Slower Feeding is Safer Feeding for Horses

A better equine feeding system will offer small amounts of grain and forage over many hours.

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Horses evolved as wandering herbivores, moving slowly for hours and taking bites of whatever forage they came across in their rambles. Modern feeding practice is quite different, with some horses given all-day access to rich forage, an invitation to obesity. Other horses are confined to stalls and given two or three large grain meals each day. Between flakes of hay with high carbohydrate content, there are often long hours when these horses have nothing to eat. It should not be a surprise that metabolic problems and gastrointestinal upsets are quite common in today’s horses.

Horse owners and managers are listening to equine nutritionists who advise a return to a more natural management system. Simply stated, a better system will offer grain and forage over many hours, but the horse will be able to access only a small amount at a time. Acquiring the necessary devices and teaching your horse to use them will pay off in the long run, and your horse could be more likely to avoid colic, gastric ulcers, obesity, and the stable vices that sometimes spring from boredom.

To decrease forage intake for horses that are out on pasture, try one of the following:

  • Use a grazing muzzle. These devices have small holes in the end so horses can eat, but the amount that they get in each bite is restricted.
  • Put the horse in a stall or drylot for part of each day. A drylot allows room for the horse to exercise, but he can eat only what you provide instead of gorging on grass.

There are a number of devices designed to decrease speed and amount of hay consumption. An Internet search will turn up a variety of ingenious styles including nets, boxes, barrels, and tubs that hold a lot of hay, so they don’t have to be filled too frequently. The idea behind all of the devices is the same: bars, ropes, or nets block direct access to large mouthfuls of hay. The horse can pull out only small bits at a time, mimicking natural feeding behavior and keeping the horse interested and occupied for long periods of time

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