Good nutrition is important for all horses but especially young horses. From the time a foal is weaned at 4-6 months of age to maturity, physical and mental growth is at an all time high. This is such a critical time that a horse can actually be stunted physically and mentally if not properly fed during those growing years.
Many horse owners mistake a big pot belly on a young horse for the horse being overweight. Unfortunately, many horse owners then put the horse on a “diet” by cutting the amount of the horse’s feed to try to reduce the big belly. This is a big mistake that can have devastating results. By feeding the horse more instead of less, the big pot belly will disappear.
Feeding weanling and yearling horse’s a good junior horse feed that contains 14 to 16 percent protein will ensure the horse is getting the proper amount of nutrition to grow and mature to their full potential.
Horse feeds are generally grouped into three groups. Pelleted feeds, sweet feeds and complete feeds. By far the best feed is a complete feed, but these horse feeds can be very costly. A good second choice for horse owners on a budget is a high protein pelleted feed.
Sweet feeds are a not a good choice for young growing horses, as these feeds are generally very high in sugar and carbohydrates which equals a lot of empty calories. Sweet feeds do have some nutrition, but it would be like feeding young children a lot of candy bars. While those children would get “some” nutrition, mostly what they would get would be sugar and empty calories that would not help them grow and mature.
Good quality hay is also paramount to feeding young horses. If you are unable to get good quality hay in your area, consider feeding a complete feed as these feeds include hay such as alfalfa in every pellet. However, keep in mind that horses have an innate need to chew and should always be supplemented with hay even when feeding a complete horse feed.
All horse owners should familiarize themselves with the “body condition score” or BCS of their horses. This is a great tool to use to determine if your horse is underweight, overweight or just right. The University of Maine has a great web page that explains how to arrive at a body condition score for your horse. umaine.edu/publications/1010e/