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Feeding Draft HorsesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · October 17, 2011

Despite their large size, draft horses have a lower energy requirement than light horses, which may be due to their slower metabolism and a calm demeanor that reduces many calorie-burning activities. It is typically easy to maintain condition on draft horses. Overweight animals will have fat deposits on the neck, over the back, and in the hindquarters, particularly around the tailhead.

A common nutritional problem encountered in these easy-keeping drafts is undersupplementation of key nutrients in their diets. If they are on a low-grain or forage-only diet, they are likely receiving inadequate quantities of vitamins, minerals, and possibly protein. However, feeding a commercial feed at the recommended rate for the horse’s weight can easily result in obesity.

A low-intake feed or balancer pellet is one option for these horses. These feeds are formulated without high-calorie ingredients, yet supply all of the protein, vitamins, and minerals needed to compensate for nutritional inadequacies of the forage. 

If the horse already has enough protein in its diet, feeding a well-formulated vitamin and mineral supplement might be an alternative. If the animal is fed low-quality forage and has no access to pasture, protein deficiency may be an issue.

A balanced mineral and salt blend designed to be fed free choice is another possible option. If the animals refuse it, the recommended amount can be mixed in a small amount of concentrate and fed daily. The mineral mix should be designed specifically for horses, as general livestock minerals are not properly balanced to meet the requirements of horses.

The most helpful change for managing dietary conditions found in draft horses, which include equine polysaccharide storage myopathy, Cushing’s disease, insulin resistance, and laminitis, is the replacement of starch and sugar calories with fiber and fat calories. Maintaining a high-forage diet is also pivotal. Fat and alternative fiber sources (such as beet pulp and soy hulls) can be added if the horse requires additional calories.