horse diet based on activity

The Right Horse Feed Based on Activity Level

Different Feed for Different Horses

Properly feeding a horse is like properly feeding a teenager on the high school track team

Without the right mix of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, the track runner loses steam down the stretch. Likewise, an improperly fed horse will be less than hot to trot when it comes time for them to work or be ridden.

A balanced diet is the best course of action for improving a horse’s work output, athletic performance, and overall health and energy

The basics are simple. Overfeed a horse and she’ll become overweight. Underfeed a horse, and she’ll be underweight.

So when her feeding regimen perfectly refuels the calories burned during her daily activity, you’ve hit the sweet spot

However, all horses are not created equally.

An actively training racehorse needs a whole lot more calories than a pleasure horse or an elderly horse. So understanding your horse’s caloric needs is vital (more on this later).

But for now, let’s discuss three basics behind feeding your horse a balanced, and healthy diet.

1. The Rule of Forage

Even though this is an article about grain, we can’t forget that most pleasure or trail horses will get most of their diet from grazing. In fact, most horses should be getting the lion's share of their calories from hay and pasture.

As a rule of thumb, your horse should be eating about one or two percent of their body weight in forage, like grass and hay, each day.

Keep your horse stalled often? Keep hay in front of their stall so that they can replicate their natural habit of eating, taking a break, and eating again.

2. The Rule of Consistency

Make sure you have a handle on how much your horse’s typical ration weighs. Weigh it out at home or ask your Murdoch’s representative to help you out.

Once you know how much a day’s worth of grain weighs for your horse, measure and dispense it the same way, day in and day out. Sticking to a routine keeps your horse regular, and healthy.

3. Change Feed Gradually

Don’t spring a change in feed or grain on your horse. Sudden changes in diet can lead to colic or founder.

If you must change your horse’s grain, start by replacing a quarter of the current feed with the new brand every two days. By the end of six days, your horse will be on their new diet.

Murdoch’s Horse Feed Categories

At Murdoch’s, we break our selection of horse feeds into five different categories:

  • Active Pleasure/Maintenance
  • Breeding
  • Growing.
  • Performance
  • Senior

It’s important that you pick the right grain for your horse, based on their activity level and age.

Write down the age of your horse, and how many hours of activity they get per week, and compare your notes against the feed categories below to find your next feed product.

Let’s take a quick look at how these categories of feed differ from one another.

Active Pleasure/Maintenance

These horses tend to be middle-aged, moderately worked horses. For most folks with access to pasture and hay, this is a popular category of feed.

These feeds tend to be pretty basic, balanced, and mildly caloric. They’re great for hobby and trail horses, or even rescued or sick horses, and provide full servings of required vitamins and minerals.

Shop these feeds if your horse gets most of their calories from pasture or hay. Click to shop


These are feeds and supplements for mares, foals, and stallions during the breeding season.

We hate to keep comparing horses to people, but pregnant mares need to eat for two, so to speak, much like your mom did.

Mare and foal feeds typically contain pre and probiotics for digestive support, as well as immune-boosting vitamins like copper, calcium, and zinc. Combined, these ingredients keep your pregnant mare healthy, and ensure that foals grow strong bones and hearty immune systems.

We include milk replacements for foals in our breeding feed category. Use milk replacements if your mare won’t allow her foal to nurse, is communicably sick, or isn’t producing enough milk. Click to shop


These feeds can be for growing foals, or mares with foals by their side. Both growing, and nursing, take a lot of energy out of the respective parties.

Lactating mares are eating for two. Growing feeds typically contain a nice fatty acid profile, as well as a blend of the amino acids and polysaccharides that are usually found in natural mare’s milk to promote bone health.

Added proteins help keep lactating mares at a proper weight, and in turn, help suckling foals and weanlings stay healthy and robust.

Just to be clear, these feeds are for mares and foals. Click to shop


These feeds are for the athletic horse. Some folks call these horses “hard keepers”.

We’re talking barrel racers, dressage horses, and racehorses. These equine athletes have big appetites, and their higher activity levels mean they need a lot of nutritional support to boost muscle recovery and growth.

Performance horse feeds tend to contain lots of fiber and carbohydrates for consistent energy release, and amino acids for muscle development.

Many performance feeds are also great for hard-working horses, particularly those in ranch settings. Click to shop


Aging. Every living being goes through it. In horses, old age can bring some significant physical and dietary changes.

Old horses start slowing down and are less physically active. However, they might have trouble keeping weight and may struggle with chewing and digesting feed and forage.

Senior horse feeds typically include vegetable oils and supplements for maintaining body mass, as well as coat and hoof integrity. Additionally, senior formulas will feature a nice selection of amino acids and fiber to preserve your horse’s muscle tissue, and aid in digestion. Click to shop

The Long and Short of it

Horses can be picky. And horse owners, even more so.

But don’t forget that a fancy blog post can never replace generations of wisdom and an honest veterinarian.

So, ask your neighbors for their feed recommendations, consult with your large animal vet, and never hesitate to find a Murdoch’s representative for their advice and help.

They’re happy to lend it.