Get started with Natural Feeding

A horse in nature spends most of the time grazing with a herd. This natural situation addresses three important aspects of horse health: digestive health, physical health and mental health. Digestive health is supported by the type of feed and the continuous availability of it. Physical health is supported by the freedom to move and eating from ground level. Mental health is supported by the amount of time spent eating and being in a natural environment with friends.

You can start making your current feeding regime more in line with this natural situation by adapting the following two feeding tips.

Constant access to roughage

The commonly offered rule of thumb is to feed about 2 kilograms of hay for each 100 kilograms of body weight every day. This is about one big pile of loose hay of 1 by 1 by 1.5 meters high for a pony and two of those piles for a horse. To illustrate, the average in-house door is about 2 meters in height. If your hay comes in bales which have been cut in multiple slices, then weight a slice to estimate how much your horse might need.

The slices I come across often weight about 1 kilogram. The available roughage should be spread throughout the day and night as much as possible to help prevent boredom.

Haylage and silage contain more water and are therefore heavier - rules of thumb for these feeds are about 2.7 kilograms for haylage and 4.4 kilograms for silage per 100 kilograms of body weight.

According to Natural Feeding, roughage should be supplied continuously. The roughage provided does, however, need to suit the requirements of the horse; feeding an unsuitable roughage can cause problems, as can feeding insufficient roughage.

Provide feed near or on the ground

When horses graze, their heads are close to the ground. As explained in chapter 2 of my book, the horse's body is able to be in this grazing position without much muscular effort and without using much energy. In contrast, lifting the head up for the majority of the day can cause back and neck problems. Provide feed near or on the ground so your horse can adopt his/her natural stance.

Roughage should remain clean. When stabled, this can be done by placing the roughage on the floor outside the stable, where the horse can reach if from within the table. Outdoors, the most obvious way to feed from the floor is by letting a horse graze on pasture. In a sandy paddock, hay ban be provided at ground level in a bucket to prevent it from getting mixed with sand from the paddock.

These tips are part of the 'Practical feeding tips' section of the book 'Natural Feeding for Horses', which can be bought here.