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  • #203124
    FT Editor

    We all want the best for our horses but how many of us are led by the latest product promoted by your feed supplier and how many of you understand the need for your horse to have access to forage 24/7.

    The most basic approach toward keeping your horse healthy is realizing that horses are “trickle feeders.” This means that they require a continuous supply of small amounts of forage. Horses in their natural setting will graze virtually all day, while taking approximately 2 hours each day to rest (though not at all one time). This is a very important concept to understand because a horse’s digestive system needs to have food in it most of the time, in order to avoid digestive problems. Horses’ stomachs, unlike our own, produce acid continually and if a horse consistently goes for more than 3 hours without anything to graze on, the excess acid can produce ulcers, as well as diarrhea, behavioral problems (because the horse is in pain), and even colic.

    Chewing produces saliva, which acts as a natural antacid, so if a horse has no hay or pasture, he will chew on anything he can to create saliva; some horses will start to eat their own manure. Furthermore, not eating is very stressful for horses, which results in the secretion of stress-related hormones. These hormones promote fat storage. So, putting an overweight horse on a “diet” by reducing hay consumption actually works in reverse — it promotes more weight gain. In addition, the reduced forage availability will make his metabolic rate slow down, causing calories to be burned at a slower rate. This, too, results in weight gain.

    Horses are capable of self-regulating their intake when given the chance. If they are only offered a set amount of hay at a time, they will likely eat it very quickly and will be anxious for more. But if given all they want, they will overeat at first (for a week or less) and then, once they see that they can walk away and relax and the hay will still be there when they return, they will calm down and eat only what they need to maintain a healthy weight.

    Pasture and/or hay offered free choice will affect how your horse behaves. The more you treat your horse like a horse in the wild, the calmer and more cooperative he will be. He needs to graze continuously, and he also needs to be able to interact with other horses. Negative behaviors such as cribbing, pawing, and irritability are often alleviated by feeding more hay and providing turnout with his buddies.

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