Ask The Vet: Miniature Horses

Question: What is the best type of feed for a miniature horse?

Answer: The best type of feed for a miniature horse has multiple variables. Your evaluation of the metabolic needs of your mini is most important:  weight, age, exercise level, what that exercise is, pasture pet or show mini, insulin resistant, easy keeper, well water vs. city water, etc. Put your hands on your mini under all their fuzzy hair. Do you feel their spine, ribs, hips, with a big belly? Perhaps they have good muscling at their back, 1/4″ to 1/2″ of fat covering all of their ribs, and their abdomen is tight. If your mini is the previous example with a big belly, your forage quality needs to improve. Next is to evaluate access to pasture or hay: what variety is available to you, what nutrients is your mini obtaining from those sources. With nutrients they are obtaining on their own or from their hay, is a supplement or grain needed? Ambient temperature is another consideration that makes a slight difference in how much forage and type to feed. Access to clean water always is key for absorption of all nutrients, no matter what is fed.

Given those factors, a balanced diet including nutrients they obtain from natural sources is the first consideration. There are multiple varieties of pasture grasses and hay that can be fed depending on where you are located in the country. Supplements are marketed that may or may not be necessary, including grain, brans, dehydrated feeds, concentrates, vitamin and mineral supplements.

All miniatures, no matter what their exercise level, should have daily access to quality green forage. Hay / forage is split in to different protein percentage categories. A hay/forage with 7% or less protein is considered weight loss hay, 8% -10% protein is weight maintenance, 10% – 12% is weight gain for some or maintenance for active minis, above 12% is weight gain hay/forage. Most growers will be able to tell you what nutrients and the protein content within their product. Forage should contain an average of 8% – 10% protein to maintain your miniature horse’s weight and avoid those large grass bellies that we sometimes see. All horses are “hind gut fermenters”; those bellies develop when forage is difficult to digest and it “fills” the gut instead of nutrients being absorbed easily into the body. More fecal matter is also produced with poor quality forage. If your forage is a grass pasture, a grazing muzzle and / or timed turn out is a good idea to keep your mini from overindulging. Access to a dry lot  (an area barren of forage) is an excellent idea for miniature horses when timing turn out to maintain a healthy weight.  If more assistance is needed, your local USDA Soil and Water Conservation districts can assist you in knowing what nutrients are in the soil, thus in the pasture grasses your mini might be grazing. Knowing the vitamin and mineral content of the green forage your mini is getting will determine what supplements  and / or concentrates are needed, if any.

There are so many supplements and concentrates available on the market today. Nutrition has taken leaps and bounds forward from the basic corn, oats ,and barley that was the norm decades ago, to feed specifically formulated for the needs of young to geriatric horses, sugar sensitive horses, and exercise levels. Providing a good vitamin/mineral mix daily may be all that is needed; the microminerals provided assist to ensure your mini’s metabolism is functioning at its prime. If your miniature horse is active, pulling carts, showing, in foal, or lactating, using more energy than available in routine forage, a concentrate such as grain may be necessary.

Understanding your miniature horse’s use of energy (active vs pasture pet) will help determine what feed is best. Always feed per label directions, do not overfeed supplements or grains. Excess will be seen in fecal matter or urination excess; sometimes overfeeding will also induce laminitis, something to be avoided. If your mini is active in the show ring a good balanced grain might be needed. Some grains are marketed as “complete feed”; one only needs to feed that as all fiber and nutrients are provided within the bag.  Feed at the level directed on the bag per weight. Most grains have been tested at the manufacturer to determine the amount needed to be fed to meet requirements for weight and activity. There is no need to avoid a grain formulated for a large horse simply because it does not say miniature horse or pony. Do follow label directions for weight of your mini and the amount to feed, given your minis needs as evaluated by you. Miniature horses that are pasture pets may not need grains at all, just a well balanced vitamin and mineral supplement, or feed balancer for your area.

A typical diet I feed my active show miniatures that weigh an average of 200 pounds is: one pound of low molasses 14% concentrate, a vitamin/mineral supplement, 1 pound of alfalfa, twice daily, access to a trace mineral block, and dry lot turn out. My miniatures that have the season off from showing are on 8% pasture grass (mowed) with a trace mineral block. Our soil provides the rest of the nutrients for them to maintain excellent weight and body condition. My pregnant miniature mares during their last trimester and during lactation receive grain formulated for pregnant mares fed for their weight, alfalfa/timothy mix hay free choice, short pasture (mowed) turnout, and a quality vitamin/mineral mix, along with a fat supplement for their weight. The foals eat what mom eats, they share the grain.

Feeding per the metabolic needs of your miniature horse will keep them happy, active, and healthy for a very long time.

Answered by Barbara Kahl, DVM, Yamhill, Oregon
Courtesy of AAEP