The Quarter Horse Feeding Guide

American Quarter Horses, or known as simply Quarter Horses, are the most popular breed in the United States. They are even quite popular around the world. Their versatility, athleticism, agility, and good nature makes them a favorite among many horse owners. Thus, proper nutrition is vital for their overall health and well-being.

Properly feeding a quarter horse will not only impact their athletic ability, it also helps them maintain an optimal body condition and prevent the onset of various equine digestive disorders. Furthermore, nutrition is also very important in managing various genetic diseases that are seen in a higher prevalence with Quarter Horses than other breeds.

Understanding the Nutritional Needs of Quarter Horses

Like any other horse breed, Quarter Horses require balanced diets to ensure they meet their daily nutritional needs. Quarter horses come in many different phenotypes, meaning some have small frames, others large frames. Some Quarter Horses are easy keepers, while some may be hard keepers.  Their ability to do all sorts of jobs or participate in a multitude of disciplines is what makes them so popular. All in all, there are general feed guidelines that every horse owner should follow.

Some key aspects to remember:

  1. Forage. Good quality forage should be the foundation of any horse’s diet. Either through a well-maintained pasture or feeding high-quality hay; forage is critical to maintaining a horse’s digestive health. It is also the cornerstone of the diet, providing the horse with most of its daily nutrient and energy needs. Horses require a minimum of 1% of their body weight per day in forage, with an optimal 2% to 3% per day.
  2. Horse Feed. For some horses, good quality forage or hay may not always be enough to meet their daily nutritional needs. Thus, these horses will need some supplementation with horse feed. Which horse feed to consider will depend on the horse’s age, activity level and individual needs.
  3. Macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates (NSC), fiber, and fats). Horses need these nutrients in higher quantities as compared to the other animals. Again, how much your horse needs each day will be dictated by their age, activity level, and individual needs. Recent research is showing that horses are doing well with lower NSC and higher fat diets. However, some horses may need more NSC in their diets than others.
  4. Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Many of these are provided in the horse’s forage or through natural body processes (i.e., B vitamins from hindgut microbes). However, many forages throughout the world are often deficient in critical nutrients, like selenium. Thus, to ensure horses meet their daily needs, it is always advisable to add a fortified horse feed or ration balancer to their diet to ensure no deficiencies exist.
  5. Supplements such as prebiotics, probiotics for digestive health, and even glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate for joint care. Specialized supplements are more widely accepted today as being essential to equine health. Thus, most are often included in quality horse feeds.

Again, it is important to remember that how much you feed and what you feed will depend on your individual horse’s needs. For example, a racing Quarter Horse will require much more energy and other nutrients in its diet as compared to a retired horse on pasture. However, both will need some sort of horse feed or ration balancer (and potentially other supplements) on top of their forage to ensure they maintain optimal health. It is always advisable to speak with an equine nutrition consultant when deciding on what to feed your horse.

Common Disorders in Quarter Horses

While some equine disorders, like laminitis and colic, are seen across all breeds of horses, there are some specific disorders that affect Quarter Horses more than other breeds, including:

  1. HYPP (Hyperkalemic Periodic Paralysis) is a genetic disease affecting Quarter Horses and stock horses with a Quarter Horse lineage. This is a muscle disorder affecting the sodium ion channels in muscle and potassium levels in the blood. Afflicted horses need diets low in potassium. Thus, they should avoid hays like alfalfa, brome grass, and blue grass due to higher levels of potassium. Pasture is usually acceptable regardless of the type of forage due to its high moisture content. Horse feed low in potassium, such as Kalm N EZ®, should also be used.
  2. PSSM (Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy) Type-1 is another genetic muscle disorder affecting Quarter Horses. Horses afflicted with PSSM Type 1 should be fed diets low in NSC and higher in fat. Multiple feeds offered by Tribute® can fit these requirements.
  3. PSSM (Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy) Type-2 and Myofibrillar Myopathy. Like PSSM Type 1, these are other muscular genetic disorders that can impact Quarter Horses. While diets low in NSC and higher in fat may be beneficial, horses impacted with these diseases really need quality amino acids in their diet. These amino acids come from quality protein. Thus, adding a ration balancer, like Essential K® or Wholesome Blends® Balancer, that is fortified in quality amino acids on top of the horse’s regular feed can give that extra, needed support.
  4. Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS). This can affect most any horse, but is often seen in Quarter Horses. EMS is a metabolic disorder characterized by insulin resistance, obesity and even laminitis. Afflicted horses need to be fed diets low in NSC and need other weight management measures, such as daily exercise.
  5. Heaves (Equine Asthma). A catch all term for any horse that may have allergies and difficulty breathing. The focus should be to reduce dust and mold in hay. Owners with a horse suffering from heaves should purchase the highest quality of hay possible with the least amount of dust and mold. Soaking or steaming hay can help reduce any potential allergens. In the most extreme cases, horses can even be taken off hay and given a complete feed.

Take Home Message

Feeding Quarter Horses requires careful attention to their nutritional needs to ensure their overall health, performance, and longevity. Owners are encouraged to always provide a diet that includes high-quality forage and a quality horse feed to ensure their horses receive all the nutrients they need daily. Unfortunately, some Quarter Horses do suffer from genetic disorders. However, with careful management and being proactive, you can help these horses continue to lead productive and healthy lives. Finally, it is always advisable to speak with an equine nutrition consultant on your horse’s specific needs. Our team would love to help guide you in your decisions on what to feed your horse.

Article By: Chris Mortensen, Ph.D.
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