The What & Why of Horse Feeding Behaviour

What, when and how much a horse eats are essential considerations for the management of horses’ nutritional needs and feeding practices.

There is a complex link between equine behaviour and equine digestive anatomy and physiology. Of all the weird and wonderful behaviours we observe from our horses, the one they do most often is grazing.

Horses in the wild will spend up to 70% of their day feeding by way of grazing.

Watch the full Feeding Happy Horses video series on the EquiLivin App.

Horses graze in a particular manner. They will take in a small bite of grass, chew, and then walk a step towards a new patch of grass. This continual grazing of small bites of grass means that there’s a constant trickle of feed being ingested entering into the horse’s digestive system.

This is why horses are called trickle feeders.

As horses feed on grass they are also walking. Wild horses can cover up to 8 kilometres per day as they search for the best grass to graze on. Walking also helps to keep the horses digestive system healthy by promoting intestinal motility. Walking also means that the horses also avoid grazing near manure, which reduces their chance of ingesting parasites.

However, too much grazing can be a serious problem if you have a horse or pony that gains weight easily.

Just as in humans, weight gain can lead to obesity and obesity-related diseases, like laminitis, insulin resistance or equine metabolic syndrome.

Horse feeding muzzle slow feeding

To prevent these conditions, overweight horses and ponies need to have their feed intake controlled.

There are a couple of solutions for this. You could use a grazing muzzle (pictured right) or you could remove your horse from pasture and give yourself total control of your horse’s diet.

If you remove your horse from pasture or if your horse doesn’t have access to pasture, you’re going to need to re-create grazing.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to provide your horse with hay in a slow feeder.

types of equine slow feeders
Slow feeding options include hay nets, porta-grazers, and a variety of DIY options. So you can get creative with what works for you and your horse.

To keep your horse happy and healthy, remember your horses have evolved to graze in open grasslands. The horses anatomy, physiology and natural feeding behaviours are interconnected.

Any diet for your horse must start with grazing on high fibre forages, to keep your horse happy and healthy.

horse feeding on grass slowly

Watch the full video series on Feeding Happy Horses, including these titles:

  • Why & How to Keep Your Horses Teeth Healthy
  • How A Healthy Stomach Makes for A Happy Horse
  • Why the Small Intestine Can Create Big Problems
  • How A Healthy Hindgut Makes for A Happy Horse
  • The Importance of Grazing For Happy Horses

Learn more about Claudia MacLeay on the EquiLivin App under Horse & Rider Nutrition.

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