Ask the Vet: Nutrition for the Horse

Question: How can we help horses with proper nutrition and supplements to prevent ulcers? Too many horses are receiving omeprazole. How can we prevent ulcers?

Answer: I certainly share your concern over gastric ulcers, and try to manage my patients with ulcers using nutrition and lifestyle changes as much as possible. I’ll share with you a few guidelines I like to keep in mind:

1) The closer to natural behavior, the better. I try to increase grazing time, and identify any herdmates that may be “causing problems” with the other horses.

2) The higher total percentage of the diet that is roughage, the better.

3) Good scientific evidence has shown that adding legume forage (alfalfa, peanut hay, etc) to the diet can help in preventing/healing gastric ulcers.

4) The total ration should be split up into smaller amounts and more frequent feedings.

Question: I have a healthy 2-year-old that is currently receiving a healthy grain, but I want to switch to a feed with higher protein. Will that affect his temperament?

Answer: Anecdotally, a person will hear things along the lines of “higher protein will make a horse hot”. In my experience, however, protein percentage doesn’t play much of a role in a young horse’s temperament, within reason of course. For a healthy two year old, there is a range of protein content that I would consider acceptable, mostly depending on his current size, projected adult size, and breed. Somewhere in the range of 12% to 16% is acceptable. Talk to your veterinarian and get their specific recommendations. If your horse were under my care, I would base my recommendation on how “growthy” your 2-year-old appears (i.e., how much filling out of his body does he still have to accomplish).


Question: I want to feed my horse more naturally. What does she need other than oats as far as a supplement? She is 7-years-old, ridden for pleasure several times a week and has no health issues.

Answer: If you want to feed your horse more naturally, I’d make a few suggestions:

1) Most (if not all) of her caloric needs could be provided with forage (pasture +/- hay)

2) A trace mineral supplement, available from nearly any feed company, should be added in to a forage-only diet.

Beyond forage, you may need some additional calories. Refer to one of the previous questions for an idea on how to calculate energy requirements in the adult horse.

Question: Is it worth giving a joint supplement containing glucosamine and chondroitin to a 6-year-old Quarter horse that shows joint changes in hocks?

Answer: To start with, I’d reiterate a point I made in an earlier question—that is, the amount of scientific research relating to your question is still fairly limited.

That being said: a 6 year old with pathology already visible on hock radiographs has a long life ahead of it. Hopefully, glucosamine/chondroitin supplementation could delay/modify that pathologic response, and help the horse’s quality of life.

Even though the science it limited, I feel confident in saying that supplementation would not do the horse any harm. I have seen enough positive results in my practice to recommend starting supplementation.

Courtesy of AAEP