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What do Ponies Eat? Plus Pony Facts Every Owner Should Know

Last updated: January 22, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

My niece and nephew got their first pony and want to ensure it eats appropriately. So they ask me what ponies eat? I had a pretty good idea but decided to do some research to provide them with the best answer possible.

Ponies eat grass, hay, and grain on occasion. A pony typically requires a daily ration of forage equal to 2% of body weight. They may need a mineral salt block if they lack essential minerals in their diet.

Many people buy ponies for their children but don’t know what they eat or how to care for them. To ensure your pony stays healthy, it must have a proper “pony” diet.

Ponies are herbivores.

Ponies are herbivores, which means they get their energy from consuming plants and only plants. Wild ponies eat grass, leaves, twigs, vines, and shrubs, much like a goat.

Most pony breeds evolved in wet and cold climates with rough mountainous terrains. These conditions created characteristics found in all pony breeds- survival on low-quality forage and thick coats to fend off the cold.

Picture of a pony scrounging for forage.
Shetland Pony

For example, Shetland Ponies originate from the Shetland Islands, off the northeast coast of mainland Scotland. The Shetland Islands have a harsh climate with sparse vegetation.

Ponies can survive on very few calories.

To survive, ponies had to develop into extremely hardy animals to sustain themselves with minimal caloric intake. In other words, they’re easy keepers and put on weight without much effort.

Being an easy keeper sounds excellent in principle, but in reality, it can be a problem. Ponies can survive on sparse foliage but also easily put on excessive weight. This condition often leads to obesity.

Because ponies can survive on minimal food, they are easy to overfeed. Improper feeding practices lead to overweight ponies and affect over one-third of the domesticated population.

Ponies that are obese are susceptible to equine metabolic syndrome, laminitis, and insulin resistance. These devastating diseases can be avoided by following proper feeding practices.

Ponies eat hay or grass.

A healthy pony only needs hay or grass to maintain proper body weight. Obesity is a serious concern and should be avoided at all costs; limit grass and hay with high carbohydrates.

Forage is essential to a pony’s diet; however, rich grass or hay can cause digestion problems. Have your hay tested to ensure your pony isn’t eating grass hay that is too rich for their well-being.

Healthy hay for your animal should be around 10 percent carbohydrates. For information on testing your hay, you can click this link.

Picture of ponies.

Hay is grass or other plants cut and dried for animal food, particularly for grazing animals. Hay is especially useful to supplement or control a pony’s diet.

Hay is made from grass and legumes.

Two groups of plants are used to make hay: grass and legumes. Within those two groups are many varieties. However, not all of them are available or grown in every region of the country.

Their protein content is the most significant difference between legume hay and grass hay. Alfalfa hay, which is legume hay, typically has a protein level of 15 to 20 percent.

Ponies don’t need high-protein hay.

High protein hay is ideal for young horses, horses in training, or mares in foal. However, it’s not suitable for a typical pony. Grass hay, on the other hand, has protein levels of around 10 percent, much more in line with your pony’s dietary requirements.

The following are some of the benefits of grass hay offers over legume hay for your pony:

  • Lower Carbohydrate levels
  • Lower protein levels
  • Lower energy content
  • Higher fiber
  • Lower calcium levels

The nutritional composition of hay made from different plants also varies by moisture content and phosphorous levels. When choosing hay for your pony, look for one with a carbohydrate level of around 10 percent.

Picture of a pony grazing.

The carbohydrate of hay is sometimes referred to as NSC, Non-Structural Carbohydrates. NSC content reflects the amount of sugar and starch in grass that’s broken down and absorbed in the bloodstream as glucose.

Ponies typically have low insulin resistance and should avoid eating hay with high NSC levels. Grass hays usually have a high fiber content with low levels of NSC and protein. The nutritional composition of grass hay typically satisfies a pony’s appetite without adding extra calories and sugar to their diet.

Grass hays

The following grass hays typically are suitable for feeding ponies:

  • Timothy-
  • Bermuda
  • Barley

Ponies can overeat on grass.

If you have a pasture full of rich grass, your pony could over-eat and become grossly overweight. You can use a grazing muzzle to limit the amount of grass it eats or feed the pony hay in a stall or paddock to control its weight.

Some owners don’t want to subject their pony to a grazing muzzle. But limiting grazing and reducing its weight is the action of a responsible owner. Obese ponies are susceptible to developing painful and debilitating diseases.

Hay is fed to ponies without access to pasture grass or ones kept in a stall. Hay is made from a wide variety of grass with different nutritional values and caloric properties. Choosing the correct type of hay is critical to the health of your pony.

Ponies typically don’t need feed concentrates.

Few ponies need concentrated feed as a part of their diet. Feed concentrates are whole grains or formulated feeds such as sweet feeds or pellets. The average pony should maintain its health on a diet of good forage.

Picture of a Welsh Pony eating feed.
Picture of a Welsh Pony

The only times feed concentrates should be added to a pony’s diet is when the animal is not getting all the nutrients it needs from hay alone. If you suspect your pony is missing some nutrients, check with your veterinarian and follow his advice.

Depending on the hay and your pony, he may recommend adding a mineral supplement to its diet instead of concentrated feed. We fed the Welsh pony grain during Winter when he had little forage in his paddock.

Ponies may need minerals added to their diet.

Ponies need salt in their diet, which they get naturally from grass and hay. But if you believe they’re not getting enough, contact your veterinarian and ask him to run a simple blood test.

A blood test will assess the minerals in your pony’s blood, and the veterinarian will advise you of any mineral deficiency. Sometimes all that is necessary is to allow your pony access to a mineral block.

An obese pony is prone to develop laminitis.

A chronically obese pony is at risk of becoming insulin-resistant and developing pasture-related laminitis. Equine laminitis is an inflammation of the soft tissue that attaches the coffin bone of the pony’s foot to its hoof wall.

The inflammation and associated structural damage to the coffin bone is excruciatingly painful and can lead to hoof instability. Laminitis can cause debilitating lameness.

Obesity, insulin resistance, and associated laminitis are conditions termed equine metabolic syndrome (EMS).

Picture of a Shetland pony in a pasture.
Shetland Pony

You should monitor your pony’s body condition.

The shetland pony pictured above is almost twenty years old and is a highly active family pet that still enjoys life. He could stand to lose a few pounds, but overall he is doing fine.

To check the condition of your pony, you can use the Henneke Equine Body Condition Scoring System. This body condition test is frequently used to determine horses’ fitness but can be applied to ponies.

The Henneke Equine Body Condition Scoring System (BCS) applies objective criteria to a horse or ponies’ body fat content to determine its fitness level.

Another method to evaluate your pony is with a standard equine measuring tape. I recommend a combination of both. Use the BCS to determine fitness level and the measuring tape to evaluate gains and losses of some regions of the pony’s body.

If you bring home an obese pony, don’t start it on a drastic weight loss plan. Ideally, you want to slowly get your pony to its correct weight under controlled conditions.

Below is a helpful YouTube video that covers what ponies eat.

YouTube video

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