We all know that horses are trickle feeders, they need to eat for the majority of the day (studies suggest that horses would graze for 16-18 hours in a 24 hour period), it’s good for their digestive system and their mental well being as well.
But what do you do if your horse is a total pig? You just tied the hay net up and he (or she) has wolfed it down in two seconds flat. You can’t just keep giving them more and more hay, this isn’t a sensible option for cost or calories, but you’re worried that they aren’t eating for long enough when stabled. Feeding your horse ad-lib hay sounds like a good idea but most horses don’t actually have an off switch, you can read why this is here.
We all worry about our horse running out of hay, so with that in mind here are 8 suggestions to get your horse to slow down and stop guzzling its hay.
Firstly are they getting the correct amount of hay?
Your horse should be receiving around 2% of its body weight in hay or haylage and supplementary feeding. Some horses may need closer to 2.5% if they struggle to maintain condition, however, we have such a problem with equine obesity that I would advise sticking to 2%. For an overweight horse, it might be necessary to feed 1.5% body weight, but I would only suggest doing this under the guidance of your vet, or a nutritionist. If your horse is overweight or prone to weight gain I would look at ways to reduce calorific intake, ways to increase chew time and slow him down before cutting the quantity. The vast majority of horses need a diet of hay and a small amount of balancer, or suitable low sugar chaff with a vitamin and mineral supplement. If you need help deciding how much to feed your horse then do have a read of this article.
So back to basics- how much does your horse weigh and how much hay are you actually giving? Ideally weigh your horse on a weighbridge, as it is so much more accurate, and get yourself a spring-loaded balance to weigh hay nets on. Many owners have no idea how much they are feeding, which could be detrimental to both your horse’s waistline as well as your bank balance.
1. An appropriate hay net
A hay net with small holes will naturally slow your horse down, as they can’t guzzle the hay as quickly as when it is fed from the floor. However horses aren’t stupid and they soon work out where a larger hole is in a hay net, and before you know it they are eating from an ‘opening’ in the hay net and scoffing the hay down quickly. Investing in some specially designed hay nets would be a good step. Trickle Nets have been designed to slow your horse down, but are tough, virtually impossible to chew through, and are designed to last (if you’ve attended a course you will have a discount code to use with Trickle Net- pop me an email if you need a reminder).
2. A slow down feeder
Some owners would prefer not to use hay nets, and would rather feed their horse directly from the floor. A slow down feeder can be helpful to encourage ‘head down’ feeding, but also reduce the rate that the horse can consume their hay. There are a variety of products on the market, but I would recommend a purpose-built version, rather than a DIY job for safety reasons.
3. Hay net in the center of the stable
Greedy horses and ponies have a habit of pinning a hay net to the corner of the stable and then eating the hay as quickly as possible. Try hanging a hay net from the center of the stable if possible as they will be slowed down when they can’t pin it down.
4. Change the texture
Another option to try is providing your horse with a different texture of hay if you currently feed dry hay only perhaps try soaking a proportion of the ration to see what effect this has on the eating rate. Although wet hay is softer and easier to chew horses seem to eat it more slowly. It will also have the added bonus of helping to keep your horse hydrated (particularly important in the winter months), and will reduce the water-soluble carbohydrate content of the hay, although this does depend on how long you soak the hay for.
5. Make the move
I much prefer horses to live outside, but I appreciate that this isn’t always possible and many livery yards really restrict turnout times in the Winter. Depending on your set up perhaps there is a way of keeping your outside more and making them move for their hay. The use of a track system is becoming increasingly popular, which encourages horses to travel more replicating more natural conditions. Maybe you could use a paddock with hay nets at either end of the field, anything which encourages movement would be helpful.
If it isn’t possible to keep your horse outside more and encourage greater movement perhaps you could split the hay ration up and put it different hay nets around the stable. I have always preferred to use two hay nets, one towards the front and one at the back or side of the stable. This offers some variety for your horse，will slow them down and has the extra advantage of making each hay net a bit lighter to lift.
6. Change the timings
Have you ever checked your horse at 8 or 9 pm at night? You might find that they have run out of hay completely, which makes it quite a long night until 7 or 8 am when you arrive in the yard. It might not be practical to return to the yard again to give your horse another hay net but perhaps someone else could? If you normally finish your horse early evening (maybe 4/5 pm) there are probably others who don’t arrive at the yard until 6 pm after work. Maybe you could pay them, or provide some help in return for them popping another hay net in when they leave.
Splitting the hay ration up into two separate lots at different times is a very effective way of slowing your horse down, and a method that I certainly suggest trying.
7. Treat ball
If you’re concerned that your horse guzzling their hay up too quickly then perhaps you could provide some additional fiber in the form of suitable chaff or cube in a treat ball. Just make sure it’s low in calories and that you take this into account when calculating their overall ration.
8. Mix it up
Increasing the chew time of hay is really important for your horse, and I would be tempted to use as many ways as possible to get the best result. Adding extra hay nets, and splitting the hay ration into two ‘servings’ should be do-able for most owners. The important thing is to get the quantity right in the first place.
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