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Feeding Horses Grain Once Per Day: The 5 Pound Rule Explained

Feeding Horses Grain Once Per Day: The 5 Pound Rule Explained

Feeding Horses Grain Once Per Day: The 5 Pound Rule Explained 

Feeding Forage (Hay & Pasture) 

Feeding horses a forage-based diet is essential for their overall health and well-being. Horses are natural grazers, and in the wild, they graze throughout the day, consuming small amounts of feed continuously. Providing your horse with constant access to good quality hay or grass ensures they receive the necessary nutrients and maintain a healthy digestive system. A forage-based diet also mimics the horse's natural feeding habits, preventing health issues such as colic and ulcers.

Many horse owners recognize the importance of providing their equine companions with a diet that consists primarily of forage, whether it be from pasture, hay bales, or a combination of both. Horses don't necessarily need grain, as their nutrient requirements can often be met through forage alone. However, the specific feeding plan for each horse will depend on factors such as the horse's body weight, workload, and individual needs. Feeding smaller meals of hay throughout the day, possibly using a slow feeder or hay net, can help keep the horse's digestive system functioning optimally. In situations where horses aren't able to graze, providing them with flakes of hay at regular intervals can simulate their natural feeding patterns. Always remember to feed by weight, not volume, to ensure your horse is receiving the proper amount of hay and nutrients.

How Much Grain to Feed a Horse

Determining the appropriate amount of grain to feed a horse can vary depending on individual factors such as the horse's age, body weight, workload, and overall health. It's important for horse owners to create a specific feeding plan tailored to their horse's unique needs. Many horses don't need grain, especially if they have access to high-quality forage. However, there are cases when grain can be a beneficial addition to a horse's diet- while many horses do just fine with hay and a ration balancer, performance horses in hard work, lactating or pregnant mares, or growing horses may require additional calories. 

When considering how much grain to feed, it's crucial to consult the feed manufacturer's recommendations and measure the feed by weight rather than volume. When adjusting your horse's grain intake, do so gradually over a period of 7-10 days.

The 5 Pound Rule 

Feeding a horse more than 5 pounds of grain in a single meal can lead to various health issues, as the horse's digestive system is not designed to process large amounts of concentrated feed at once. Horses are natural grazers, and their gastrointestinal tract is adapted to break down forage throughout the day in smaller, more frequent meals.

Overloading a horse's small intestine with excessive grain can cause a rapid fermentation process, leading to an imbalance in the gut's pH levels. This environment is conducive to the growth of harmful bacteria and toxins, which can result in colic, laminitis, and other serious digestive disorders.

Moreover, when large quantities of grain bypass the small intestine and enter the hindgut, it can interfere with the natural fermentation process that occurs in the cecum and colon. This disruption in the horse's natural digestive process can lead to discomfort, inflammation, and even ulcers.

Horses should never be fed more than five points of grain feed at one time. 

Grain Feeding Tips

If possible, reduce the horse's grain intake by evaluating the kind of hay you feed and replacing it with a higher quality forage. We understand that some horses may need grain regardless. In this case we recommend feeding multiple smaller meals- twice a day or even three times a day. The more feedings per day, the better off he will be. 

Feeding horses smaller, more frequent grain meals can significantly impact their overall health and well-being. By nature, horses are designed to graze throughout the day, and their digestive system is better suited to process smaller quantities of food at a time. Adapting the feeding schedule to align with their natural grazing habits has several benefits.

Firstly, it helps maintain a healthy digestive system. When horses receive multiple smaller meals, their small intestine can efficiently absorb nutrients and reduce the risk of colic. Constant access to forage or providing hay bales can help mimic their natural grazing patterns, further promoting healthy digestion.

Secondly, smaller meals help regulate energy levels throughout the day, ensuring that your horse doesn't experience sudden spikes or dips in energy, which could lead to unwanted behavioral issues or lethargy. This feeding strategy is particularly beneficial for "hot" horses or those with high energy requirements due to their workload or temperament.

Thirdly, horses that receive smaller, more frequent grain meals are less likely to develop ulcers. Providing forage throughout the day can help buffer stomach acid and decrease the chances of ulcer formation.

Lastly, individualizing your horse's feeding program based on its specific needs, age, and activity level is crucial. Horses at home may require different grain rations than performance horses, and it's essential to consider these factors when creating a feeding plan. Consulting a veterinarian, nutritionist, or local extension agent can help ensure you're providing the right balance of nutrients for your horse's well-being.


It's essential to understand that every horse is unique and will have individual feeding requirements. To ensure your horse stays healthy and happy, it's best to feed them a forage-based diet supplemented with grain when necessary. Remember to adapt the feeding frequency according to their needs, providing smaller meals a day instead of one large meal. This approach will allow your horse to eat at a pace that suits their natural grazing habits and will help maintain their overall well-being.

When feeding grain, be mindful of the amount of work your horse performs and adjust the grain intake accordingly. It's crucial to find the right balance for your horse, as too much or too little can lead to health issues. Feeding grain twice a day or even more frequently, in smaller amounts, can help maintain a steady energy level and support their digestive system.

Keeping a close eye on your horse's behavior, performance, and body condition can help you fine-tune their feeding regimen. Don't hesitate to consult with an equine nutritionist like me for guidance on developing the perfect feeding plan. Our consultations are always free. 


1 comment

  • Cyndy

    I have a 25 year old mare pony. I have a new job schedule and I can now only feed once a day. I give her four lbs of senior feed with low carb low sugar and 1/2 lb of Timothy pellets. All soaked and extremely wet because of her teeth. She does have hay at all times. Am I on the right path for her?

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