- David Welsh
- WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Forestry and Consumer Sciences
Drought conditions can take a terrible toll on horses, but observant owners can help
mitigate the ill effects of the long, dry summer on their animals. Paul Lewis, a professor
of animal and veterinary sciences in the West Virginia University College of Agriculture,
Forestry and Consumer Sciences, offers the following suggestions to help horses beat the
- If pasture grazing isn't available, replace it with hay. Concentrated feed isn't the
best alternative to pasture, and it should not comprise more than 50% of the horse's diet.
The horse must have a minimum of 1 pound of roughage per 100 pounds of body weight per
- Reserve the highest quality hay at your disposal for your youngest and oldest horses.
Senior animals are less resistant to drought conditions, and their younger counterparts
require more nutrients to grow. Monitor changes in weight loss or body condition score.
Choose concentrates with higher levels of fat and protein for both younger and older
- During a drought, the horse's daily dry feed intake (from hay, pasture, and concentrate)
should be at least 1.5% of their body weight.
- Water intake is critical. The horse will need at least 1.5 to 2 quarts of water per
pound of feed it consumes daily or approximately ½ gallon per 100 pounds of body weight.
This is particularly true for active animals or animals in a high-temperature environment.
- Equally important is water quality. It should be high; water should be free of algae and
microbial growth. If water looks discolored (blue-green, in particular), don't make the
horse drink it.
- Active animals, or horses under training with a moderate level of intensity, require
particular attention. Owners should monitor the animals' calcium, phosphorous, and mineral
balance. Owners may also consider a feed with a fat level higher than 6% to help the
animals maintain good health and increased energy density in the ration.
- Monitor noxious, opportunistic weeds in areas where horses might graze. These plants can
thrive in drought conditions, and horses aren't as discerning as ruminants when it comes
to plant matter. Pull weeds when possible, or isolate your animals from places where they