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I would like to have this question go to an Equine vet. If no equine vets are online, I'm ok with waiting until the question can be picked up by one at a later time.-----------------------I would be interested in an equine vet's input on feed programs for horses who are in active work at a moderate level of exercise.What are the implications of taking a horse who is on a grain based diet with inadequate quantities and quality of hay to a diet that is mostly grass forage based (when the season allows) and where hay is fed free choice but where amounts of grain given are minimal?A personal move necessitates a switch in stables. Most of the stables I am considering feed hay free choice and have horses outside on grass as much as possible but feed very little grain as in 2 lbs per day max (unless the owner pays for more).What would be the effect of putting a horse on a program like that when it is used to some pasture and low quality and inadequate hay and who gets ~4 lbs twice a day of a 12% sweet feed?Most places I've boarded max out at 12 lbs of grain per day and tend to be more careful about rationing hay. The ones I'm considering in my new area are the opposite, so I don't know whether that would be a problem for a competitive type of horse.
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Answered in 3 days by:
11/15/2017
Dr Linda
Dr Linda, Veterinarian
Category: Horse Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 1,532
Experience: I am a practicing veterinarian with over 20 years experience in a mixed animal practice.
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Hello, this is Dr. Linda. I hope I can help with your concerns today.

Horses, by nature, need to graze. Their gastrointestinal tracts are designed to take in large amounts of forages ( grasses ), break them up with enzymes & bacteria, & extract as much nutrition as possible to maintain growth & overall health. We mess them up by taking them off pasture grasses & feed them high calorie concentrates ( grain).

I think the move you are making is an excellent opportunity to give your horse a much better balanced diet. Roughage should make up 1.5-2 % of a horses diet, so a 1000 pound horse should receive 15-20 pound of roughage a day. This includes grasses & hays. Concentrates should make up a much smaller percentage of the diet. 2 pounds per day sounds adequate in a lightly worked horse, whereas 12 pounds per day concerns me.

Everything depends on your horse's body weight score. Roughage is a much better base to work with. If your horse will spend a great part of the day grazing, & has a very adequate amount of good quality hay to eat in the off times, then decreasing grain from 4 to 2 pounds a day will probably hardly be missed. If you notice any weight loss, you may have to bump the grain up a bit, but overall, this sounds like a much healthier move for your horse.

I hope this makes sense & you find the information helpful. Please let me know if you have any further questions & if I have addressed your concerns.

Thank you.

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Customer reply replied 3 months ago
Thanks for your reply. My horse currently gets 4 lbs twice a day as do many of the other horses at the current barn...hay quantities are inadequate as is the quality.At the new farm, over what time period should I make changes in his diet? He will be getting good quality hay that is fed free choice, so I'm guessing he won't need as much grain. At what rate should I back off on the grain? I'd like to ask about that since we are going into winter and I would like to avoid him losing weight.If a horse is in moderate work as in competitive things such as novice level eventing, what level of grain might be appropriate?

I would take about a week to back off the grain, if the 2 pounds is all the new barn feeds. The thing to remember is all horses will metabolize energy differently. Hard work & cold temperatures will cause an increased demand for energy, but an "easy keeper" may not require all that much more.

The other thing to consider is that the metabolism of hay, not grain, provides the energy a horse needs to stay warm in winter & stay active. Grain provides lot at calories that often translates into fat if the energy from grain is not utilized fairly quickly.

Since this is a new situation for you & your horse, you really need to see how he does. With free choice to a good quality hay, he may need very little grain, even while in work.

Dr Linda
Dr Linda, Veterinarian
Category: Horse Veterinary
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Experience: I am a practicing veterinarian with over 20 years experience in a mixed animal practice.
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