The Digestive System of Horses and the Basics of Feeding

Although there are already many places where you can find information on the digestive system of the horse, it is only logical to start off there and to move forward from there.

In summary, the digestion is basically the process of making food absorbable by the body to use as energy. It does this by dissolving it and breaking it down into simpler chemical compounds. In the horse this is done through the action of enzymes in the foregut (stomach and small intestine) and fermentation in the hind gut (cecum and large intestine).


There are a number of items EVERY horse should have in its diet, especially if he is not allowed to ‘live like a horse’ with 24 hour turnout on pasture or hay available at all times, access to shelter and fresh water.

  • Forage
    All diets should start with forage. At least 1.5 to 3% of the horse’s body weight should be available in forage on a daily basis. (Depending on the energy requirements, determined by workload, environment, stress etc.) A good average is 2% of BW. For a 1000 lb. horse (500 kg), that means about 20 lb. (10 kg) of hay.
  • Water
    Clean, fresh water needs to be available at all times. In very cold weather, water should be temperature controlled and snow is NO substitute!
  • Salt
    Sodium and chloride are essential for many bodily functions of the horse and are needed on a daily basis.