Will grass provide my horse with everything they need?

Unfortunately not! Whilst grass may provide sufficient calories and even protein for horses at rest or in light work a large study has shown that UK grazing will not meet their mineral requirements.  For example, grass only provides around half the quantity of zinc a horse needs every day and this can result in poor hoof health. 

Horses that maintain weight well on grazing alone don’t need lots of concentrate feed but they still need extra vitamins and minerals.  To make sure your horse’s diet is balanced, consider feeding Dodson & Horrell Equi-Bites or Daily Vitamins & Minerals.

I have recently changed to haylage and my horse’s droppings have become much looser. Is there anything I can feed to help with this?

There are many reasons why your horse may have developed loose droppings. It seems likely that on this occasion it may be linked to his recent change in forage type. Hay and haylage are fermented in the horses’ large intestine with the help from a population of bacteria and other important microbes. A change in diet can disrupt this sensitive hind gut environment causing your horses droppings to become loose.

In this instance we recommend that you use Dodson & Horrell Digestive Support. Digestive Support is a comprehensive pre-biotic that uses a combined approach to ensure that digestive disturbances are minimised by supporting beneficial bacteria.

Another thing to remember is that  haylage has a higher moisture content than hay thus the amount of fibre your horse receives from the same weight will be much less. As a result you will need to feed more haylage than hay to fulfil your horse’s fibre requirements but remember it is usually of higher nutritional value and you will be feeding more calories. To enable you to calculate how much haylage your horse needs we recommend that you have it analysed using our Forage Analysis service.

How much hay or haylage should I feed?

Forage is an essential part of all horses and pony diets.  Horses have evolved as trickle-feeders and feeding insufficient forage can result in problems such as stereotypic behaviours, gastric ulcers and/ or colic.  Horses will eat between 2-2.5% of their bodyweight as dry forage per day. Depending on the usage of the horse some forage may be replaced by concentrate.  However, if your horse needs to lose weight it may be necessary to restrict forage intake. We recommend a restriction of no less than 1.5% of body weight unless under veterinary supervision.

Are carrots safe to feed?

One or two carrots a day, as a treat, is perfectly acceptable.  It is a common misconception that feeding fresh carrots will supply the horse with lots of sugar. In fact carrots are 88% water and provide only around 4g of sugar each.  If you would prefer to feed a more nutritious treat to your horse or pony then we recommend that you consider Dodson & Horrell Equi-Bites. These are tasty bite size treats and have the benefit of a full range of added vitamins and minerals, helping to ensure that your horses’ nutrient requirements are met.

How much concentrate feed is safe to feed in one meal?

The horse’s stomach is very small in comparison to the rest of the digestive system.  As a result feeding large concentrate meals can increase the risk of problems such as colic.  You should aim to feed no more than 500g/100kg bodyweight per meal. 

For example a 500kg horse should have a maximum of 2.5kg of food per meal.  Remember that this amount includes everything in the bucket; concentrate feed, chaff and sugar beet etc. In some cases the meal size may need to be even smaller for example horses and ponies with Cushing’s Syndrome (PPID) may require very small, regular meals.

How do I keep my horse hydrated?

The body contains 60-70% water and this water plays an essential role in transporting blood cells and nutrients around the body. The water in the body is also important for thermoregulation - during exercise sweat is produced, which then evaporates from the skins surface helping us to keep cool. Sweat also contains electrolytes including sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium and magnesium. These electrolytes play an important role in both nerve and muscle function.

The Effects of Dehydration

Bodyweight Loss
Result of water loss on the body
Clinics in Sports Medicine 13, 235-246 (1994) 

Normal heat regulation and performance

1% Thirst is stimulated, performance begins to decline
2% Decrease in heat regulation, worsening performance
3% Continuing decrease in performance, muscular endurance decreases
4% 20-30% decrease in performance, dizziness occurs
5% Headache, irritability, nausea, fatigue
6% Weakness, severe loss of thermoregulation, heart races
7% Collapse

Dehydration occurs when you or your horse lose excessive amounts of water and electrolytes. If you become dehydrated you might notice that you feel dizzy, cannot concentrate or even feel sick. In your horse signs of dehydration can include decreased appetite, increased risk of impaction colic and reduced athletic performance. It's amazing how much sweat your horse can produce; for example after a cross country phase horses can lose 15-20 litres of sweat and an endurance horse could lose double this during a race!

It can be difficult to monitor how much your horse is sweating and the skin-pinch test is very inaccurate. However, a good way of estimating fluid losses is to use a weigh-tape. It is generally accepted that 90% of a horse's weight loss after exercise is due to sweating and 1kg of bodyweight equates to approximately 1 litre of fluids. Following initial research on 100 horses at Warwickshire College our scientifically validated weigh-tape has been used to measure post-exercise body weight losses at Burghley Horse Trials.

Fluid and electrolyte losses must be replaced to avoid dehydration. Simply drinking a bottle of water or offering your horse water after exercise will not be enough to re-hydrate properly as the body cannot hold onto water without the presence of electrolytes. Drinking a sports drink that contains electrolytes will help you re-hydrate and replenish any losses. Similarly if your horse is losing more than 10kg of body weight after work you will need to feed an electrolyte supplement such as Dodson & Horrell Electrolytes.

How close to exercise should I feed my horse?

We generally recommend leaving at least 90 minutes in between feeding a concentrate feed an exercising your horse.  This allows the food to pass normally through the stomach and into the small intestine, minimising the risk of choke or colic.  Hay or haylage is generally fine to feed up until you begin to tack up.

One exception to this rule is feeding alfalfa chaff before exercise to provide a fibre matt in the stomach and reduce gastric acid ‘splashing’ onto the sensitive squamous mucosa. We recommend feeding half a scoop of alfalfa chaff half an hour before exercise in these cases, particularly if your horse has a sensitive stomach or will be doing any fast work or jumping.

How do I help my horse develop topline?

Topline in horses is used to describe the muscle coverage over the top of the horse’s neck, back and hindquarters. The predominant ‘topline’ muscles are the rhomboideus, splenius, trapezius, longissimus dorsi and gluteal muscles which enable the horse to collect and extend the neck, lift the shoulder and forehand, flex the back and engage the hind legs.  It is important that the difference between fat and muscle within the neck is clear, therefore owners should get their hands on the horse using body fat scoring.

The only way to build muscle is through an appropriate exercise regime and by providing essential dietary support together; neither method will work alone. A common myth is that fat can be turned to muscle, however this is unfortunately not the case.

Muscle has a tremendous capacity to respond to training, with muscle fibres needing to stretch and lay down new cells in order to grow. Single bouts of exercise have very little effect on a horse’s fitness, therefore we need to train the muscles through repeated bouts of exercise to improve fitness.

Although it can be tempting to get cracking with your horse’s new fitness regime it is important to get the balance right between fitness and injury. Ensure you give your horse time to rest and recover between training sessions to allow muscle recovery and do not increase the intensity of the exercise suddenly.

To encourage muscle development a strength training programme should be initiated, with specific exercises to target the key muscle groups and engage the muscles correctly. Ensure that your horse is working actively and correctly even when out for a short hack to promote correct muscle development. One of the most effective ways to develop the hindquarters is through the use of hill work. Encouraging your horse to walk actively uphill (no jogging allowed!) approximately seven times, twice a week to engage the gluteal muscles. Don’t worry if you do not live in a hilly area, cavaletti poles encourage the gluteals to work through lifting of the hind leg so can be utilised instead!

To develop the longissimus dorsi muscle core strength exercises can be used that will improve tone and flexibility such as ‘carrot stretches’. These stretches must be done whilst the muscles are warm to avoid damage so ensure you warm up first! Take a piece of carrot and encourage your horse to stretch to each side and to the chest, repeating several times and ensuring you are performing the exercise evenly on both sides. Ask four your vet or physiotherapist’s advice if you are unsure.

The main component of muscle and body tissue is protein which is supplied in limited amounts by forage (grass, hay and haylage). However working horses will require supplementation in the form of a fully balanced compound feed or balancer. Some riders can be afraid of feeding protein in the belief that it will cause excitable behaviour - it won’t! Fizziness and excitability may be the result of a horse having excess energy through being fed too many calories, but not too much protein. It is not just the level of protein in a feed we need to consider but more importantly the quality, determined by the amino acid ‘building blocks’ from which it is made up. The horse’s body can produce some amino acids, however there are a number of essential amino acids such as lysine, which when limited will limit muscle development.

The most common problem that we see is a horse being fed less than the recommended amount of hard feed, as extra calories aren’t needed, without ‘topping-up’ with a balancer to supply essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals. Dodson & Horrell recommend either feeding the full recommended amount of a performance feed that contains lysine or, if your horse does not need the calories, using a high quality balancer that contains lysine. If you feed a chaff alongside your feeds consider using alfalfa, a natural source of high quality protein.

Changing your horse onto a high quality protein diet, alongside an appropriate exercise regime should be sufficient to enable topline development within six weeks, however if no improvement is made a protein supplement could be considered.

My horse is in hard work but is slightly overweight and can be lethargic. What should I feed him?

It is important to remember that energy and calories are effectively the same thing. As your horse is slightly overweight we need to allow him to lose this excess weight before using high energy (high calorie) feeds. We would recommend that you monitor his weight every fortnight aiming for a condition fat score of 2.5-3.

When your horse is at his ideal body weight we can consider feeding a product appropriate for good doers in medium to hard work such as Dodson & Horrell Competition Concentrate. This feed has been formulated specifically for horses that maintain weight well but require energy for workload. Competition Concentrate is fed at a lower rate than conventional concentrates ensuring that your horses’ nutrient requirements are met without contributing to weight gain.  It is also formulated to enable you to add a small amount of oats to the diet if extra energy is needed, without unbalancing the vitamin and mineral content.


I have an orphan foal; how should I feed it?

If the foal was orphaned at birth or very soon after, the first thing you need to do is to make sure it gets colostrum. This is the sticky, yellow first milk produced by the mare. The foal needs to consume colostrum ideally within 12hrs after birth, as it contains vital antibodies, without which the foal is likely to become very ill.  If possible, the colostrum should come from the foal’s own mother; alternatively your vet should be able to provide a source of donor colostrum. 

Next you will need to decide how you are going to provide the foal with milk.  A foster mare is the ideal solution but if this isn’t possible then you will need to bottle or bucket feed using our specially formulated mare’s milk replacer, Equilac. Your foal will need to be fed Equilac until weaning, at around 3-4 months old.  If your foal is doing well we can feed this alongside a vitamin, mineral and protein balancer, Suregrow, from 2 weeks old.  If your foal needs extra support we can use Foal Creep Pellets instead.

How should you feed a broodmare prone to weight gain in early pregnancy?

It can be tempting to over-feed a mare in early pregnancy (the first eight months) but it’s important that she is not allowed to become overweight at this stage.  Good doers generally don’t need a specific stud feed in early pregnancy. However, it is important that the mare gets a fully balanced diet to support both her own health and that of the developing foetus. Feeding a low intake, low calorie balancer such as Ultimate Balancer or Suregrow is ideal. This will provide good quality protein and all the essential vitamins and minerals, without supplying many calories thereby helping to limit calorie intake as part of a calorie-controlled diet.

My mare is going to have her first foal this summer, will I need to feed the foal or will it get all the nutrients it needs from its mum’s milk?

Milk is low in certain key vitamins and minerals, for example copper, which are vital for correct growth and development. The nutritional composition of mare’s milk changes throughout lactation and typically begins to gradually decline in the second month of lactation.

Usually foals will begin to show an interest in their dam’s concentrate feed at approximately two weeks of age. At this stage it is a good idea to introduce a small quantity of good quality specifically designed concentrate feed. Introducing concentrate feed at this time will: a) Help balance the nutritional deficiencies in mare’s milk, preventing any deficiencies or imbalances. b) Aid the anatomical and physiological maturation of the digestive tract. c) Teach the foal to eat on its own, thereby helping to reduce stress and the risk of digestive disturbances post weaning.

You should also aim to weight your foal and record its height every few week in order to monitor its growth rate. Abnormal growth rate may increase the risk of developmental problems such as epiphysitis.

Dodson & Horrell produce creep feeds specifically designed for Thoroughbred and Native/ Warmblood foals.

Typically Thoroughbreds grow more rapidly than other breeds and have higher nutrient requirements. Dodson & Horrell’s highly palatable Foal Creep Pellets have been formulated specifically to meet the needs of the rapidly growing Thoroughbred, providing high quality protein and optimal levels of energy, vitamins and minerals to ensure optimal growth and development.

Native and Warmblood foals tend to maintain their weight and body condition reasonably well, but still require high levels of vitamins and minerals for correct growth and development. Mare and Youngstock has been specifically formulated for low intakes and therefore contains elevated levels of vitamins and minerals. This means that energy intake can be limited, preventing the foal from putting on too much weight, which stresses their joints, whilst still ensuring that they receive all the essential vitamins and minerals they require for correct growth and development.

As with all horses make sure that any changes to the foal’s diet are introduced gradually.


What should I feed my foal after it is weaned?

The nutrient needs of the growing horse are somewhat different to that of a mature adult horse. It is vital that young horses receive optimal levels of all vitamins and minerals. Good quality protein is also essential to ensure that they grow and develop correctly. It is important that young ponies are provided with adequate but not excessive amounts of energy (calories) in the diet, which could lead to developmental problems. The best way to judge youngster’s energy requirements is to monitor and condition score them regularly; you should aim to be able to just see their ribs. They will look leggy.

If your youngster is currently in good condition I would recommend that you feed him Suregrow. You may also like to consider feeding some Alfalfa Chaff as this is an excellent source of both quality protein and calcium. This is particularly useful during the winter when the grass is poor.

If your foal needs additional calories then we would recommend Mare & Youngstock Mix, which has been specifically formulated to be fed to native types between the ages of 1 to 3 years. Mare & Youngstock Mix provides:

  • Good quality protein
  • All the essential minerals, vitamins and trace elements required for normal growth and development
  • Fortified with more concentrated levels of minerals and vitamins than a conventional stud feed, which makes it ideal for low feeding rate
  • Particularly useful for native breeds, part-breds and warmbloods because they generally hold their weight easily and do not require as much concentrate feed as a Thoroughbred foal.

The quantity needed will depend on his growth rate, pasture quality and quantity. However, as a guide for a 1 year old that is expected to mature to 13hh and approximately 350kg, feed 1kg per day in order to meet his vitamin and mineral requirements. Split this daily quantity in to at least 2 feeds. You should continue to provide adequate amounts of hay or haylage and turn-out when possible. Ideally you should aim to feed little and often, remember that young horse's stomachs are relatively small. You should try to split a youngster’s daily ration into at least 2/3 feeds per day.

I have an elderly horse that is no longer able to chew hay or haylage and has limited turn out. What can I feed her as an alternative?

If you have an older horse that is struggling to chew hay and haylage, fibre intake is likely to be considerably reduced. Fibre is an essential dietary requirement for any horse. As a guide, your horse should receive at least 2-2.5% of their bodyweight as dry forage each day to ensure healthy digestive function. It is vital that you replace the forage that your horse in not receiving and this can be done by creating what is commonly referred to as a 'haynet in a bucket.'

Our forage replacer recipe is recommended by the Veteran Horse Society and combines Dodson & Horrell High Fibre Nuts, KwikBeet and Alfalfa. The feeding guideline is 600g dry weight of each component per 100kg of body weight. Therefore, a horse with an ideal weight of 500kg would require 3kg of each product per day. This quantity should preferably be divided into several small meals and spread throughout the day in order to try mimic normal feeding behaviour.

How should I feed my laminitic pony?

Causes of laminitis: Laminitis is a disease which can be triggered by a number of different situations including feed overload, obesity, toxaemia, trauma and some drugs, such as corticosteroids.

Prevention and managements of horses and ponies with laminitis:

  1. Monitor your horse’s body weight & condition - Obesity is a predisposing factor in the onset of laminitis. Do not allow your horse to get too fat – weigh and condition score every two weeks using a weigh tape and condition score card (you can purchase them from Dodson and Horrell!) Although it is important that your pony loses some weight, it is crucial that this happens gradually.
  2. Do not starve your horse – Commonly owners are led to believe that they should starve a pony with laminitis, but would you starve an ill person? It is vital that the pony with laminitis receives a fibrous diet supplemented with minerals and vitamins to keep their metabolism working. By restricting fibre intake too much you may risk inducing hyperlipaemia. This occurs when high levels of fat are released into blood in response to starvation and can be fatal.
  3. Give them a high fibre diet – It is a good idea to have your hay analysed to establish its feed value (Dodson and Horrell offer a forage testing service for a small fee). If your hay was found to have a high feed value, you could try soaking it for 12 hours before feeding it. This will "leach" some of the energy from the hay – thereby helping to reduce your horse’s calorie intake. Another method of providing a high fibre, low calorie diet, which can help to control weight gain, is to “dilute” the hay with good quality oat straw (50:50). However, feeding straw is not advised for horses with dental problems because straw is coarser and less digestible then hay and does require thorough chewing. Straw is also not advised for horses prone to colic.
  4. Avoid lush grass – The flush of grass growth in spring and autumn are well-known risk factors for laminitics, but I would also recommend that you avoid frosty pasture in the winter. Recent research suggests that the fructan concentration in grass is higher at this time. If you do need to turn out on frosty grass then may I suggest that you provide hay in the paddock to discourage them from eating the grass until it has thawed. Using an equine muzzle or strip grazing can also help to limit your horse’s grass intake.
  5. Feed a balanced diet – Forage alone will not provide your horse with all the essential minerals and vitamins, particularly the antioxidants she requires. To ensure your pony receives a completely balanced diet I recommend feeding a feed balancer e.g. Ultimate Balancer. Ultimate Balancer also contains MSM, an anti-inflammatory, which may help to reduce any inflammation as a result of the laminitis. Alternatively you could feed a fully fortified chaff such as Safe & Sound. Both Ultimate Balancer and Safe and Sound contain Dodson and Horrell’s unique Quality Life Care (QLC) antioxidant package.
  6. Important new research carried out by Dr R. Neville and Dodson and Horrell has shown that horses and ponies suffering from chronic laminitis produce higher levels of free radicals in their body.
  7. These free radicals damage the body's' cells and tissues including muscles and DNA, through the process of oxidation. Furthermore, it is now thought that free radical damage may actually be involved in the pathology of laminitis.
  8. Dietary antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium and copper neutralise free radicals, thereby preventing them from damaging the body.
  9. Studies by Dodson and Horrell have shown that the best way to enhance the total antioxidant defence system of the horse is to feed a combination of classical dietary antioxidants and key plant components (Lowe, 2002). For instance, the horse can only use vitamin E once, although if other antioxidants are present vitamin E can be recycled and used to neutralise more free radicals.
  10. Providing supplementary antioxidants in the diet of horses and ponies prone to laminitis is essential. Many Dodson and Horrell feeds contain QLC, a unique antioxidant package.


What is the difference between a feed balancer and a normal concentrate feed?

A feed balancer is designed to be fed in small quantities, to provide a concentrated source of nutrients such as protein and micro-nutrients so that horses who are only fed forage will receive a balanced diet. Ultimate Balancer is formulated to be fed at just 100g/100kg bodyweight per day.

A conventional concentrate (pellet or mix) is designed to provide an additional source of calories and therefore the quantity fed will be much higher, and is dependent on the horse’s calorie requirement. For example, Competition Mix is formulated to be fed at a rate of 600g/100kg bodyweight per day. Normal concentrate feeds, when fed at the recommended level, will also supply all the micro-nutrients your horse needs for health and well-being.

What is the difference between fast and slow release energy and why does it matter?

Every food ingredient has an energy value, or level of calories that it provides.  These calories are used for fuel for cells within the body.  If this fuel is not used immediately then it is stored as either glycogen within the muscles or as fat.

These calories can come from carbohydates (cereals, sugar within grass and hay), oil (added to the diet or present in some cereals such as soya) or fibre (present in varying amounts in most ingredients but higher in forages).

Carbohydrates (starch and sugar) are digested in the horse’s small intestine, broken down into glucose, which is absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream.  They therefore provide ‘fast-release’ energy with a quick increase in blood sugar levels from around 1-4 hours after eating them.  This is useful for speed and sparkle and we use it for horses who are showjumping, playing polo, some dressage horses and those who need extra ‘oomph’.  Competition Mix is an example of a feed that provides plenty of fast release energy.

Oil is digested in the small intestine and broken down into complex fats, which are absorbed into the bloodstream and processed by the liver.  They can then either be stored or used as fuel.  Fibre is digested in the large intestine, or ‘hindgut’ and broken down into volatile fatty acids, which are also used as fuel.  The process of converting and releasing energy from oil and fibre takes a relatively long time; energy is released from 4-8 hours after eating them.  Oil and fibre provide ‘slow-release’ energy, which is ideal for stamina.  We use them in eventers, hunters, endurance horses and also in excitable or fizzy horses. Staypower Cubes and Muesli are an example of a feed that provides plenty of slow release energy.


What should I feed my excitable, fizzy horse who is competing regularly?

For horses prone to excitability we recommend feeding a diet lower in starch and sugar to avoid any potential ‘sugar rushes’ caused by dietary carbohydrates.  Instead, we provide calories from non-heating fibre and oil.  An ideal product is Dodson & Horrell Staypower Cubes, which are low in starch and sugar but provide all the nutrition your horse needs to compete.  We do suggest using the cubes rather than the muesli, as the mix is slightly higher in sugar so may not be as effective at avoiding unwanted fizz!