What American Paint Horses Eat: Comprehensive Dietary Guide

If you’re a proud owner of an American Paint Horse, you know how important it is to keep them healthy and well-fed. That’s why we’ve put together this comprehensive dietary guide to answer the question, “What American Paint Horses eat.” From essential nutrients to recommended feeding schedules, we’ve got you covered. So let’s dive in and discover the best ways to keep your horse happy and healthy!

American Paint Horse Overview

Paint Horse Eating Grass with Mountain Background

The American Paint Horse is a breed notable for its colorful and unique coat pattern combinations. Rooted in a rich history, the breed exhibits both remarkable physical characteristics and an even-tempered disposition. This section offers insights into the breed’s history, physical traits, and temperament.

Breed History

The American Paint Horse has its origins in a mix of Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse breeding, establishing itself as a distinct breed with its own unique qualities. The American Paint Horse Association (APHA) was founded in 1962 to recognize stock horses that displayed more white on their bodies than was acceptable for registered American Quarter Horses. Today, the APHA is the second-largest breed association in the United States.

Physical Characteristics

Physically, American Paint Horses are known for their well-balanced, stocky, and robust frames. They have powerful hindquarters, making them ideal for various equestrian disciplines. Their coats exhibit vibrant patterns which consist of various combinations of white and other colors, creating visually striking appearances unique to each individual horse. These horses are generally shorter compared to other lighter horse breeds, as described in Pet Keen.


Regarding temperament, American Paint Horses are known for their calm and personable nature. They are suitable for both experienced and beginner riders alike, as they are intelligent, docile, and eager to please. The breed’s even temperament makes it versatile and adaptable to different situations and environments.

Equine Nutrition Basics

For American Paint Horses, keeping them healthy involves providing a well-rounded diet and understanding their nutritional requirements. In this section, we will go into detail about the different types of feed and the essential nutrients required for these horses.

Types of Feed

When it comes to the diet of American Paint Horses, the foundation is forages, such as pasture grasses, legumes, and preserved hays. According to the Merck Vet Manual, equine animals like American Paint Horses can use these forages as the major or sole source of nutrition due to their ability to ferment these feeds in the cecum and large colon. Additionally, concentrate feeds like grains can be included in their diet to fulfill energy requirements, especially when forages alone are insufficient.

Nutritional Requirements

American Paint Horses require six main classes of nutrients to survive: water, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Rutgers University’s Equine Science Center states that the most important of these nutrients is water, as horses cannot live long without an adequate and clean water supply. Generally, horses drink about 2 quarts of water for every pound of hay they consume.

In terms of macronutrients, carbohydrates and fats provide the necessary energy for daily activities and overall health, while protein helps with muscle growth and repair. Micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, play a crucial role in maintaining a horse’s health. The Penn State Extension explains that the minerals of concern in a horse’s diet are calcium, phosphorus, and salt. In some geographical areas, selenium, copper, and zinc deficiencies are also a concern, particularly for growing horses. To ensure optimal health, it is important to balance these nutrients in the diet of American Paint Horses.

Feeding American Paint Horses

A beautiful brown and white mare paint horse grazing

The diet of an American Paint Horse should be a balanced mix of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals, specifically tailored to their needs. In this section, we’ll discuss various components of their diet, which include forage and hay, grains and concentrates, and supplements.

Forage and Hay

As herbivores, American Paint Horses primarily consume plant-based foods. Their diet should consist largely of forages, such as fresh grasses and hay. Paint Horses benefit significantly from grazing on nutritious grasses, shrubs, and trees in fieldssource. Timothy hay, alfalfa, and clover are examples of hay types that these horses can eatsource.

Forage and hay provide the necessary fiber for a healthy digestive system and should make up the majority of their daily intake. Keep in mind, however, that the quality and quantity of forage should be adjusted according to the horse’s age, weight, and activity level.

Grains and Concentrates

In addition to forage, American Paint Horses may also be fed grains and concentrates for added energy and nutrients. Common grains in their diet include barley, soybeans, oats, corn, flax, and wheatsource. These grains can be provided as whole grains, pellets, or in a specially formulated commercial horse feed mix.

It is essential to monitor the horse’s weight and ensure they are provided an appropriate amount of grains to prevent weight gain and obesitysource. Consult with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist for recommended amounts based on the specific needs and condition of the horse.


Depending on the horse’s individual needs, supplements can be added to the diet to ensure optimal health. Supplements can provide additional vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients that may not be present in their primary diet. However, care should be taken to avoid over-supplementation, as this can lead to nutrient imbalances and potential health issues.

Before adding any supplements to the American Paint Horse’s diet, consult with an equine nutritionist or veterinarian for guidance on the appropriate choices and amounts needed for the specific horse.

Feeding Considerations

White light brown paint horse eating grass

When determining the appropriate diet for an American Paint Horse, several factors need to be taken into consideration, including the horse’s life stage, activity level, and any specific health concerns. In this section, we will explore each of these factors and provide guidelines to ensure your Paint Horse receives the necessary nutrients for a healthy, happy life.

Life Stages

Like all horses, the nutritional requirements of an American Paint Horse will vary at different stages of life. From foals and growing horses to adult and senior horses, each life stage has unique nutritional needs to support growth, activity, and overall health.

Foals and growing horses require diets that are rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals to support their rapid growth and development. As horses mature, their dietary focus shifts towards maintaining optimal body condition and supporting their workload. Mature horses will benefit from a balanced diet of grasses, hay, and specially-formulated commercial feeds, which provide essential nutrients such as protein, vitamins, and minerals1.

Senior horses may have additional dietary requirements due to age-related changes in metabolism, dental health, and digestive efficiency. They may require higher-quality forages, additional supplementation, or specific feed formulations to ensure they receive the necessary nutrients.

Activity Level

The activity level of an American Paint Horse also plays a significant role in their dietary needs. Horses that are involved in more demanding physical activities, such as endurance racing, eventing, or working on a ranch, require more energy and nutrients to support their increased workload.

A diet consisting of grasses, hay, and commercial feeds may need to be adjusted to cater to the specific needs of highly active horses. These adjustments may include increased caloric intake, supplemental fat sources, or additional protein and micronutrients to support muscle development and repair2.

Health Concerns

Some American Paint Horses may have dietary restrictions or special needs due to health concerns. Conditions such as metabolic disorders, allergies, or gastrointestinal issues may require adjustments to a horse’s diet to ensure their wellbeing.

When managing a horse with health concerns, it is crucial to consult with a veterinarian, equine nutritionist, or other knowledgeable professionals to create a tailored dietary plan that addresses the specific needs of the individual horse. This may include specialized feeds or supplements, adjustments to forage quality or quantity, or specific feeding strategies to manage the horse’s condition effectively3.

Monitoring and Adjusting the Diet

Brown Paint Horse Eating grass in winters

An American Paint Horse has specific dietary requirements to maintain its health and well-being. As a horse owner, it is essential to monitor and adjust the diet regularly to ensure proper nutrition, weight maintenance, and overall health. This section will provide information on assessing the Body Condition Score, identifying signs of nutritional imbalances, and adjusting the horse’s diet accordingly.

Body Condition Score

A crucial aspect of monitoring your American Paint Horse’s diet involves assessing its Body Condition Score (BCS). The BCS is a practical system used to determine a horse’s overall body fat and muscle coverage. It is essential to monitor the BCS regularly, as it provides valuable insights into your horse’s current physical condition, helping you make any necessary dietary adjustments.

There are nine levels in the BCS scale, ranging from 1 (emaciated) to 9 (extremely obese). An ideal BCS for an American Paint Horse is between 4 and 6, where the horse has adequate fat coverage across its body without appearing overweight.

Signs of Nutritional Imbalance

Several indicators may signal possible nutritional imbalances in your American Paint Horse. These signs include, but are not limited to, changes in weight, alterations in coat quality or appearance, digestive issues, reduced energy levels, and behavioral changes. It is essential to pay close attention to these signs, as they may indicate underlying health problems or a need for dietary adjustments.

If you notice any of these changes, consult your veterinarian or an equine nutritionist to help identify potential deficiencies or excesses in your horse’s diet. They can provide recommendations for adjusting the feed, including modifying the balance of hay, grains, fruits, vegetables, and supplements.

Adjusting the Diet

When making adjustments to your American Paint Horse’s diet, it is essential to do so gradually. Rapid changes can cause digestive issues and stress for your horse. Aim to introduce new sources of hay, grains, or supplements slowly, allowing your horse’s digestive system to adapt.

In addition, consult your veterinarian before making any significant changes, especially if you suspect a nutritional imbalance. They can help ensure that any modifications are appropriate and safe for your horse, reducing the risk of health issues.


In summary, the American Paint Horse, like all horses, has herbivorous feeding habits and thrives on a diet consisting of various plant-based foods. They feed primarily on grasses, but also consume a range of other plant materials such as hay, grains, and certain fruits and vegetables. Owners often supplement their horses’ diets with additional nutrients like alfalfa, soybeans, barley, oats, timothy hay, corn, flax, wheat, and clover (source).

Providing a well-balanced and nutritious diet for an American Paint Horse is essential in maintaining their overall health and well-being. Access to quality hay, grass, or pasture, supplemented with grains, can keep a paint horse healthy both inside and out (source). It is important to note that overfeeding must be avoided, as the breed has a tendency towards obesity (source).

While nutrient requirements may vary from horse to horse, a general guideline to follow is to provide a mix of grasses, hay, grains, and select fruits and vegetables. Certain vitamin and mineral supplements may also be necessary, depending on the individual horse’s needs.

Overall, the key to a healthy American Paint Horse is providing a careful balance of plant-based foods in their diet while being mindful of the horse’s individual needs and avoiding overfeeding. Proper nutrition plays a significant role in ensuring the longevity and vitality of these beautiful animals.