Horse Nutrition Guide: From Young to Old

Nutrition Tips For Your Horse


When it comes to figuring out what to feed a horse, the decision mostly relies on their age. Yearlings will need a completely different set of nutrients than a senior. Much the same goes for their caloric intake for the right energy to supply their growth.

Therefore, horse lovers need to take a close look at what they feed their horses, regardless of the horse’s age. Taking care of horses from all ages is not rocket science, but it does involve an acute attention to details. Hence, here is a close look at the nutritional needs of horses from young to old.

Several Factors to Recognize in Feeding Young Horses

As eluded to previously, there are different factors at play between feeding a foal and feeding a senior horse. When it comes to feeding a younger horse, here are some of the factors to consider. First and foremost, the nutrient requirements for a younger horse are much higher than an older horse. After all, the young horse grows every day at a rapid rate, so their food source needs to keep up with the resources for this growth. Additionally, young horses have smaller, more sensitive digestive tracks. Therefore, they cannot easily eat larger, bulkier feed options. Avoiding bulky food also means avoiding low-quality options as well.

young horse

Hence, only high-quality food sources, including grains and forages, should be used when it comes to giving young horses the energy they need. Young horses exhaust this energy very quickly, so their food needs to contain many proteins, vitamins, and minerals. By a rule of thumb, the younger a horse is, the more nutrient dense their food should be.

Considering Maximum and Optimum Growth

There is a distinct difference between the maximum and optimum growth in a horse. Focusing on feeding a horse to reach the maximum potential it has for an adult size does not always work in the owner’s favor. This situation can lead to overfeeding the horse, which means they will not digest food well over time, and they are likely to gain a great deal of unneeded weight. Mineralization, the process behind growing strong bones, needs to also happen at its own pace, and feeding a horse too much can cause a delay in the lengthening of legs. It is also important to note that most horses meet their optimum growth capacity around 12 months of age. Hence, pushing them to grow past this rate can work against the horse in the long run.

It is far better to feed a horse in a way that allows them to grow at a moderate and steady weight instead of a fast rate. Most yearlings need to be fed in amounts between 0.15 percent and 0.21 percent of their current body weight. This scale allows for moderation to be at play, which will ultimately avoid making a horse eat unnecessarily. After all, a horse will eat as often as it is permitted to do so. When left to their own devices, they can overeat a great deal unless trained otherwise not to do so.

The Mineral Differences

As stated previously, horses of different ages have different mineral needs. A yearling will need crude proteins and calcium at much higher percentages than a senior horse. However, there are different diseases to worry about at older ages than there are of younger ones. Therefore, making sure horses receive adequate amounts of natural Vitamin E at an older age will help to prevent hoof diseases. Similarly, older horses need to receive a solid dose of calcium each day to help protect aging bones as well.

Special Needs for Older Horses


Certainly, younger horses do expend a great deal more energy than older horses. However, this statement should not indicate that older horses receive lesser quality food as they age. Quite the opposite can happen, in fact. As mentioned previously, there are a few other things to worry about in the long run.

First of all, older horses do not always chew as well as younger horses. Their teeth need a little help along the way. Hence, horse owners should seriously consider wetting dry food and turning it into a soup or mash to make sure digestion happens more easily. Going with this option not only helps their old teeth, but it also helps to prevent choking and developing impaction colic. Most food needs to set in water for about 15 to 30 minutes for the mash or soup state to appear. Obviously, the longer the feed sits in water, the more like soup it will become.

Older horses do not have the energy and patience of younger horses, either. They are likely to shy away from group feedings, especially when aggressive eaters stand nearby. Instead of fighting for their keep, some older horses will just move on and wait until everyone else finishes eating. Sadly, this situation can mean the horse might not eat at all. When this situation arises, the horse’s owner needs to make sure it eats apart from the aggressive eaters to obtain the best meal possible.

When it comes to selecting the right food for the senior of the group, they need a few things from their food. To begin with, they need highly digestible fibers in their food to keep their digestive tract moving. Such fiber options also make certain other elements in the food breaks down naturally and efficiently in the digestive tract. Furthermore, senior horses need food that contains higher levels of fat. These fat sources provide the higher calories a senior horse needs to keep their body healthy and to avoid weight loss related to age.


When it comes to feeding a younger or older horse, many things need to be considered. The horse’s age will dictate the minerals, fibers, and fats needed in the food for proper sources of energy and to protect against certain diseases. At the same time, younger horses might fare better when eating together, but those older horses might need some peace and quiet while they eat. These factors, and more need to be considered thoroughly with each meal.

Here are a few more links to help you out with your horse’s nutritional needs:

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