Should your horse be on a strict feeding schedule?
- Well, how specific do you want to be? In a totally utopian horse world – we don’t need any sort of feeding schedule for our horses because they are eating all day and all night long. Either they are out on pasture or our horses have full slow feeders around the clock. Is this possible for all of us? Maybe?
But really the question boils down to feeding our horses at regular times each and every day, or not.
- A schedule is not needed, assuming that you can spread out the forage and feed over the span of a day and into the night.
- Of course, there are going to be exceptions, but there’s really no physiological reason to feed your horse on a schedule. It’s a dang myth. But – we do want to strive to make sure our horses are eating tiny amounts over long hours. This goes for forage and feeds or “grains”.
How to feed grains and feeds to your horse in the best possible way:
- Best feeding practices tell us that smaller grain and fortified feed meals spaced throughout the day are best for their digestive systems. This is to avoid overloading the hindgut with huge concentrations of starches and sugars. If you can do more than two feedings a day for these concentrated feeds, you are doing your horse a huge favor. HUGE.
- If you can make sure your horse has been eating hay or pasture before these feed meals, even better. Hay in your horse’s belly will literally slow down the heavier and denser meals from hitting his hind gut all at once, which is where the problems can happen.
- But how should you spread these feedings out? Best case scenario – several feedings spread throughout the day. Ideally, three or four feedings over the course of a day. Not ideal – one feeding by itself or two feedings a few hours apart.
- If you are able to do several feedings over the course of a day, the times can slide a little forward and back. Perhaps your goal is 6 am, noon, 6 pm. But you can do 7 am, noon, 5 pm. Should be no problem unless your horse sets his internal alarm, which is really just a case of horses training humans.
Some ways to feed hay so your horse gets to eat his best life ever:
- Constant forage is ideal! Slow feeders and hay nets and frequent filling of tubs are best. But there will likely be some times that your horse won’t have forage available to him. It’s your job to minimize those times.
- Assuring your horse gets enough forage spread out is fairly easy. Hay nets can be the small hole variety and you can even double bag them. You can also fill more than one for your horse and hang them all over his paddocks and/or stall so there’s always something there.
- The goal is to minimize the time your horse spends without something to eat. Think about feeding in time windows, like 6-8 am, instead of exact times. Your horse will adjust.
Why does a strict feeding schedule sometimes work?
- Some of us have schedules that allow us to come to the barn at certain times, and certain times only. For someone who boards, it’s nice to know that you can show up to ride and your horse has a belly of delicious hay or has had his turnout. Incidentally, this is also best for ulcer prevention and his brain before a ride. For more on feeding before a ride, this article will glue you to your screen.
- When schedules slide around, there’s no harm to the horse if done smartly, but any boarders might get surprised when they show up.
Why might it be best to have a flexible feeding schedule?
- Any horse that goes to horse shows will have lots of adjustments to make – sleeping arrangements, riding times, horse neighbors. If your show horse is totally set to the minute about when to eat, show days can be complicated. Having more variety at home helps teach your horse that sometimes he exercises at different times of the day, and sometimes he eats at different times of the day.
- It’s like practicing real-world delays and surprises and things at home for your horse.
It’s like they can sense you making their lunch from acres away.
What about the horse that knows exactly what time it is and demands food?
- Hang on for some harsh reality here. Any horse that demands food is training YOU. He nickers, bangs, kicks, spins, whatever because it’s a certain time. And what do we do in response? We talk to them, tell them to knock it off, we feed them first, we hurry up and toss hay, we generally pay attention to them.
- You have just been trained. And you are not alone. And it happens. And horses can learn to wait. Being mindful of those times that we pay attention to our horse’s bad habits, like stall kicking and pawing, can help you determine who is training who.
What’s the point here?
- I suppose my point is to feed your horse his forage ‘round the clock, split up meals into logically timed portions, and try not to let your horse train you as you vary his feedings. Or not.