of a lot of hoof supplements.  Depending on your feeding program, you just might save time & money by not needing to supplement those.
  3. Joint and other supplements – while good joint health starts with proper nutrition from a young age (think “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”) many horses require additional support. However, there are limitations on what feed companies can put in to feeds, so these are often necessary as “extras” in the diet.

17 Replies to “Horse Feeds & Supplements: What to feed?”

  1. Hi,

    I have 2 horses and feed a high fat feed to both horses because one horse was seriously under weight when I got him (as a rescue) and did not gain weight well on a store brand feed. Now that he is at a good weight, I wonder what the recommended feed and amount would be for them. They have unlimited access to clover / grass and I feed them grain on the weekends but I have no idea how much or if I should feed on top of the grass. Is there a site that gives guidelines for the correct feed and quantity for different horses?


    1. Hi James – Great question. We do have a “Horse Feed Selector” on our website that can begin to narrow the products to pick from. Also, each page on our horse feeds gives feeding directions, as well as the directions are printed on the tag on every bag.

      If your horses are in good condition and maintain weight easily, then start with a product such as Empower Balance – it’s a low feeding rate, but gets all the nutrition they need to supplement anything they aren’t getting from the hay/pasture. If they need a little more calories to keep weight on, try products such as SafeChoice Original or SafeChoice Maintenance.

      Let us know if that helps, and post any more questions you have!
      Thanks ~Gina T.

  2. I have quite a few friends that own horses in Ontario Canada and recently some have showed concerns regarding mycotoxins problems in feed from moldy grains. Is there a product or products out there in the market that would help cancel or control the mycotoxin risk problems since I understand that such problems can be deady for horses ?



    1. Ron, that’s a good question that we get quite frequently. Unfortunately, there isn’t much time to fully answer it in a comment, but I’ll put it on the list for a future blog topic. I found this great article by the Ontario Ministry of Food & Rural Affairs “Molds, Mycotoxins and their Effect on Horses.” Regarding your question about controlling mycotoxins, I’ll try to give a few quick things you as a consumer can do. Preventing mold in ingredients used to make the feed is the first step in controlling the amount of mycotoxins in the feed. You want to select a reputable feed company with strict testing protocols for incoming ingredients for molds and toxins. Second, proper storage is critical. Feed should always be stored in a cool, dry place. Ensure that not only are you storing it properly after purchase, but ask your retailer about their storage practices. And finally, if you open a bag of feed and it smells or looks funny, don’t feed it. Return it to the point of purchase.

  3. I have an 8 yr old gelding who is on Triple Crown Senior feed. He was on Complete but was switched about 1 year ago to the Senior. We had an accupuncturist who did work on him and said that he is susceptible to Cushing’s Syndrome. She said that he had fat deposits. What I am worried about is that he is only 8 yrs old. (15.1 H)and already on Senior. Could he be missing nutrients he needs or getting too much of other nutrients for his age? Right now he looks good but could be a handful ( he is on a calming supplement). Do you think the Senior is giving him too much energy? He is an easy keeper and only get 1/2 scoop 2x a day and get lots of forage.

    1. Hello Elizabeth,
      Thank you for the question. In general, most horses have fat deposits along the areas where we palpate for Body Condition Score. Just like people, horses store fat in specific places, and it is not necessarily indicative of Cushings. The first step is to determine if the horse is receiving too much nutrition and not enough exercise, or if the problem is truly clinical.

      I would strongly recommend working with your vet to determine if your horse has Cushings, insulin resistance, or if he is simply carrying a few extra pounds. Your vet can perform some diagnostic work ups that may include some of the following: resting ACTA and insulin levels, low-dose dexamethasone suppression test, thyrotropin-releasing hormone response tests, ACTH stimulation test, urine cortisol to creatinine ratio, resting glucose levels, etc.

      Early clinical signs of Cushings are delayed shedding of winter coat, retention of winter hairs in certain regions of the body, and a shift in body composition towards loss of muscle mass and retention of fat deposits in the neck or tailhead. More advanced clinical signs include a long shaggy hair coat, excessive sweating, increased appetite, increased drinking and urination, lethargy, potbelly appearance, muscle loss (topline), abnormal fat distribution (crest, tailhead, sheath, above eyes), chronic laminitis, poor wound healing, increased susceptibility to internal parasites.

      Thank you, and please let us know if we can help further. ~Emily L.

  4. Hi,
    I was wondering if Nutrena ever offers COUPONS on their horse feed? If not, perhaps due to the encomony, it would be a great idea. I feed my beautiful four horses, Nutrena All-grain in the winter, and Steam Crimped Oats in the summer. Thank you Nutrena for putting quality into your products.

    1. Hello Dorene,
      We do occassionally offer coupons and special offers, and there’s a quick and easy way to make sure you get them: go to and enter your contact information there. Then we’ve got you on the list, and you’ll be among the first to know of anything we put out there!
      Thanks! ~Gina T.

  5. Hey guys, I have a 24 year old Tenn Walker who has recently started losing a lot of muscle mass in his hind quarter area. He has been eating Nutrena Senior for 5 years now. I admit, this past year he hasn’t been ridden much. I’m wondering if there is anything I can add to his feed to help build him back up, or if it may just be too late to expect much improvement ? He is pasture boarded and during the winter eats a high quality alfalfa hay, and a scoop of Senior daily. He also has recently started choking frequently. My vet checked his teeth and said they were in great shape. I’m just wondering what I can do feedwise to help him stay healthy.

    1. Thank you for your question regarding your 24 year old Tennessee Walker that is losing muscle mass. As horses age, their ability to absorb nutrients efficiently decreases. As a result, we need to feed them a higher amount of very easily digestible sources of key nutrients, particularly amino acids required to maintain muscle mass. Loss of muscle mass may be associated with both limited exercise and limited digestible amino acids in the total diet. It sounds like your horse is eating quite a bit of forage, which is primarily digested in the hind gut. He may not be absorbing the amino acids required to maintain muscle mass, even if it is good quality forage.

      There are a couple of options. First, you could increase the amount of SafeChoice Senior being fed per day to the recommended amounts on the bag/tag. If he is having any difficulty chewing or is eating too rapidly, both of which can lead to some choke issues, you can wet the feed into a mash. You can also spread it out over in a wide tub or put some softball size rocks in the tub to slow down the rapid eating. The Life Design Senior provides highly digestible amino acids that are absorbed efficiently in the small intestine.

      If this is not an option, you could also look at adding Empower Balance, a higher protein and amino acid product that is fed at lower inclusion rate. This can also be soaked to make a mash.

      Best wishes,

  6. Thanks Roy. My old guy is eating Life Design Senior, and up until about a week ago, was getting about 2 1/2 pounds of it twice a day, with the added alfalfa, legacy, veggie oil, and calf manna. I’ve cut back to once a day now. He really is looking better. When this all started a couple of months ago, I immediately increased his feed……..but also started him on an exercise plan. I started either riding him, or working him in the round pen…………we started out slow, about 10 minutes twice that first week. Worked up to 15 – 20 minutes the second week. We’re up to about an hour – once or twice a week. The vet is coming out on Thursday to check him and to see if we need his teeth floated. Thanks for all the great advice and I’ll let ya know how it goes on Thursday.

  7. Update : The vet said that his teeth were ok, we’d check them again in the fall and maybe float them then. He also said that what I was doing was a good mix of everything, and that backing off now to once a day is the right thing to do. He is pasture kept and has lots of great grass to graze on, and he does graze well. He checked him out good and said he’s as healthy as a horse. Much relief for me. Yay ! So, for now, a good diet with just a few goodies added, and a good exercise program is the plan. Thanks guys for the great reads on here. I really do enjoy reading all of your comments. I’m learning a lot.


  8. It’s me again, with a new question: It turns out that the calf manna I’ve been feeding my Tenn Walker has weebles in it ? Some kind of bugs. He’s eaten over half of the bag in the last 3-4 weeks. Will it hurt him ? He doesn’t seem to be having any problems at the moment. But I wonder about the long term ? Any info you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

  9. Hi. I have a horse with severe allergies she came from a kill pen so history unknown. She is allergic to corn apples hay sun and a multitude of other things. Often skin has loss of hair in spots in Summer. But now she has a bare 4-6 inches at the crest and below her mane.
    she eats oats and alpha cubes so no additional oils or omega 3 any suggestions on what she should have?
    Thank you Vickie

    1. Hi Vickie!
      Hoses with allergies can be a challenge when it comes to formulating their diet. I like your idea of adding additional fat to the current diet. As you mare faces many allergy challenges I would look for a product that does not contain numerous ingredients. Rice bran, flax or soy oil would be a good choice for a fat supplement. Many of the fortified fat supplements may contain products your mare is allergic to, so read the ingredient list carefully.

      I would introduce the product slowly and monitor your horse closely for any allergic reactions.
      Thanks ~ Gayle R.

  10. Thanks for this great article on what you feed your horse and how much. I’m getting my first horse soon and found it really helpful that you mention hay or pasture fed horses should only be fed 1.5% of their body weight in grain or pellet form. I will have to keep this in mind and exercise my horse regularly so they are fit and healthy.

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