What to do if Your Horse is Dropping Feed

Q. I’m not usually at the barn during feeding time, but this weekend I happened to be and was shocked to find my horse is dropping a lot of grain. It also seemed like he struggled with some of the hay. He’d take a few bites and chew, stop and open his mouth like he was trying to move it around, and then go back to chewing. He’s also dropped a little weight during last month or so. I’m not sure what is going on because he had his teeth floated only seven months ago. Do you have any suggestions?

A. It is always good to spend time in the barn at different times of day so you can observe your horse under different conditions. This is particularly true if you have been dealing with issues of unknown origin.

Based on what you describe, it sounds like your horse might have an issue somewhere in his mouth. Depending on his anatomy or the thoroughness of his last dental, he might need dental work again. A hook or sharp point might be causing your horse’s problem, or perhaps a tooth is broken. Maybe something, such as a small stick or a foxtail seed, is lodged somewhere in the mouth that’s uncomfortable.

You can carefully examine your horse’s mouth and see if you can identify anything obvious or detect a foul odor suggesting an infection. If you decide to hold the tongue to get a better look, be careful not to hold it too firmly or pull on it, because doing so can damage the sensitive structures connecting the back of the tongue to the skull. Also be careful about putting your hand in the mouth, because it’s easy to get your fingers crushed unexpectedly. Don’t try to remove any foreign object yourself, because this should be done by your vet and might require sedation.

Until you can make an appointment with a veterinarian, try to make eating a little easier for your horse by feeding grain as more of a mash by adding water. It doesn’t have to be a slurry—damp will do. Soaking the hay before feeding it will make it softer and more chewable, as well. Soaking it for 30 minutes is adequate for this purpose. If he’s really struggling with long-stem hay, you might want to consider feeding part of his forage ration as soaked hay pellets or soaked beet pulp.

Hopefully, your vet will be able to quickly determine what the issue is and set it straight so your horse can be more comfortable and regain the weight he has lost.