Claudia Macleay and Petra Buckley
School of Animal and Veterinary Science, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, NSW, 2650,
This study investigated the feeding and management practices of Australian horse owners. Horse owners were contacted via e-newsletters, Facebook, and email to complete the online survey. Information was collected on demographics, current feeding practices, management practices and pasture condition. Quantitative analytical methods included descriptive statistics, Pearson’s chi-square test and a multivariable analysis performed in IBM SPSS. There were 4265 eligible surveys on 5464 horses used in the statistical analysis. Most horses (87%) had daily access to grazing areas, but participants reported that 59% of horses were kept in paddocks that were overgrazed, with a heavy reliance on supplementary feeding. Almost all horses (97%) were fed one or more roughages daily and 80% of horses were fed one or more commercial pellet, premix or grain concentrate daily. While only 20% of participants recorded their horses to be obese, this proportion is likely to be an underestimate, because when pasture intake estimates and reported rations were combined, the results of nutritional analysis showed that 97% of horses were receiving digestible energy above the National Research Council (NRC) (2007) recommendation and it is likely that many animals were overweight. Australian horse owners are underestimating the nutritional content of pastures and overestimating the nutritional requirements of their horses, placing horses at risk of obesity related health problems. Australian horse owners need to recognise that well-managed pastures can provide horses with their daily nutritional requirements and this pathway is a long-term, cost-effective way of feeding horses that also reduces health and behavioural problems.