Is your horse getting what you think they're getting?

You’re doing everything right. You’re feeding the right feed and supplements. But your horse still isn’t doing as expected. Are you sure that your horse is getting what you think he’s getting?

Many of us have our horses stabled off-property and don’t have the ability to accurately monitor their husbandry. This newsletter will examine some of the more common reasons that our horse may not be getting what we think.

Messy eater: Some horses are messy eaters and a significant amount of feed may end up on the floor, in the shavings or poop, hay or straw, or other areas. The stall cleaners are amazingly efficient and clean up all the dirty waste, including waste from the horse’s bucket.

Solution: An easy solution is to place a stall mat under their feed area so that spilled feed is on the stall mat instead of the shavings. Another potential solution is to purchase a feed tube with a feed saver ring.

Your horse is frequently dehydrated: This can be caused by a number of things. Access to clean water is important. The stock tank may not be clean enough. Or the horse is with others that keep him away from “their” water supply. The low man in the hierarchy system is frequently the recipient of bullying by others.

Another common scenario occurs when a horse is stabled. Sometimes, the waterer is set too high, especially if the horse is on the smaller side. If the horse’s head is too high, it makes swallowing water difficult.

Solution: Be sure there is ample water that isn’t stagnant. Also be sure that the water is accessible. This can be accomplished by getting an additional tub. This gives a second water source, as well as a source close to the ground for the height-challenged ponies and horses.

Other horses eating your horse’s feed: If other horses, with a bigger appetite and a higher ranking in the hierarchy have access to other’s feed, your horse may be bullied out of eating all of the bucket. You may think that your mini is getting his feed and supplements, but find that your Quarter horse is eating them instead. Or you may find your older, slow-eating horse is bullies away from his bucket before he’s done. The horse that eats more rapidly could force the older horse away from his feed.

Solution: Set up a system that separates the horses when they eat.  This will ensure that each horse is allowed the opportunity to eat all of their food and supplements.


Your horse doesn’t touch his salt block: We know how important salt is, but sometimes the salt block is dirty, or the horse doesn’t feel like using it.


► Check to be sure that your horse doesn’t have mouth ulcers from sharp edges on their teeth. When this happens, salt is painful and usually avoided.

► Dampen hay and sprinkle salt on it.

► Alternatively, you can add loose salt in a bowl to encourage sufficient eating.

► Electolyte paste also works, but is more expensive and labor intensive.

Your horse won’t finish their bucket: This common concern can be caused by a number of things. First, the feed may not be palatable. This could be because an oil in the feed has turned rancid. It could also be that rats or squirrels shared in the feed and pooped or peed in the bucket. The feed room storage is another place that rats can contaminate the feed. Or perhaps there were rats at the feed mill that produced the feed. Maybe the feed mill ordered a new batch of ingredients that were less palatable? Could it be that the feed was too wet? Too dry? Or perhaps it just needed some flavoring?

Solution: To find an effective solution frequently takes some investigation.

► Can you change feeds? This may be necessary if the feed is off, or if it's not palatable due to the manufacturer using "least cost supplements" (buying the cheapest available at the time).

► Rodents are more difficult to control. Can you work with the barn on rodent control? Can they get a cat? Can your horse be fed in an open area, where rats are unlikely to come out in the daytime? To address the potential rat problem in the feed room, can you use metal containers to store the feed that are rat-proof?

► As for the consistency of the feed, that’s a challenge in experimentation. Some horses like their supplements very soupy. Others won’t even touch soupy feed.

► Taste is also a factor. First, is the bucket clean? If your horse is tired of the same old feed, can you try brewing some alfalfa “tea” to pour on the feed? Or perhaps some wheat bran sprinkled on top will do the trick?

We spend a lot of time and energy to help our horses with feed and supplementation. It’s important to be aware that the horse is getting what we think they’re getting.

Disclaimer: Statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or health condition.

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