top of page

Nutrition For The Foal And The Young Growing Horse

The development and growth of the body of the foal and young horse influences the horse's performance in adulthood. The most influencing factor for physical development is the horse's genes. However, nutrients from the diet also influence the development and growth of the body 1. A balanced diet supports growth and development and thus prevents orthopedic problems caused by a deficiency or excess of nutrients, which affects the well-being of the horse 2.

During the first months, the foal receives the necessary nutrients through the mare's milk. The first feed that the foal receives after birth is the mare's colostrum. Colostrum contains energy, nutrients and components that are important for building up the foal's immune system to defend itself against possible germs 3. It is important that the foal ingests the colostrum as soon as possible after birth because the metabolism in the body is high but the foal has no physical reserves to provide the body with energy 4. In addition, the period in which the mare produces colostrum is short and the composition of the colostrum changes within 12 hours after the birth of the foal 3.

| "Nutrients from the diet also influence the development and growth of the body."

Within the first thirty days after birth, foals gain between 1.3 and 1.5 kg/day in body weight 5. Energy from the diet is important for the maintenance of the body and weight, energy also provides support in the growth of the body 6. Amino acids, which come from proteins from the diet, are the most important building blocks for the development and growth of the foal 6. Proteins are important, for example, for the formation of collagen, an important component for the development of joints and for enzymes necessary for the development of body tissues 6. The minerals and trace elements calcium, phosphorus copper, zinc, manganese and vitamins A, D and E are mainly important for the development of bones and joints 6. When the foal is about two months old, only the mare's milk does not meet the nutrient and energy needs of the foal. Studies show that when the foal is about 2 months old, the roughage intake increases and the intake of the mare's milk decreases 7. As a result, the intestinal flora is able to convert fibers from the roughage into volatile fatty acids around the age of 2 months. supplying the body with energy 7,8.

To provide the foal with the right amount of protein, energy, vitamins and minerals, the diet can be supplemented with a foal pellet, specially formulated to support the growth and development of the body. It is also important that the foal has access to sufficient roughage 9. Concentrates must be introduced gradually to the foal to prevent rapid growth spurts 3. If the foal is offered too much concentrate too quickly and the amount of energy and protein from the diet exceeds the requirement, this can result in rapid growth spurts that can affect the development of the bones which can lead to orthopedic developmental diseases 3,10. However, a shortage of nutrients also affects the growth and development of the body3. It is therefore advised to regularly assess the body condition score of the foal. The BCS can be used as a tool to monitor the amount of energy available from the feed, so that the diet can be adjusted in case of excess or shortage of energy from the feed 3.

When the foal is around 6 months old, it can be weaned from the mare. Because the weaning of the foal can be experienced as stressful, it is important to monitor the weight and growth of the body. Due to stress, the weight of the foal can decrease too quickly and therefore affect growth 6. Research shows that introducing concentrates but also roughage before weaning causes less stress during weaning 11. Due to less stress during weaning and because it foal is used to the feed that is given after weaning, the body weight decreases less quickly. After weaning, the foal's diet is based on high-quality roughage and concentrates to provide the foal with the nutrients that are important for further growth and development of the body 12.

To provide the foal with the right amount of protein, energy, vitamins and minerals, the diet can be supplemented with a foal pellet, specially formulated to support the growth and development of the body. It is also important that the foal has access to sufficient roughage 9. The adult size of the horse is reached between 5 and 7 years. Nutrition mainly influences the growth and development of the body during the first two years 6. It is therefore important to regularly check whether the nutrient needs of the young horse match the available nutrients from the diet. If this does not match, it is advisable to adjust the ration to the needs of the horse. In short, an appropriate diet to support the growth and development of the foal's body optimizes the well-being and performance of the adult horse.


1. Hunka, M. M., Cordeiro Manso, H. E. C. da C., Bernardo, R. B., da Silva, E. R. R., Ferreira, L. M. C., & Manso Filho, H. C. (2014). Development and Body Composition of Quarter Horse Foals during Nursing. Open Journal of Veterinary Medicine, 4(11): 277-280. 2. Glade, M.J., & Belling, T.H. (1984). Growth plate cartilage metabolism, morphology and biochemical composition in over- and underfed horses. Growth, 48(4): 473-482. 3. Becvarova, I., & Buechner-Maxwell, V. (2012). Feeding the foal for immediate and long-term health. Equine Veterinary Journal, 44(41): 149-156. 4. Kinsella, H. M., Hostnik, L. D., & Toribio, R. E. (2022). Energy endocrine physiology, pathophysiology, and nutrition of the foal. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 260(3): 83-93. 5. Buechner-Maxwell, V.A. (2005). Nutritional support for neonatal foals. Veterinary Clinics of North America - Equine Practice, 21(2): 487-510. 6. Staniar, W.B. (2013). Chapter 12 - Feeding the growing horse. In Geor, R. J., Harris, P. A., & Coenen, M., (Eds.). Equine Applied and Clinical Nutrition. Saunders Elsevier: China. 7. Crowell-Davis, S.L., Houpt, K.A., & Carnevale, J. (1985). Feeding and drinking behavior of mares and foals with free access to pasture and water. Journal of Animal Science, 60(4): 883-889. 8. Faubladier, C., Julliand, V., Danel, J., & Philippeau, C. (2013). Bacterial carbohydrate-degrading capacity in foal faeces: Changes from birth to pre-weaning and the impact of maternal supplementation with fermented feed products. British Journal of Nutrition, 110(6): 1040-1052. 9. Grace, N.D., Pearce, S.G., Firth, E.C., & Fennessy, P.F. (1999). Concentrations of macro- and micro-elements in the milk of pasture-fed Thoroughbred mares. Australian Veterinary Journal, 77(3): 177-180 10. Staniar, W.B. (2010). Linking dietary energy and skeletal development in the horse. Revista Brasileira de Zootecnia, 39: 138-144. 11. Hoffman, R.M., Kronfeld, D.S., Holland, J.L., & Greiwe-Crandell, K.M. (1995). Preweaning diet and stall weaning method influences on stress response in foals. Journal of Animal Science, 73(10): 2922-2930. 12. Ralston, S.L. (1997). Feeding the rapidly growing foal. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 17(12): 634-636.


bottom of page