Feeding Schedules for Horses

A few months ago, I received a call from a farm that was experiencing numerous cases of colic. They were concerned that their grain was the cause of the problem and asked me to visit their farm.

When I arrived at 8:30 am, the horses were just being fed. As I walked into the barn I noticed all of the stall fronts and side boards showed signs of chewing. I also noticed that many of the horses had little or no water in their buckets. Each horse received a large scoop of sweet feed and a flake of hay.

I reviewed the horses’ weight and body condition scores with the owner and trainer. Based on that assessment, I suggested they move to feeding hay at a rate of 1.5% of the horses’ body weight, and grain at the rate of 0.5 %. I also suggested going to a pelleted feed, as the horses were passing a lot of undigested grain in their manure. I encouraged the farm to select a pellet high in fiber and fat, and that contained yeast cultures to aid in the digestion process.

I then asked the farm owner to describe the daily routine at the farm. He explained once the horses are fed, they begin a daily work and turnout routine. At about noon, they are given another flake of hay or have round bales in their turnout area. By 3:30, all of the horses are brought in for their evening feeding. The evening feed consisted of a scoop of grain and two flakes of hay. The barn is closed for the day by 4:00 p.m. The horses were receiving all of their daily rations in 3 feedings, but they were within an 8 hour period.

By spanning the daily rations over a 14 hour period, ensuring full water buckets throughout the day, and following the product selection suggestions I had made, the farm has now been colic free for over 6 months!

40 Replies to “Feeding Schedules for Horses”

  1. Could you please tell me what kind of feed the barn switched to? or an equivelent of it..ive also noticed that my horses pass alot of undigested grain…Thanks sharon

    1. Hi Sharon, Thanks for asking. We transitioned the horses over to Safe Choice. Since Safe Choice is a 14% protein feed it works well for many life stages. I felt that pro and prebiotics in the feed, along with added fiber, would also help avoid digestive issues.
      Thanks! Gayle R.

  2. Thanks Gayle,

    Spacing feedings out throughout the day and into the late evening (6-8pm) is VERY important. What goes inside our horses bodies and how often is something we should all watch very closely. Water is so important. I could not imagin closing our barn down at 4pm and not checking water till 8am the next morning. Our water buckets are checked every couple hours throughout the day and last filling is anywhere between 8-10pm daily and we have not once had anyone less then 1/2 full by 6:30am the next morning. We do have heated buckets so it is not like the water was ‘too cold’ to drink. I am glad you have been able to help this barn maintain colic free horses πŸ™‚ I know you have helped me and my horses tremendiously over the few years I have known you, and we thank you for that πŸ™‚

  3. Further proof that how we feed is just as important as what we feed. It’s easy to get hung up on the nutritive value and amounts of different hays and feeds – and think that makes all the difference. While it is certainly important, feeding on a schedule that suits the horse’s digestive tract is so key. The equine gut just doesn’t work right when it goes for hours without food.

    So glad to hear this farm was able to make the changes necessary to keep the horses healthy!

  4. I rescued an orphan foal in May 2009. He is doing fantastic. I have had him on Strategy (as well as good grass and hay)since Oct. of 2009 and have been happy with that food. However I would like to switch him over to Nutrena due to easier access to a dealer-much closer to my house than Purina dealer. I did the computer questionaire on which Nutrena feed to give him and the answer came up-Safe Choice. Here is my question–do I make the change slowly by mixing old brand with new brand as is done with dogs and cats? Since I am so new to horses and have so much to learn, I do not want to do the wrong thing here. If you tell me NOT to switch I’ll keep driving the distance!! I love my horse!! Thank you very much. Jeanette Ralph

    1. Hi Jeanette – Thanks for your question, and we’re glad you are being careful! SafeChoice is absolutely a good choice, and yes, we always recommend taking 5-7 days when switching a horse to a new program, just to make sure there is no trouble with digestive upset. Any other questions, please do let us know!
      Thanks ~ Gayle R.

      1. Thank you for your help-one more question- my horse weighs approx 860 lbs-used weight tape-Strategy bag said to not give less than 3# per day (at his present age and weight) and I divide it into 2 times feeding. Safe Choice does not give a minimum so I need to know how much to feed him. Looks like it might figure out to be 4 1/2 lbs a day according to bag info. He eats in pasture from 6:30 am til 5 pm. He also has hay available in his stable which he sometimes eats and sometimes plays with. In other words I really have no idea how much forage he is getting but feel like if he eats hay at end of day he is still hungry and if he plays with it he just wants to play. He is very sociable and quite a character so I have to imagine what he is up to with the hay. Thanks again.

        1. We always mix their feed 3/4 current feed to 1/4 new feed. First per serving then every two days , bump up the new feed a 1/4 till the new feed replaced the old.
          The slower you introduce the new feed the less the risk of colic and founder. Good Luck !

  5. Hello Gayle, My daughter bought a wonderful quarter horse last summer. We were told that she has colic before. I have never had a horse that experienced colic. This spring she has colic twice. The first time, we walked her until she started to pass gas and started acting better. Our vet was contacted and sold us Banamine which brought her out of it. The second time was this past Monday. She became very ill but when she was given the Banamine, again she came right out of it. However, I am not sure what it is that is causing her to colic. Our horses have access to their stalls and the pasture 365 days a year. She is the type of horse who prefers to be in her stall over the pasture if the weather is rainy or if the bugs are bad. Our feeding pattern consist of pellet grain from Blue Seal (Strider) 2x daily 5:30 am and around 6 pm , grass and or hay, fresh and free access to water, and a white salt block. As of Monday, she has been keep in her stall during the day and turned out to the lower pasture which contains very little grass for a few hours during the evening and back to the stall at night. I am not sure if this is the correct answer but I really don’t know what else to do. Do you have any suggestions? This is all new to me. Thanks

    1. Good Question!
      Some horses are more susceptible to colic than others, so the feeding program is very important. You are doing a great job spacing out the grain ration at 5:50 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. But let’s take a look at some other things you can do to help reduce the risk of colic in the future.

      Horses that are predisposed to colic do well with a controlled starch intake. Also look for feeds that are high in fat and digestible fiber for added calories. The key is to provide a feed that offers highly digestible processed grains to optimize pre-cecal starch digestion, such as Safe Choice or even Senior Feed.

      The other factor you need to consider is forage intake. With horses that are predisposed to colic, I like to feed 1.5 to 2.% of their body weight a day in forage. So, if the horse weighs 1000 pounds, a daily intake of 15 to 20 pounds of hay per day. On average a good size flake of timothy mix hay will weigh about 4 pounds. To determine how much your horse weighs, check out our blog post on “How to Weigh a Horse Without a Scale”.
      I am also glad to hear that the mare has free access to water and salt as these are very important. Feel free to contact me if you have additional questions πŸ™‚


      1. Thank you. I will be looking into changing her feed program…slowly!! πŸ™‚

    1. Hi Charles,
      Good question. If you are talking about feeding lawn or grass clippings I would not recommend feeding them to your horse.

      A horse will generally eat 1-1.4 pounds per hour of grass while grazing a in a pasture. If you place a pile of grass clippings in front of them, the consumption rate will be much higher.

      With the delicate balance of the horses digestive system, and the microbe population in the hind gut, this balance can be quickly offset by a large amount of fermentable carbohydrate, such as grass clippings, in a short period of time. The end result being a buildup of lactic acid that can result in colic or laminitis.

      Thanks, Gayle R.

  6. Hello, I will soon hopefully be getting a horse, and I was wondering if anybody out there could give me an idea of what, and how often, to feed my new horse. Please help!

    1. Good Question. A lot will depend on a few key considerations:

      1. Your horse’s weight. This can be determined easily, click here to read our post on “How to Weigh Your Horse”.

      2. Your horses age. A diet for a weanling or yearling will be different than that of a mature or senior horse.

      3. Your horses work schedule. You will see feed rates of various feeds are adjusted based on activity level.

      4. Medical history is also important. Horses with allergies or respiratory issues may require special diets.

      To give you an idea, a maintenance diet for a 1000 horse could be 15 -20 pounds of hay per day and 5 pounds of Safe Choice, along with free choice water and salt. I like to see the feeding spilt into at least 3 meals. This could also vary depending on the type of hay fed, and availability of pasture.

      Please feel free to contact us when you have your horse. We would be happy to help you formulate a diet πŸ™‚
      Thanks ~ Gayle R.

  7. Hello, I just rescued a 8month old TB is he too young to deworm him with Safeguard (fenbendazole)? If not, when is the best time to deworm?

    1. Hi Ronnie, Thank you for checking in with us. Please contact the makers of Safeguard, or your local veterinarian, for recommendations and suggestions on worming products. If you have any questions on feeding schedules or feeds, please let us know!
      Thanks ~ Gina T.

  8. I just bought a 13 year old TB gelding. He was 600 pounds under weight. My barn feeds Amish feed mostly sweet feed and corn ( i call it mash). They also feed 2 huge flakes of hay daily. I dont like it so I put him on Purina Strategy to help with his weight gain and for Nutrients. He became very hot on this feed. I need to take him down but I am afraid of him colicing and loosing weight – what are your suggestions. I previously used Blue Seal Strider Sport on my other TB’s and they did very well on this but I also mixed Black Oil Sunflower Seed with it to build body mass. I am considering trying this with him.

    1. Hi Karen! My first question for you is what is the body condition score of your horse. If he was truly 600 pounds underweight you have to take special considerations in his diet. I would suggest using the weight-measuring method found here for a second evaluation. You will be using body girth as well as length measurements to calculate body weight. This will also be helpful in determining dewormer and medication dosage if needed.

      If you go click here you will find detailed information on how to construct a diet tailored for your horses body condition and needs. I would recommend a high fat high fiber feed such as Safe Choice. With a horse this thin, I would encourage you to use a commercial feed that has balanced fortification and chelated vitamins and minerals to ensure proper utilization.

      I feel confident this brochure will help you establish your horses diet as well as monitor progress.
      Thank you for contacting us! Gayle R.

  9. I just got a horse I’m thinking he is a quarter horse gelding. He is about maybe 200 to 300 pounds under weight and am trying to get him back to his ideal weight. I have bought him two different kinds of feed a pellet and sweet feed plus some hay but am afraid he is or already has developed colic but not really sure due to i have only had him for three days. i am not sure if i am feeding him enough or if i need to feed him more. I feed him a full scoop of sweet feed and a full scoop of pellets twice a day, and fill up his hay bucket twice a day. can you give me some advice?

    1. Hello Ann, Thank you for reading our blog and commenting – but in this instance, we believe you need to contact a vet to determine if he really is colicing – that is simply something we cannot diagnose online.

      Once he is cleared by the vet, an ideal feeding program for him will be unlimited hay – keep it in front of him 24/7. Then, supplement with a senior horse feed, such as our Life Design Senior – these are high calorie, low starch products that will help put weight on him without raising the issue of colic.

      Any time you want to start feeding a horse on a new program – don’t jump right in to big scoops of feed. Start out with small amounts – literally a measuring cup full when you are starting out a horse that is severely underweight and likely is not used to feed. Work up to full feed over the course of 7-10 days – feeding a little more at each feeding time. This allows the horse’s gut to adjust to the intake of a grain source.

      For a horse like yours that is underweight, you may have to feed him up to 8 or so pounds a day of feed to get him back to his correct body condition. Once he is at the weight he should be, then you can back down on how much you feed him, until you find the amount that he maintains at.

      I hope this helps – please do let us know if you have any further questions. Thanks ~ Gina T.

  10. I have a 7yr old stud what do i feed him?Because i switched 3 diffrent feeds and have in pasture daily and have no stall current on texas blend feed now switched to thomas moore feed 14% what do i need to do now?

    1. Hi Joe, Thanks for the comment. You want to look for a horse feed product designed for mature horses, and feed according to the directions on the tag. Start by weighing your horse, and then use that figure along with his activity level to determine how many pounds of feed he needs per day. Then, make sure you actually weigh out the amount of feed you are providing – too often folks don’t realize how little they are giving, and then wonder why their horses aren’t doing well.
      Hope this helps! Thanks ~ Gina T.

  11. Hi! Do you prefer feeding grass hay or alfalfa? What are the pro’s and con’s for each. Also, I see people feeding round bales in which the horses are eating from it all day. How are their horses not over-eating?

    1. Hi Kris, You pose some very good questions.

      As far as what type of hay is better, alfalfa or grass mix it depends on the horse . Alfalfa is often higher in protein and calories than grass or timothy. However, it is much lower in starch and sugar than other types of forage.

      Once we determine a horse’s weight we then asses his daily caloric requirements based on body condition and work levels. On average a horse needs 1.5 to 2% of its body weight per day in forage. An easy keeper would need the forage and fiber, but not the higher calories from alfalfa. A brood mare, hard working horse or a performance horse that has metabolic issues may do better on an alfalfa based diet, to provide the right balance of calories, amino acids and starch and sugar.

      As for the round bales, they provide a great source of fiber, but may be higher in ADF/NDF resulting in more waste than small square bales. They do help provide the horse with the grazing or chew time needed to keep them healthy.

      Keep in mind that for many horses a diet high in forage, requires only a vitamin or mineral balancer to meet their daily requirements, instead of grain or concentrate.
      I hope this answers your questions. Thank you again for contacting us ~ Gayle R.

  12. Hi, I have a 9 year old mare that was severely underweight when I got her a few months ago. Since then she has put on close to 300 lbs. I am moving to Connecticut and leasing a small barn. This barn has access to pasture and the current one does not. She is typically fed 1 coffee can twice per day (morning and evening) and 2-3 flakes of hay around 2 pm. What is the best method of switching her to grass once we are moved and settled? Also, should I decrease her grain intake once she is on all day turn out? I know it may take a while to wean her back into the grass, but I am not sure how long to plan for. Also, I am having trouble adding up how much hay I should purchase once I move and BEFORE last cut of the season. Normally we just fill up the barn (we had 10 horses) last cut and we would have plenty. I am just not sure where exactly to start since I will only have one horse. I figured one 50lb bale should last at least 4 days (possibly 5… but I want to give myself a little extra to save up for the very cold winter months when I increase the hay ration). I am just afraid mathematically I may be way off and would have to end up buying stored hay in the winter (really want to avoid that at all cost). I want to buy a years worth of hay since first cut sometimes isn’t until June. Thank you SO much!

    1. Hi Brittany!
      Good questions. As for the pasture, I would make the transition VERY gradually. I like to start with 10 minutes of turnout on a full grass pasture for 3 to 4 days. I will then increase the turnout in 10 minute increments every 4 days. I know it sounds like a long process, but to me it is the safest. I would do a weight and body score assessment on your mare prior to the pasture turnout. You can then review her again in 30 days. If you find she is holding or reaching the desired weight on just pasture, you should still provide a daily vitamin mineral balancer, such as Empower Balance for proper fortification.

      As for the years supply of hay..it is a great idea. The calculation is really very simple. The weight of your horse..i.e 1000 pounds times 2% of their body weight per day times 365 days.

      So, 1000 x 0.2 = 20 pounds per day, times 365 days = 7300 pounds of hay for a year. I realize you may have pasture, but this allows for waste, and added hay in winter.

      The tricky part is determining how much a bale of the hay you are purchasing weighs. They can range from 35 to 70 pounds in the market I live in. For a simple example, lets say the bales average 50 pounds. 7300 /50 =146 Bales of 50 pound hay will last approximately 1 year for your horse πŸ™‚

      Kind Regards,
      Gayle M. Reveron, PAS
      Equine Specialist

  13. After moving to the barn i am renting, i have been getting the third degree about not offering hay 24/7 and feeding grain too much (1 coffee can twice per day, same as i used back home and same weight) also that i dont just turn them out all day and they need more exercise. Mind you, the horses have been in ct for 3 days under my complete care. I have ridden them both twice. In the mornings i go to the barn around 8:30-9 am and find half and quarters of bales of hay scattered around the stall. Wasted. Trampled. Ruined. Im beyond upset and have talked to them about why i feed my horses the way i do. I am then told that they feed there horses two flakes in the am along with a scoop of grain, turned out all day, brought in at night and fed 2 flakes and a scoop of grain. “Thats the way everyone does it here. Its the right way.” I dont want to upset them to the point that they evict my horses…but yet the lease states i am the only one to feed my horses. Period. Any advice would be fantastic. The hay i am feeding is very rich in alfalfa and i dont want them eating too much and being let out without my supervision, yet alone most of it going to waste. Help!

    1. Hi Brittany! You pose some good questions.

      Your horses body condition score is the best indicator of how well your current feed program is working. Most horses need 1.5-2.% of their body weight a day in forage. You mentioned that you are feeding a very rich alfalfa hay. What you may want to consider is buying a hay net and some “snack” or “busy” hay to fill the gaps between alfalfa meals. It is not as highly fortified, but can provide chew time for your horse between meals. You can then monitor the horses intake and have less waste as well. This in no way would replace the alfalfa.

      It is a tough call regarding other people giving your horse hay. However, if the horses around him are eating, it may be better that he has more hay in front of him, than he begins to chew wood or crib out of frustration.

      Thank you ~ Gayle R.

  14. i feed my horse at 7 am every day. I give him his grain and 2 flakes of first cut grass hay. I then turn him out to graze at 11 am until 5 pm. I feed him his dinner with only 1 flake at 9 pm. am I doing everything the right way? is it to much? or to less? im trying to prevent colic from happening. I am a new horse owner.

    1. Hi Katie, Thanks for contacting us, and we’re happy to help! Your feeding schedule sounds excellent. The question as to “how much” is only answered by your horse – you need to keep any eye on his body condition, and that will tell you if he needs more or less. Since he spends time on pasture, it’s hard to estimate the intake there, but if you feel he needs more calories to keep a good body condition, then start with adding additional flakes of hay to his morning & evening meals. A sign he might need more is if he is cleaning up his hay meticulously. If however he’s wasting/scattering a lot of the hay, you might want to have the hay evaluated for quality, and if it is good quality, then he’s probably getting enough.
      Check out this blog post on tracking body condition scoring.
      Hope this helps – if you have further questions, please let us know! Thank you ~ Gayle R.

  15. Hello. I give my horse at 6:30am grain. And feed again 6:30pm .. in between I give hay, carrots and apples.
    I had to move her somewhere else and they give the food at 8:30am. 8:30pm.
    Is that okay?
    – and if you prefer a three times meal.. I may be able to do that but what do you suggest to do?
    And do you think that by this sudden change of feeding time. It could get my horse colic? She’s close to turning to 17.. and she’s anglo arabian.

    1. Hi Linda! You raise some very good questions. I am glad to hear that your horses meals are spaced well apart. The fact that you mentioned she is 17 years old ,and the evening feeding is moving to a later time, I would break her feed into 3 meals a day if possible.

      This will help reduce some stress associated with the feeding time changes, and also be more beneficial for gut health. If the mid day feeding is not an option, a slow feed hay net during the day with some busy hay is a great option.
      Thank you ~ Gayle R.

  16. My horses get fed once a day, at 3 p.m., My Gelding who has a slow metabolism gets 5 lbs of stadegy, 8 lbs of beet pulp mixed with bout the same amount of chopped alfalfa , and my 30 yr old mare gets 9 lbs. of senior feed with 1/2 cup melted coconut oil, 10 lbs of wet beet pulp with about the same amount of chopped alfalfa then i leave a bale of hay out if we dont have a round out , our barn is a run~thru so they come and go as they please,they do not like bluegrass, or any kind of hay other than pure burmuda

  17. Hey!
    I’m hoping you guys might be able to tell me if I’m doing okay with my feeding schedule. I have a 16 year old Anglo-Arabian mare. I do feedings at 5:00 am and 7:00 pm. She gets 4 lbs of pelleted Kalm ‘N EZ and 3 flakes of hay that is well cured and dried. She has access to both her stall and a 5 acre pasture she shares with her mini donkey companion.
    We exercise everyday for about an hour, be it lunging or trail riding. She seems very happy and content with everything. Anything I should change or alter?

    1. Hi Lyn!
      It sounds like you have a pretty good schedule for your horse! I am impressed with the fact that your daily feedings are well spaced, in addition to your horse having access to pasture! It is also refreshing to hear that your horse has an exercise schedule in addition to the turn out.

      You did not mention if you use a hay feeder or hay net? I encourage horse owners to use some type of feeder or net to slow the consumption rate of the hay like natural grazing as well as reduce waste.

      Kind Regards,

  18. Hello, I’m at a barn that feeds my 780lb pony 2lbs of grain feed (25-40% starch and sugars)and 8lbs hay in the morning for 2 hours and 1lb of grain with 8lbs of hay in the evening. She has no access to forage between meals. The grain is the first thing in her gut. 3lbs a day is not a lot but I’ve noticed changes in her hooves and behavior that suggest to me that the carbs are too high. I’m not riding her. I do groundwork almost daily but more mental work than physical. A noon meal is not an option at this barn πŸ™ I always thought horses should not go for long periods without forage and hay should be eaten before grain?

    1. Hello Pat, You have two very good questions. It sounds like based on your pony’s weight the barn is feeding 2% of weight in forage, which is great. It is labor intensive for the barn to load hay nets for customers. So maybe you could purchase two hay nets – the slow feed type – and pre-fill them for your horse when you are at the farm. This would then only require the person feeding to secure the net in the stall. This would slow the consumption rate of the hay, more like natural grazing.

      As for the concentrate portion of the diet, the horse’s hoof is comprised of over 90% protein. You did not mention body condition so I don’t know if the calories from grain are needed. A ration balancer, such as Empower Balance, will provide vitamins and minerals plus pre and probiotics at a low inclusion rate, with a very low NSC- starch and sugar. Thus, she’d get the nutrients she needs, without the additional calories of a traditional feed.

      I understand you cannot expect to change your farm’s feeding schedule, but adding the slow feed net and doing your part to make the process easy, will help your pony.
      Thank you ~ Gayle R.

  19. Hi Gayle,
    I have a thoughbred that I board at a riding stable . She has a stall but majority of the time is outside in her paddock with two other horses. I noticed her night feeding is around 4:30 5. Once grain and hay is eaten up there is no grass in paddock to munch on throughout the night. Tonight I brought her in due to colder weather and high winds.. but once again she will be stuck in stall all night with just water.. Shouldn’t her and all other horses have that free choice hay available to eat throughout the night? Normally if I see hay in ally on the way in I’ll grab a flake and throw it in her stall. Tonight there was none and I hate that she no hay to munch on.. Long periods without hay can cause colic? Any tips or advice I would appreciate..

    1. Hi Amanda,

      Thank you for your interesting question about hay overnight for your Thoroughbred. Horses did evolve to graze several hours per day. Grazing at night would be somewhat limited.

      Horses in stalls at night may tend to get bored and may eat bedding if no hay is present. Going without hay, then being meal fed may result in horses eating more rapidly when they are fed. We do generally recommend that horses do not go long periods without something to munch on as an empty stomach for long periods has also been linked to perhaps higher incidence of gastric ulcers. If weight management is an issue, lower energy hay may be offered as what one extension specialist termed “busy hay” just to give the horse something to do.

      Best wishes,

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