Someone new to horses might think the horse, being a vegetarian “hay burner,” couldn’t possibly have an expensive diet. Grass is free, right? But considering most adult horses consume at least 1.5-2.5% of their body weight each day, depending on performance level, this can mean a lot of forage–and in many cases more than what a pasture could provide.
“I encourage owners to budget (to feed) at least 1.5% of each horse’s body weight per day in hay–less if using hay feeders that reduce waste; more if hay is thrown on the ground,” says Julie Wilson, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, of Turner Wilson Equine Consulting LLC, in Stillwater, Minn. “For a 1,000-pound horse, this averages just over 2.7 tons annually.” Hay costs $4-11 per bale but with the current drought in many areas of the southwestern United States, hay is reported as high as $25/bale.
Wilson remarks that pregnant mares, growing foals, and special needs horses, such as those with metabolic syndrome, geriatric problems, and bad teeth, require individualized care that amplifies dietary expenses.
Other nutritional expenses accumulate when horses require calories to supplement forage; these animals might consume complete feeds and/or grain mixes at the rate of 2 to 10 pounds per day. According to Fernanda Camargo, DVM, PhD, assistant professor of Animal Sciences at the University of Kentucky, pre-mixed pellets/grain feeds cost $6-15 per 50-pound bag. Thus, a horse fed 3 pounds daily of concentrate feed goes through a bag every two weeks, costing $12-30 per month. Supplementing fat for added calories is another expense, which varies depending on the product used (e.g., vegetable oil or rice bran).