draft horse diet

Understanding the Fundamentals of a Balanced Draft Horse Diet

Take A Deep Dive Into Draft Horse Diets with Tally-Ho 

At Tally-Ho Carriage Tours, the health and happiness of our equine family is a huge priority. A customized draft horse diet for each horse ensures good health and longevity throughout a horse’s lifetime. As you might expect, a 2000-pound animal tends to pack away a lot of food. 

However, it might surprise you that our hard-working draft horses have slower metabolisms than many lighter horse breeds. Therefore, the daily forage requirements are also less than many other breeds. Each of Tally-Ho’s heavy horses has an individualized feed program based on their specific needs. This program is regularly reviewed and posted in the barn for quick reference.

Just how much do horses eat a day? Take a deep dive with us as we explore the details of draft horse diets, from vitamin requirements to the types and volumes of feed required. 

Body Score Index

The Body Score Index is a standardized system used to evaluate the body condition or amount of stored fat on a horse.  A score of 1 indicates an extremely thin horse, while a score of 9 represents obesity in the equine world.

When assessing a horse’s body condition, we begin with a visual assessment, followed by palpation around the ribs, above the tail, along the neck and withers, and behind the shoulders. Based on the results of these observations, a body condition score can be assigned.

Alongside a horse’s body index score, the following factors are also relevant to avoid overfeeding or underfeeding.

  • Breed
  • Age
  • Availability of Water
  • Weather
  • Reproductive Status
  • Energy Exerted

At Tally-Ho, our goal for each horse is to maintain a body score of 5, representing a moderate or ideal body condition. A horse with an index of 5 will display these characteristics:

  • Neck and shoulders that blend smoothly into the body
  • Rounded withers
  • Ribs that aren’t visible but can be easily felt beneath the skin
  • A smooth and level back
  • A slightly fatty tailhead (i.e. the base of the tail)

For more information, Kentucky Equine Research provides a chart with a detailed breakdown of each score.

What Do Horses Eat?

While food requirements vary depending on the activity levels and seasonal changes throughout the year, local haylage and plenty of water remain constant and are always available to our herd.

What is Haylage?

Haylage is forage that includes quality grass that is baled while moist and then fermented. With a forty to sixty percent moisture content compared to dry hay’s eighteen to twenty-two percent, haylage is an excellent alternative horse feed. 

Are you considering switching your horses from dry hay to haylage? If so, Family Farm Livestock’s comparison of dry hay versus haylage might interest you. 

When our horses are working and away from the pasture, we make a concerted effort to mimic their natural grazing habits. A free-choice horse feed allows our four-legged family to take in as many calories as they require based on their work needs. Free-choice feeding is beneficial for horses that have sensitive guts.

Our beautiful family-run farm is located twenty-five minutes from downtown Victoria on Canada’s West Coast. West Coast soil is deficient in specific vitamins and minerals. 

What can you feed horses when the soil lacks essential vitamins and trace minerals?

To ensure that each member of our herd is getting their nutritional needs met, we test our haylage annually to create a custom balanced diet, including supplementation of nutrients when needed. Some vitamins and minerals we use to fortify the horse’s diet include:

  • Timothy Alfalfa – Builds muscles by increasing protein in the horse feed
  • Vitamin E – Ensures internal systems, including muscles and nerves, function smoothly 
  • Selenium – Optimizes antioxidant defences in the body, supports thyroid function, muscle development, growth and heart health 
  • Magnesium Oxide – Buffers the gut and prevents ulcers
  • Flax – Provides calories, fibre, and is an excellent source of Omega-3 fats
  • Electrolytes – Assists with hydration

Horse Water: How Much Does a 2,000 lb Horse Drink?

Clean and abundant amounts of water for horses are essential. According to the Alberta SPCA, a horse requires five and a half litres of water for every one hundred kg of body weight. That means for a 2,000 lb horse, water intake could be over fifty-five litres per day. 

Several factors, including the amount of horse feed consumed, how hard the horse is working, and the temperature outside, all play into how much water a horse requires. On a hot day, a draft horse can drink a shocking ninety-five litres of water.

Tip: Is your hard-working horse drinking enough? If you answered ‘no’ to this question, consider soaking high-protein alfalfa cubes in water. 

Feeding soaked alfalfa is a strategy that Tally-Ho employs to maintain energy levels and build muscles while our team is hard at work. The adage, ‘You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink,’ is true for many horses. Despite constant access to clean drinking water, some horses choose not to drink while working. In these cases, the soaked alfalfa cubes provide some moisture. 

How Much Does It Cost to Feed A Draft Horse?

A 2,000 lb draft horse requires a minimum of forty pounds of feed per day, approximately two percent of the horse’s total body weight. Our carriage horses eat about fifty pounds of feed in an average day. At the time of writing, this amounts to a staggering $7,000 + per month.

The Tally-Ho Horse Sponsorship Program

Did you know you can help sponsor one of Victoria’s most loved icons? At Tally-Ho, we offer a Horse Sponsorship Program, allowing the public to personally sponsor one of our rare draft horses. When you adopt a draft horse, one hundred percent of your sponsorship donation will go toward helping us to continue providing excellent care to our herd. 

Why Is Horse Diet So Important to Tally-Ho?

Our draft horses are family. And we want our family to be happy, healthy and in optimal condition throughout their lives.

Draft horses, such as Belgians, Percherons, Shires and Clydesdales, are susceptible to polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM), which can cause muscle pain, stiffness and cramping, and equine metabolic syndrome (EMS). Characteristics of a horse with EMS include:

  • Insulin-resistance
  • Being overweight 
  • Prone to laminitis (a painful disease that affects horses’ feet)

Paying careful attention to diet can prevent many of these illnesses from occurring. If an animal falls ill, a simple dietary modification can often go a long way to minimize pain or discomfort.

Each member of our Tally-Ho team is monitored carefully throughout the year and formally checked by our veterinarian twice yearly. A horse’s diet is adjusted throughout the year based on these vet check-ins, and the results allow us to determine how much to feed a particular horse. Find more information on our herd’s diet and nutrition needs

Tally-Ho Carriage Tours – A Well-Fed Horse Is A Happy Horse!

We are very excited to offer special behind-the-scenes experiences at our farm. When you join the Hidden Acres Farm Tour or Grass Roots Horse Experience, you’ll gain profound insights into our herd’s diet, exercise and training regime. Engage with our majestic horses, see where they unwind and play, and discover the intricacies of the specialized harnesses they rely on.

Regardless of your tour, when you visit us, you’ll have ample opportunity to meet the horses, experience their distinctive characteristics and hear their personal stories.  

Join us in celebrating 121 years of outstanding service with Tally-Ho Carriage Tours this year. Contact us today to arrange your tour or special occasion.  We look forward to seeing you soon.