What a horse needs in order to do well when working varies from horse to horse. To get the job done day after day, jumping stumps, a certain amount of roughage to keep a horse’s belly full and teeth wore-in is necessary. Another helping of grain, to keep the engine stoked, is also necessary. Grain is high-powered feed and is digested quickly. It is recommended to work on a light stomach and feed grain after work in the evening. A typical feeding ration allows for 1/2 lb of grain and 1 lb of hay for each hundred pounds of horse that is hard at work.
The thing to keep in mind is to be observant of the horse’s condition and attitude. Although grain is a necessary, it is like candy is to a child for some horses, and those horses cannot take the same ration of grain other horses can. Even others should not have grain at all. Do not feed grain to a hot horse and do not overfeed or allow a horse free access to feed as this will lead to colic and founder.
Horses are sensitive to changes in feed. Care must be taken against overfeeding. “You can kill a horse with kindness.” Overfeeding is one of the ways to be too kind. When your horse is pastured and not doing much, you have to cut back on the hot stuff, grain, or the horse will get too soft and suffer from overweight. Some teamsters believe their horses start to lose muscle tone and “fall off” in less than three days.
There is research by veterinarians at the University of California at Davis that leads to the belief that grass hay is the best hay for horses while alfalfa hay is far too high in protein and calcium and leads to physical problems such as entroliths (stones) and “typing up” (pg. 26.).
Meadow grass, free from weeds or mold and from a regular source, is good for the stallion, mare, or gelding and can be considered the substitute for the natural pasturing a horse needs.
A horse can drink as much as 20 gallons of water a day. It is important to allow a horse free access to water while in pasture or stabled, and it is just as important to control access to water when working. Just like people, horses like a cool drink when they are working, but be very careful when a horse is hot from work especially with very cold water. You can imagine what would happen to you if you were to drink too much cold water after a hard workout. You would likely get stomach cramps and chills. It’s no different with a horse, only the possibility of severe stomach cramps in a horse can lead to colic, convulsions, and death. Let the horse cool down before offering her some water. You can gauge the condition of a horse that is warm by comparing the heat given off by the belly to the heat given off of the back. Holding a hand on the back of the horse and at the same time the belly the horse is considered “cooled-off” when the temperature is cool on the back as it is on the belly.
Sometimes, it is necessary to help a horse cool down from overheating by hosing or washing the legs with cool water. Because large veins in the legs carry heat away from the large muscles of the body, the legs act as radiators and can be effectively used to cool or even warm a horse’s body temperature.