Feeding the Finicky Horse

Health conditions, management changes, and palate preferences can affect a horse’s appetite.
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Feeding the Finicky Horse
There are many reasons why a horse might be finicky about his diet, and it’s important to first determine the cause, especially if the horse is losing weight. | Photo: Alexandra Beckstett/The Horse

As you head into your horse’s stall to feed him his dinner, you notice he hasn’t cleaned up his previous meal. He looks like he might be losing weight, and you wonder what else you can offer him that would spark his appetite.

Like kids who don’t want to eat their vegetables, some horses are fussy eaters; it can be challenging to find ways to get them to eat enough food. There are many reasons why a horse might be finicky about his diet, and Burt Staniar, PhD, associate professor of equine science at Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, says it’s important to first determine the cause, especially if the horse is losing weight. “The thin horse and the picky eater may be interrelated or may be totally different problems,” he says. Before making diet changes, ensure your horse has no underlying health issues you and your veterinarian must correct; otherwise, any diet adjustment alone isn’t likely to help.

“If a skinny horse isn’t eating much, consult your veterinarian,” he says. “Several causes come to mind—such as teeth problems or gastrointestinal (GI) tract problems

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Heather Smith Thomas ranches with her husband near Salmon, Idaho, raising cattle and a few horses. She has a B.A. in English and history from University of Puget Sound (1966). She has raised and trained horses for 50 years, and has been writing freelance articles and books nearly that long, publishing 20 books and more than 9,000 articles for horse and livestock publications. Some of her books include Understanding Equine Hoof Care, The Horse Conformation Handbook, Care and Management of Horses, Storey’s Guide to Raising Horses and Storey’s Guide to Training Horses. Besides having her own blog, www.heathersmiththomas.blogspot.com, she writes a biweekly blog at https://insidestorey.blogspot.com that comes out on Tuesdays.

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