Horses evolved grazing on grass. Your horse should be able to get most of his nutrition from a well-managed forage pasture. However, most horses still need some supplementation to maintain top performance. Good grooming practices also ensure their best health.

Supplement Their Feed

The average 1100-pound horse needs at least 11 pounds of roughage daily. A complete commercial feed supplements this hay requirement with grain and mineral supplements. Meals should be small and occur several times per day at regular intervals to prevent digestive problems. Do not overfeed, or the horse may founder. Any food or supplement added to a horse’s diet takes 45 to 72 hours to pass through his digestive tract. Give your horse constant access to clean, fresh water. He needs at least 12 gallons of water daily and may drink up to 20 gallons during hot weather or heavy work.

Regular Grooming

Your horse’s circulation impacts all areas of his health, from muscles to coat to hooves. Good grooming is vital to increase blood flow to the skin and helps you spot health problems early.  Frequent, thorough grooming can help prevent skin and coat conditions such as rain rot.

Rain rot is the most common skin disease in horses. The bacterium stays dormant in the outer layers of your horse’s skin. When exposed to high humidity, high temperatures, prolonged wetness under winter blankets, or biting insects, the bacteria flourishes. If your horse struggles with poor nutrition or does not receive proper grooming, he is more likely to develop rain rot. Rain rot appears as crusty scabs on the skin. When the scabs fall off, clumps of hair go with them, leaving bare spots on the horse’s skin. Insects and shared grooming tools may spread the infection among horses.

To Bathe or Not?

Only bathe your horse if he is so dirty that good currying will not get him clean. Too-frequent bathing leaves your horse with dry, itchy skin and a dull coat. Some farriers also worry about the impact of frequent bathing on hoof health. If you must bathe your horse, use the least amount of shampoo possible. Add the shampoo to a bucket of water and sponge it onto your horse. After scrubbing him, rinse every trace of the shampoo out of his coat. Follow up with a sponge-down of water plus conditioner or light oil to replace the shine. Take care of your horse’s mane and tail after his bath using a detangler. Use your fingers to work the conditioning detangler through the hair and to tease out any knots or burrs. Only use a comb on the mane and tail after the finger grooming is complete.

No amount of grooming or coat care products can make a horse look healthy if his diet and circulation are sub-par. Learn proper good grooming techniques from a professional if possible, and talk to your vet about supplementation to maintain your horse’s optimum health. For help estimating your horse’s dietary requirements, good sources include your local agricultural extension or the National Research Council’s Nutrient Requirements of Horses.

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