Did you know that there is a special law protecting animals?
This law is called the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Welfare Act says that animals in your care must be provided with an environment and care that meets their five welfare needs. These welfare needs are five important conditions that animals need to be healthy and happy. These five welfare needs are called the five freedoms.
One of these Freedoms is: freedom from hunger and thirst. In this section, you will learn about this freedom and how you can make sure your horse has what he/she needs to be freed from hunger and thirst.
Horses are herbivores; this means they eat only grass and plants like cows, sheep and other farmed animals. However, the horse’s digestive system is completely different to many other animals. Horses have a monogastric stomach (one large stomach) and a very large intestine.
This specialised digestive system is what helps your horse be able to digest a large amount of grass and plants and gain nutrients from these to be fit and healthy.
You should never feed anything to your horse that an adult hasn’t checked first. If you feed your horse something he/she shouldn’t eat, your horse could get very sick.
Horses need a lot of water, especially when it is hot. Some adult horses will drink up to 50 litres a day! You’ll need to make sure your horse can get to his/her water at all times, 24 hours a day.
Horses don’t like dirty water - if you give your horse dirty water he/she will become sick because horses cannot vomit, to bring the water back up and out, like us humans can. Therefore, you’ll need to regularly make sure your horse’s water is clean and free of any contaminants like dirt or algae.
You should use a strong, heavy trough or a concrete water tank for your horse so that he/she cannot knock over the water.
Horses also do not like their water ice cold, so make sure the water is nice and cool for your horse without being too cold!
The main part of your horse’s diet should be pasture. This includes grass, clover, and other pasture plants. Horses love pasture and will feed on it often for 9 hours a day, sometimes more.
If you have good quality pasture and lots of it, then your horse will only need a diet of pasture and a small amount of hay. If your horse is eating mainly pasture, the pasture must be of good quality. However, your horse should not have unlimited access to pasture - if your horse gets too fat or eats too much rich food, he/she can get sick.
You can also offer commercial food to your horse if necessary; this comes in the form of grains or pellets and is sometimes called ‘supplemental feed’ or ‘hard feed’. However, this is only recommended if your horse is not eating enough pasture, is missing key nutrients or if there is another specific reason that your horse needs a high energy diet.
If you feed pasture, hay and a commercial grain food to your horse, he/she could easily end up overweight and get sick. It is a good idea to get a veterinarian or another experienced horse owner to check the quality of your pasture.
They should be able to tell you if your horse should be eating a commercial diet as well, or if pasture and hay will be enough for your horse.
If you feed your horse supplemental feed, this food will need to be kept stored away in a dry, shaded space. If this food is kept outside, it should be wrapped up tightly and kept in a shed or some other safe place.
This will stop the food from spoiling and keep it protected from any wild rats or mice that might be hungry! It is also very important that your horse’s hay stays dry and doesn’t become wet or dusty.
Horses can get very sick if hay becomes wet and mouldy. Therefore, you will need to make sure your horse’s hay bales are covered up properly and stored in a shed, or if they are left outside, they should be covered securely with a tarpaulin or another waterproof material.
You should never feed your horse grass clippings from mowing your lawn. Grass clippings can be very dangerous to horses. Grass clippings are too small for horses to eat, meaning they will swallow them whole. Your horse needs to properly chew his/her food before swallowing it because of the horse’s special stomach.
Saliva is made when you chew, and your horse’s saliva does a special job of processing their food. If your horse swallows without chewing, the grass will not get digested properly and instead could make your horse very sick. Remember, horses can’t vomit, so if your horse gets sick from eating grass clippings, he/she won’t be able to vomit this backup. Instead, the grass clippings will give your horse a very sore stomach and could even cause serious damage and make your horse very sick.
Your horse will eat a lot of pasture, so your horse’s pasture will need to be carefully looked after to make sure it is enough for your horse to eat.
If your horse has finished eating all the pasture in one area, ideally you should have another area of pasture that your horse can graze on. This is called ‘rotating your pasture’. Otherwise, an adult can get hay (dried pasture) to give to your horse when the grass has run out.
You can help your pasture grow back faster by looking after it well. An adult will need to water the area and can also apply fertilisers to the ground. This is a special product which helps the grass grow back faster and healthier. By doing this, you are making sure your horse always has a new fresh supply of healthy pasture to graze on.
Remember though, if you run out of a good pasture and are waiting for it to grow back, you will need to feed more hay to your horse and may need to feed your horse supplemental feed which we described earlier.
Since horses eat mainly pasture and other roughage (hay or grain), they can need an extra source of some nutrients that they need to be healthy.
Therefore, it is recommended that you allow your horse access to a mineral lick/block. These are special rock like, hard blocks which contain important ingredients in them such as salt, calcium, cooper, iodine, selenium and zinc, which may be lacking in your horse’s diet.
These ingredients will help your horse stay healthy and fit. Your local farm store will be able to find you a mineral lick/block that is made especially for horses.
There are some plants that are poisonous to horses. These plants should never be fed to horses and your horse should not be allowed access to areas where these plants grow either.
If a horse were to eat one of these plants, he/she could become very ill and possibly even die. Some of the plants which are poisonous to horses include:
Please note: this is not a complete list of all poisonous plants.
You can find out more about other poisonous plants by checking in library books or access information on the internet through a well respected and reputable organisation.
An adult will need to check to make sure that your horse’s area has none of these plants present. If you suspect your horse may have eaten something poisonous, you should tell an adult and call a veterinarian right away.