Summer is in full swing! For an equestrian, summer means longer days in the saddle, competitions, horse camps, and lots of green grass! Many people who choose to let their horses graze on green, nutrient-rich pasture all day opt to limit a horse’s hay and grain intake, sometimes eliminating the food altogether. However, even though a horse may be getting enough green grass to keep him fat and happy, receiving forage and grain throughout the season is important to a horse’s health.
Many horses spend a large part of their days in the cool shade of the barn and the other part in the pasture, grazing on the rich grass. When horses are first turned out for the day, they are hungry and eager to munch on the lush grass. One may think that when a horse is in its stall, it won’t need any additional food since it was outside, right? Actually, a horse needs to have something to munch on at all times! Due to their excitement, many horses tend to overeat in the first few hours they are outside. The remainder of the day, they eat less grass, resulting in their stomachs containing less forage. If they do not have as much food in their systems, it is even more important to give them hay during the period they are in their stalls.
A horse’s digestive tract is designed to consume foods 24/7; therefore, it is essential to provide hay to a stalled horse. A horse who has an empty stomach for too long has the potential to develop some type of digestive upset, including gastric ulcers in the stomach lining. Gastric acid is continuously released into a horse’s stomach, whether the horse is eating or not. If the horse does not have any food inside to act as a barrier or to absorb, the acid could splash onto the stomach lining, creating painful ulcers. Consuming hay or any other forage has a buffering effect for those stomach acids.
If you wish to control the amount of calories a horse consumes so they do not eat themselves into obesity, there are several options that still allow access to forage. While a horse is turned out, consider using a muzzle to control the amount of grass he consumes. The small holes in the muzzle limit the amount of grass he can eat, yet it also keeps him preoccupied with the added difficulty of consuming grass. While in the stall, consider placing your horse’s hay into a slow feeder hay net. These hay nets are similar to muzzles since they contain small openings for the horse to eat the hay. With muzzles and hay nets, a horse eats more balanced meals, therefore ensuring that with food in his stomach, he has a reduced likelihood of developing any kind of digestive upset, including stomach ulcers.
What if your horse is an easy-keeper? The type of horse who seems to grow plump on air alone? Along with regularly using a muzzle and a slow-feeder hay net, try feeding your horse a ration balancer. A ration balancer is an equine supplement that provides the required levels of vitamins, minerals, and protein. An overweight horse will not consume excessive calories by eating a ration balancer. Instead, this feed provides his daily needs of protein, vitamins, and minerals. These feeds should be fed in small amounts, usually 1-3 pounds per day.
So even if your horse seems to be overweight from all of the rich green grass he is eating, don’t skimp on his intake; horses need to eat consistently in order to be healthy!