Teeth & Diet

Teeth

 

A horse has two sets of teeth during its life and just like we lose our baby teeth, a horse loses his milk teeth during his first few years of life with a permanent set replacing them.

 

An adult horse should have forty teeth (count yours, how many do you have?) They have:

Teeth diagram one

 

Teeth diagram two

 

You can work out how old a horse is by looking at its teeth. Here’s how:

   

It is very important to look after a horse’s teeth as they need them to eat and chew their food. There are equine dentists who rasp or “float” horse's teeth. This is a bit like filing your nails although most horses like having this done and find it very relaxing. The dentist just has to be careful his fingers don't get chomped by the horse!

 

Diet

Now we know all about their teeth, we can look at what horses eat. Firstly, horses are vegetarians, so don't eat any kind of meat.

 

They are very selective about what they eat and they use their whiskers, lips and incisors to feel and choose the food they want. Horses eating hay for example will use their whiskers to feel a rough bit of hay which is too hard to digest and will push it aside with their lips. They may pick up the soft hay surrounding it and shake it between their incisors to free it from the nasty, rough bit.

 

Horses are grazers, which means their stomachs are designed for them to eat constantly. This works best in the wild where horses have to exercise to look for grass and will wander many miles in a day whilst grazing. However once horses are confined to a paddock or stall, they need to have their diet modified so they don't become too fat. It is also better to feed them little and often, rather than two big feeds a day.

 

It is also very important that a horse has access to a supply of fresh, clean water that can be monitored to make sure they are drinking.

 

Both humans and horses need to eat some of the following to remain fit and healthy. See some sources of different food groups in the table below:

 

Food Group Horses Humans
Protein

Peas and beans, linseed oil, oats or barley

Lean meat, lentils, beans

Carbohydrate

Peas and beans, oats, barley or maize

Potatoes, pasta, rice, bread

Fibre

Sugar beet, bran or hay

Fruit and vegetables, bran flakes!

Vitamins

 

 

Minerals

 

 

Fats and Oils

Linseed or sunflower oil

Butter, oil, cheese

     

 

A horse needs to eat about 2.5% of its bodyweight every day. A fully fit racehorse will weigh around 480 kg so will need to eat about 12kg of food a day!

 

Of that about 70% should be concentrate, such as oats, barley or maize and 30% should be roughage or bulk, such as grass, hay and bran.

 

A pony will need to eat that in reverse, i.e. 70% roughage and 30% concentrate - that is provided of course that the pony is being exercised!

 

Vitamins and minerals may need to be supplemented at different times in a horse's life. Before a mare gives birth or foals, she will need extra calcium in her diet to help her produce milk. For the first three month's of the foal's life she will continue to need extra calcium.

 

Young thoroughbreds from a year old to when they are fully grown may need extra protein and vitamins to help them develop their bones and muscles.