Days in Horse Country – Changing Diets
Variety may be the spice of life, but when it comes to equine diets, variety can wreak havoc with a horse’s digestive system and result in a serious bout of colic.
Whenever you need to change your horse’s diet, do it gradually. If your horse currently eats three flakes of alfalfa hay per day and you want to switch him to two flakes of grass hay and only one flake of alfalfa, you need to do it slowly. Start substituting half a flake of the new hay each day for at least three days. Then, substitute an entire flake for another few days. Add another half flake for the next three days, and then finally substitute the second flake of alfalfa for the grass hay until your horse is on two flakes of grass hay and only one of alfalfa.
Use the “half flake, three days” formula whenever switching food on your horse. If you want to introduce a new, pelleted feed to your horse, start with ½ pound (225 g) a day, and then move up to 1 pound (455 g) in three days. Increase the pellets by ½ pound (225 g) every three days.
If you want to switch your horse from hay to a lush green pasture, do so with great care. A sudden introduction to pasture can cause colic or founder. Start by grazing your horse on the pasture for only a hour a day for the first three days, and cutting back slightly on his hay. (Your veterinarian can tell you just how much to cut back, depending on your horse’s age and condition.) Increase grazing time to two hours on the fourth day, and maintain this for three days and cut out a little more hay. Follow by adding an hour of grazing every few days, reducing the amount of hay slightly as you go. When your horse is spending at least eight hours grazing at a time with no ill effects, you can let him graze at will without hay supplementation, assuming your pasture can sustain your horse. (If you aren’t sure, contact your veterinarian for advice.)