SPCA New Zealand
Advice & welfare

Feeding your horse the right food

Horses are herbivores that would naturally graze on high fibre pasture for a large percentage of the day.

They are meant to eat for between 12 and 16 hours throughout the day and night. This food should be low in energy and high in fibre. Good examples are low sugar grasses and hay made from low sugar grasses. Horses are not meant to eat ‘meals’ consisting of highly concentrated food only. Even if a horse is receiving concentrates (due to a high workload etc.) then the high fibre (but low energy) part of the diet must be kept up in order to keep the horse’s gut functioning properly or the risk of colic and gastric ulcers is increased. Also, if you feed a horse large amounts of high energy feeds that are high in sugar, serious conditions such as obesity and laminitis may develop.

Your horse’s diet will depend on your horse’s age, breed, lifestyle (e.g. if in work) and general condition. Some things to watch out for are:

  • Overweight or underweight horses are prone to many health issues and must be seen by a vet to improve their body condition.
  • Introduce new feed slowly and monitor your horse’s health during this time.
  • Always remove twine or wrap from baled forage to prevent ingestion or entanglement


Grass and hay

  • Horses should have 24hour access to grazing if possible. Horses on average eat for approx. 12 hours a day.
  • Overweight horses may need smaller grazing areas or lower quality feed
  • Hay nets encourage slower feeding
  • Do not feed lawn clippings
  • Ensure your paddock is free of toxic plants (e.g. deadly nightshade)


  • Horses should have constant access to fresh water
  • Troughs should be designed to prevent fouling or wastage
  • Clean troughs regularly.

Supplementary feed

Supplementary feed is required when pasture is poor quality, or for horses that are using extra energy (e.g. they are being exercised a lot) or needing to gain condition. Stallions, pregnant mares, and sick horses may need additional supplementary feed. Supplementary feed should be high quality with no dust or mould present. Supplementary food should be provided:

  • At floor level, to allow the horse to feed naturally
  • In small amounts throughout the day, instead of one large feed
  • In smaller amounts when horses are not in work (i.e. given a rest day)
  • In separate buckets or feeders (spread apart) when feeding multiple horses, in order to reduce competition and ensure each horse gets the right amount for their needs.

What about fruits and vegetables?

  • Vegetables/ fruits should only be offered occasionally, as these are considered treats.
  • Do not allow your horse access to large amounts of fermentable foods (e.g. fallen apples from an apple tree) as they can be toxic.
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