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Understanding the Three Main Categories of Horse Feed

Have you ever wandered the aisles of the feed store in complete overwhelm? There are so many options! Even if you know what brand you want to feed, you still have to determine which particular category of feed is best for your horse and how much to feed. Let’s break it down, so the next time you seek out feed for your horse you can shop with confidence.

First off, it is essential that good quality forage is the number one component of the equine diet. While the forage will supply the majority of the nutrients and energy in the equine diet, it is almost always necessary to feed an additional concentrate (also referred to as grain or feed) to provide the added nutrients and digestible energy that the forage isn’t providing. Horses have unique caloric and metabolic needs. These needs change throughout a horse’s life and are based on numerous factors (example: health status and quality of hay available). It’s important to select a feed based on the body condition and life stage of the horse. There are 3 main categories of feeds that I will discuss below.

Ration Balancers

Ration balancers can be compared to a daily vitamin and mineral for humans, plus a shot of protein. They are typically fed at 1-2 lbs. per day. Ration balancers are a great option for horses that don’t need the additional calories provided by the higher feeding rate of a performance feed-think easy keeper. They are also excellent for horses who thrive on pasture alone, as well as overweight horses with metabolic challenges.

Performance Feeds

Performance feeds, sometimes referred to as all-around feeds, have a minimum feeding rate of 4-8 lbs. per day. Performance feeds are most appropriate for horses that need more than hay alone to maintain condition and/or equine athletes who need fuel to perform. Note that not all performance horse’s need to be on a performance feed. If they maintain their weight easily, it’s possible they can be perfectly supported on forage and a ration balancer alone.

Complete Feeds

Complete feeds have forage (hay) built into the feed and are fed at a feeding rate of 6 lbs. or more per day. Complete feeds are often called senior feeds, but it’s important to note that not all senior feeds have hay built in. If necessary, complete feeds can be fed at a high feeding rate to supply the horse’s entire daily food intake, including vitamins, minerals, protein and roughage. Complete feeds are an excellent choice for horses who cannot chew properly, have a limited ability to digest long stem forage, have limited access to quality forage or have reached true senior status.

It’s important to note if you aren’t feeding the minimum amount of concentrate for each of these categories, it’s very possible that your horse might be deficient in specific nutrients. Be sure to feed at the recommended rate for the chosen category to avoid this happening.

Still have questions about which feed is best for your horse? Or do you have other equine nutrition related questions? Contact me at to inquire about how my services as an equine nutrition consultant can best help you and your horse!


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