feeding messy eaters

Q.My horse is a messy eater who’s always looking around between bites and dropping his feed on the ground during meal time. What suggestions do you have to prevent waste and ensure he gets all the feed he needs?

—Via e-mail

A.When we spend our hard-earned money on feed for our horses the last thing we want is for them to waste it by dropping it all over the ground! This can be a frustrating habit. Just this week I watched a mare at our trainer’s barn merrily toss her hay pellets out of her bucket. Evidently, she used to get grain she found more enticing, and she attacks her hay pellets in the vain hope that she’ll find the better tasting grain at the bottom of the bucket.

Beyond just wasting money, this behavior prevents other concerns. If the horse does eventually decide to eat feed knocked out of the bucket, he could consume sand or other debris if the stall has a dirt floor or is bedded with shavings. For this reason, placing rubber mats under where the horse is fed and keeping bedding away from the area is ideal.

Trial and Error

If you feed in a wide shallow pan on the ground, placing large smooth rocks in the feed bucket might help. These make it hard for the horse to swing his head side-to-side. They also have the added benefit of slowing down feed consumption, so this is also a good solution for horses that bolt their grain.

Another option is to add water to the feed to make a soup. This won’t stop some horses from just slopping that out of the bucket. However, for others, this will be enough of a deterrent and has the added benefit of getting them to consume more water, which is always a good thing.

You could also place her feed bucket inside of a far larger container (such as an empty water trough) so any spilled feed is still contained. Of course, you could just put the feed in a large, high-sided container and the forego the feed bucket completely.

While they don’t work on all types of feeders, rubber rings called “feed-saver” can be placed on the top of certain feeders. This ring narrows the bucket’s opening while also creating a lip around the bucket, so if the horse does swing his head the feed will be prevented from falling out of the feeder. There are some feeders on the market that have a built-in lip like this. The down side to these types of feeders or rings is that they make bucket cleaning difficult, especially when the feeder is bolted to the wall.

Hopefully with some trial and error you can find a way to curtail your horse’s enthusiastic eating habits and keep more of his food where it’s supposed to be: inside his bucket!