Every Horse Needs These Five Things
By Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D.
It's easy to spend a fortune on the next fancy feed, supplement or gadget. Sure, there are plenty of worthwhile products that may very likely improve health and reverse illness, but none of them truly matter without meeting these five foundational principles. These are true for all horses, regardless of age, breed, condition, or purpose. Even seasonal or regional variations do not alter these.
Here is what every horse needs. Period.
Water - the most important nutrient
It must be plentiful, clean, and of the right temperature to encourage horses to drink. A horse at maintenance, living in a temperate climate will require a minimum of 1 gallon per hundred pounds of body weight. For the 1100 lb (500 kg) horse, that equates to 5.5 to 11 gallons (21 to 42 liters) per day.[i] However, his demand for water will increase with activity and warmer temperatures. Here are some factors to consider:
Salt is required daily, regardless of the season
In cold seasons, salt helps promote that all-important water consumption. In warm seasons, supplemented salt replaces what is lost from perspiration. A full-sized horse requires at least one ounce (two level tablespoons or 30 ml) of salt each day for maintenance -- this much provides 12 grams of sodium. Heat, humidity, and exercise increase the horse's need. There are several ways to accomplish this:
Forage is the foundation of the diet - it must flow through the digestive tract 24/7
Horses are grazing animals and are designed to consume forage virtually all day and night, only taking a few minutes here and there to rest; this also includes ponies, minis, donkeys, and mules. There are many reasons why your horse must always have hay and/or pasture:
Don't let anyone scare you into thinking that feeding hay free-choice will damage your horse. Please read "Equine Digestion - It's Decidedly Different" to empower you with the knowledge needed to help your horses.[v] Hay testing and commercially available "slow feeders" are worthwhile for many horses.[vi]
Replace what hay is missing
Many horses rely entirely on hay for their forage needs. Is hay nutritious? Not very. Hay is dead grass; it no longer contains many of the vitamins, omega 3s and omega 6s it once had as living pasture. It does, however, contain protein, carbohydrates, and minerals, and is a significant source of energy. Consider the following to fill in the nutritional gaps:
Add a comprehensive vitamin/mineral supplement that offers what hay is missing -- beta carotene (or vitamin A), vitamin D, and vitamin E.
Movement, companionship and shelter are vital necessities
Horses need to move and have the protection of a buddy. Standing in a small area for hours on end (even if part of it is outdoors) takes its toll on your horse's mental and physical health. So does being isolated from buddies. The stress can be so great that it dramatically diminishes your horse's quality and length of life by compromising his immune system and hormonal responses. We see the effect in a vast variety of health issues:
Horses also need shelter from harsh weather. This can best be accomplished by offering your horse the option to make choices. Barn stalls that can be entered and left at will through open gates allow your horse to decide what is most comfortable.
Horses are individuals and may need additional nutrients and care, but covering the basics of water, salt, forage, necessary supplementation, movement, stress reduction, and shelter will optimize your horse's foundation for a lifetime of vibrant health.
[i] Chastine, M.N., 2009. You can lead a horse to water... The University of Montana Western Equine Studies Program.
[ii] University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment. 2015. Blue-green algae poisoning in horses. The Horse. http://www.thehorse.com/articles/29469/blue-green-algae-poisoning-in-horses
[iii] Consider Redmond Rock or Himalayan salt. Redmond rock products available at http://gettyequinenutrition.biz/products/redmondrock.htm
[iv] Please read articles related to insulin resistance, overweight, and leptin resistance found by clicking on "Library" at
[v] Getty, J.M. 2013. Equine Nutrition - It's Decidedly Different. Available at or online bookstores.
[vi] A variety of slow feeders is available at Dr. Getty's Free Shipping Store:
[vii] Nutra Flax and U.S. Chia can be found at Dr. Getty's Free Shipping Store. Other sources such as high-DHA algae from a vegetarian source and Camelina oil are also available.