There are so many feed choices for horse owners these days and selecting the right feed for your horse can be a challenge.

Then, when you think you’ve found the right feed, you may be further faced with a decision on which form of the feed to select, as many horse feeds come in pelleted and textured forms.

Pelleted feeds are likely the most common form of horse feeds seen on shelves today. With advancements in equine nutrition and feed manufacturing, it is now possible to create a horse pellet that is perfectly balanced for almost any horse. In general, once a horse feed is formulated, all the ingredients are reduced into fine particles, treated (usually with steam) to increase digestibility and made into a slurry. This slurry is then pushed into a die cast to make the pellet. The formed pellets are then removed and allowed to be cooled before bagging.

The advantage of a pelleted feed is the uniformity of ingredients. Each individual pellet has the exact same nutritional value. This eliminates a horse that may be a picky eater from selecting which ingredients of a feed they will consume. With each bite of a pelleted feed, the horse will be receiving the same amount of nutrition as the next bite. Additionally, when compared to textured feeds, pelleted feeds generally can be stored longer. Finally, pelleted feeds can be easily soaked and made into a mash, which can be advantageous for senior horses, or if an owner needs to mix in medicine or supplements.

One major perceived drawback of a pelleted feed is that some horses may consume them rather quickly, often called “bolting” of their feed. Horses who bolt their feed are at greater risk of choking. To slow down an aggressive eater that bolts their feed, some suggest placing rocks or other items in the feed bucket to force the horse to sort their feed. Others also suggest soaking the pellets to slow down intake or feeding more times per day to reduce a horse’s anxiety around feeding time and meal size. Horses can choke on any type of feedstuff, including hay or grass, but for horses that consume pellets too quickly, a textured feed may slow down their rate of consumption.

An example of a quality pelleted feed would be Kalm ‘N EZ® Pellet. Some highlights of this pelleted feed include:

  • Higher fat and highly digestible fiber to support performance and ease of digestion.
  • Optimal balance of essential nutrients and calories.
  • Added pre- and probiotics to support digestive health.

Textured horse feeds are usually a mixture of pellets (or extruded nuggets), grains, and even small bits of forage or other sources of fiber. Textured horse feeds are often still referred to as “sweet feeds.” This is because historically, textured feeds were usually mixed with molasses to make them more palatable for horses. However, due to the increase in equine metabolic disorders and concerns with high levels of non-structural carbohydrates (NSC) in a horse’s diet, feed companies shy away from adding molasses to their textured feeds.

Compared to textured feeds of years’ past, today’s textured feeds are formulated to provide the optimal nutrition for a horse. An example of a quality textured feed would be Kalm ‘N EZ® Textured. Some highlights of this textured feed include:

  • A small inclusion of whole oats as a lower NSC source of digestible energy.
  • A low NSC pellet to provide a balance of essential nutrients and calories.
  • Added pre- and probiotics to support digestive health.

The addition of whole oats to Kalm ‘N EZ® Textured affects some nutritional values. For example, dietary starch (max) is 11.5% in the textured form versus 9.5% in the pelleted form. However, both feeds are nearly identical in nutritional value.

The general thought on textured feeds is that they are the most palatable to a horse and encourage picky eaters to eat. Other advantages cited are that textured feeds make it easier to mix medication or top dress supplements.

A major disadvantage of a textured feed is that they may allow horses to sort their feed and select what they want to eat. This could lead to a horse missing out on critical nutrients. As an example, a horse being fed Kalm ‘N EZ® Textured could theoretically just eat all the oats and leave the pellets behind. Thus, the horse would miss out on the added amino acids, vitamins, minerals and pre- and probiotics included in the pellet.

All in all, which feed to select will highly depend on your individual horse’s preferences and needs, as well as yours. For example, if located in more humid or colder regions, a pelleted feed may be more appropriate, as they are slightly lower in overall moisture content. When it comes to horse preference, picky eaters would probably be best off with textured feeds.

As we know, selecting which feed is right for your horse or operation can be confusing, please contact us anytime for advice on putting together a feeding plan for your horse!

Nicole Rambo, Ph.D., Chris Mortensen, Ph.D.