A horse’s performance potential is basically determined by four factors: Genetics, Health Care, Nutrition, and Training.  A horse’s genetic potential is fixed at conception; however, optimal performance is reached by correctly manipulating the other three factors.

Rules of Thumb:

1.  Feed the best quality feeds that you can afford.  All feeds are not created equally.  Increased cost usually reflects better ingredients and nutritional research.  Better ingredients mean you feed less for the same nutritional value, and the cost in the long term will be cheaper than buying inexpensive feeds.

2. If you, or your nutritional advisor, do not have a PhD in nutrition, don’t formulate your own rations!

3. Any dietary change should be implemented as gradually as possible.   Slowly introduce new feeds over a 2-3 week period to decrease the chance of indigestion, colic, and founder.  This includes introduction to new pastures in the spring or fall.

4. Horse should be fed on the ground, or as close to the ground as possible.  Grass grows on the ground, not in bunks or hay racks.  Continuously feeding horses from elevated bins will cause serious dental problems.  However, avoid putting feed directly on the ground in sandy soils.  (In the MidSouth, sandy soil is usually restricted to specific ditches and pits; therefore, this should not be an issue).


Water: This is the most important nutrient.  Fresh, clean water should be available free choice at all times.  Most mammals can live for 3 weeks without food, but will die within 3 days without water.  Heating water tanks in the winter will increase water consumption and decrease chances of colic.

Forage:  Forage provides energy through digestible fiber, and is the bulk of a horse’s diet.  A minimum of 1lb of forage (Dry Matter) per 100 lbs body weight should be fed daily.

God designed the horse to eat Grass (and only Grass).  Ideally, horses should pasture graze 14-18 hours daily, and the sustained stocking ration for horses in the MidSouth is 1 horse per 4 acres pasture.  Domestication of the horse usually makes this ideal scene impractical or impossible.  If Quality Grass Pasture is not available, Quality Hay should be available free choice.  A good rule of thumb is @1/2 square bale per horse per day. Horses can be fed round bales, but keep in mind that they should be stored out of the elements since 3 MidSouth rains will render them nutritionally worthless.

Note: The word “Quality” is purposely used.  Weeds are not grass, and decaying round bales are a good source of Botulism, not nutrition.  Hay is farm product, just like corn or cotton.  Quality producers have a forage analysis performed on each cutting and are happy to provide a written copy.  Also the cost of quality hay is usually the same as the cost of poor hay.  I have seen horses fed to death with poor hay from “reputable producers” who did not need to have “their” hay analyzed.

Grain: Energy Supplementation.  Twice as much energy should be supplied from roughage sources as concentrates.

Feed only to maintain the body condition of Performance Horses and Horses on poor forage (winter pastures).  Feed a supplement specifically designed for your specific horse.  A foal should be fed a youth ration, a racehorse should be fed a race ration, and a broodmare should be fed to meet her nutritional requirements as well as those of her gestating fetus.  .

Quality feeds are labeled with recommend meal amounts.  Split the daily concentrate ration into multiple small meals instead of one large meal to decrease the chance of founder and colic.  When starting on grain supplementation, increase 1/2lb every 2-3 days.

As stated above, most horses do not need grain supplementation, except during the winter when pastures are dormant.  If you must “treat” your horse with a supplement, feed a small amount of a complete ration such as Purina Horse Chow, Equine Junior, or Equine Senior.

The above are general guidelines for Healthy Horses.  Owner’s of Sick Horses, especially those with Nutritional or Metabolic Disease, should consult a veterinarian for specific counseling.

Dr. Galloway personally feeds and recommends Purina Horse Feeds and uses Purina
Feeds in the treatment of Nutritional Cases.

Body Condition Score:

Is your horse too fat, too thin, or just right for its breed, age, and activity?

Body Condition Scoring is a standardized method of estimating a horse’s overall condition.  The BCS is divided into a scale of 9 ratings based on visual appraisal and palpable fat.  Ideal BCS is between 5-7.

1. Poor: Extremely emaciated, bony neck, whithers, shoulders, ribs, spine, and pelvis, .

2. Very Thin: Emaciated, bony ribs, spine, and pelvis.

3. Thin: Ribs easily discernible.

4. Moderately Thin: Faint outline of ribs apparent.

5. Moderate: Flat back. Ribs not visible, but are palpable.

6. Moderately Fleshy: Slight fat over ribs.

7. Fleshy: Crease down back. Ribs palpable but noticeable fat filling between ribs.

8. Fat: Crease down back. Difficult to feel ribs.  Noticeable thickening of neck.

9. Obese: Obvious crease down back.  Ribs not palpable.  Fat deposits over entire body (neck, whithers, tail head, flanks, and inner thighs.

Horses in BCS 1 and 2 are in an advanced state of malnutrition and need immediate, veterinary supervised nutritional care.

BCS 3 and 4 could indicate illness, malnutrition, or a nutrition-activity mismatch.

BCS 5 is the picture of a Racing Thoroughbred.  An athlete in peak condition.

BCS 6 and 7 are ideal for broodmares who need fat reserves to accommodate a suckling foal, a gestating fetus, and their own nutritional requirements.

Horses in BCS 8 and 9 need to loose weight and are predisposed to several illnesses such Insulin Resistence, Cushings Disease, Metabolic Disease, and Founder.

For an information sheet with a more detailed analysis of each BCS rating, call ACH.

For detailed information and videos visit:  https://www.purinamills.com/horse-feed/education/detail/body-condition-scoring-your-horse