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 wellbeing as well.
But what do you do if your horse is a total pig? You just tied the haynet 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 it’s hay.
Firstly are they getting the correct amount of hay?
You horse should be receiving around 2% of its bodyweight 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% bodyweight, 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 weigh bridge, as it is so much more accurate, and get yourself a spring loaded balance to weigh haynets 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.
A haynet 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 haynet, and before you know it they are eating from an ‘opening’ in the haynet and scoffing the hay down quickly. Investing in some specially designed haynets 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).
Some owners would prefer not to use haynets, 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.
Greedy horses and ponies have a habit of pinning a haynet to the corner of the stable and then eating the hay as quickly as possible. Try hanging a haynet from the centre of the stable if possible as they will be slowed down when they can’t pin it down.
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 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.
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 track system is becoming increasingly popular, which encourages horses to travel more replicating more natural conditions. Maybe you could use a paddock with haynets 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 haynets around the stable. I have always preferred to use two haynets, 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 haynet a bit lighter to lift.
Have you ever checked your horse at 8 or 9pm at night? You might find that they have run out of hay completely, which makes it quite a long night until 7 or 8am when you arrive at the yard. It might not be practical to return to the yard again to give your horse another haynet but perhaps someone else could? If you normally finish your horse early evening (maybe 4/5pm) there are probably others who don’t arrive at the yard until 6pm after work. Maybe you could pay them, or provide some help in return for them popping another haynet 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.
If you’re concerned that your horse guzzling their hay up too quickly then perhaps you could provide some additional fibre in the form of a suitable chaff or cube in a treatball. Just make sure it’s low in calories and that you take this into account when calculating their overall ration.
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 haynets, 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.
If you’d like to learn more about equine nutrition then do register for details of our new Nutrition course here