Proper nutrition and management practices can prevent many problems associated with caring for horses.  You can learn how to provide your horse with a better life-style by taking the online course "How to Feed for Maximum Performance" taught by Eleanor Richards.  Go to for more information.  Contact Eleanor at or (440) 554-3714.  Be sure to visit Eleanor's web site at
Horses Do Not Need Grain!
By Eleanor Richards
Copyright @ 2006

      Feeding grain to horses can be a very dangerous practice.

      Horses do not have a nutritional requirement for grain!
      Grains contain soluble carbohydrates, which if not broken down before they reach the large intestine can cause problems.

      The equine digestive system is designed to utilize forage...long stem fiber (grass and hay). 

      The horse has a small stomach, which fills and empties fast.  He is a grazer…or trickle feeder.  Very little feed is digested in the horse's stomach.  Stomach acids simply start the feed breakdown and then pass it along.

      Most of digestion takes place in the small and large intestine. 

      The small intestine utilizes fat, the fat soluble vitamins A, D, and E, most minerals and the soluble carbohydrates and protein provided by the grain portion of the diet.  Feed passes very quickly through the small intestine and here is where the trouble can begin - if undigested soluble carbs reach the large intestine.

     The large intestine utilizes insoluble carbohydrates and protein from the fiber (forage) portion of the diet, but can't utilize soluble carbs.  The cecum (part of the large intestine) contains microbes which can break down the hard-to-digest long stem fiber - extracting the nutrients.

     We must keep the large intestine happy.  If soluble carbohydrates make it into the large intestine the microbial balance in the cecum is upset and gas colic may occur.

     So if soluble carbohydrates are dangerous to horses - why feed grain?   

      We feed our horses to provide nutrients required to maintain, grow, reproduce, heal and fuel the body.  If the forage does not meet those needs then grain or supplements must be added…or better forage offered.

      How do we know if a horse needs grain?  By observation.

      There are ten basic categories:

            1. Nursing foal

            2. Young growing horses

            3. Idle or inactive adult horses

            4. Working horses:
                   a. light work
                   b. moderate work
                   c. intense work

            5. Horse in reproduction:
                  a. breeding stallions
                  b. open mares or healthy mares in the first eight     months of pregnancy
                  c. mares in the last three months of pregnancy
                  d. lactating mares

             6. Senior horses

             7. Obese or easy-keepers (some ponies and draft types may      be included here)

             8. Underweight horses

             9. Horses with health issues

           10. Horses on poor quality hay, limited hay or poor forage

      Know your horse.  If he is an easy keeper, has no health issues and on good quality forage he will not need grain.  Free choice salt, fresh clean water and the forage is all he needs.  A vitamin/mineral supplement may be needed depending on the geographical location; for example - vitamin E and selenium.
    If it is decided to feed grain to a horse choose the correct feed for the age, activity level and forage being offered.  Read the feed tag and follow directions!  Feed small frequent meals in order to keep the soluble carbohydrates from being forced through to the large intestine.

Eleanor Richards