Feeding Young Horses

Feeding Young Horses

Feeding Young Horses – Hints for Optimal Health and Growth

Whether you’re rearing a foal to sell on or to produce at home, the aim of feeding young horses should be to achieve a sound, healthy and successful athlete for whatever level and type of equestrian use.

Many factors influence the growth and development of foals, however, we are increasingly realising that how we feed and manage our pregnant and lactating mares, as well as their youngstock, can have a profound effect on health and welfare.

Some of the main issues affecting the growth of horses, which can be assisted by appropriate nutrition include:


♦ Bone development

Digestive Health

♦ Immune status

Behavioural development

horse feed bucket with a selection of feed and supplements

Key factors to consider

Protein quality is as important as quantity when feeding young horses, so ideally choose a feed especially designed for breeding stock as this should include quality protein at the appropriate level.

Appropriate antioxidant supplementation may be more important than previously thought; particular attention should be paid to vitamin E and selenium intake during the last 3 months of gestation for potential effects on the immune status of the foal as well as protection against muscular problems.

Vitamins and minerals need to be provided, in adequate amounts and in balance with each other (consider the balance of copper to zinc and calcium to phosphorus in particular). Feeding a quality breeding feed should take care of these levels for you.

The weanling

What should be the main aims of feeding young horses?

  • A steady increase in size and bodyweight (some plateauing may occur over winter etc.)
  • To avoid extremely rapid growth rates
  • To avoid rapid compensatory growth spurts
  • To avoid getting too fat or heavy
feed bows, a shavings fork and a bag of Spillers

Nutritional hints

♦ The foal at weaning must be able and accustomed to eating solid creep feed.

♦ As the weaned foal grows an increasing proportion of the daily gain is fat and less is muscle, so the foal will require proportionally less protein and amino acids but more energy.

♦ In the first year post weaning, compound feed intake should not exceed 70% of total daily intake. For many horses and ponies, far lower compound feed intakes may be preferable.

♦ It may be useful to allow up to 20% extra energy requirements for youngstock kept in-groups or outside. Colts tend to require more energy than females.

♦ Remember the nature of the protein is as important as the amount.

♦ Be careful of excessive iron supplementation; iron deficiency is extremely rare unless there is severe or chronic blood loss.

♦ Ensure adequate trace mineral intake.

♦ It is still advisable to avoid excessive energy intakes allowing foals to become overweight.

a young bucksin foal


Although providing appropriate nutrition during pregnancy, and throughout lactation to the mare as well as to the foal itself, we can not guarantee a healthy and successful adult.

There is increasing evidence in other species as well as the horse to suggest that feeding appropraite nutrition may have short-, medium- and long-term advantages and may help to reduce the risk of certain unwanted conditions, such as Developmental Orthopaedic Disease in Horses. While the above provides a guide and some hints, it may be advantageous to obtain expert nutritional advice in order to ensure the most optimal nutrition at these key periods.

For further advice on feeding call the SPILLERS® Care-Line on 01908 262626

To find out more about the Spillers range visit the website.

You may also be interested in learning more about Developmental Orthopaedic Disease in Horses

With thanks to: Pat Harris, MA PhD VetMB MRCVCS DipECVCN : Clare Barfoot BSc RNutr

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