Tempting fussy feeders

  • It can be frustrating when your horse doesn’t finish his feed. Some horses are just plain fussy, but others seem to go off their feed for no reason.

    If a horse starts to turn his nose up, consider what might have changed — perhaps an increase in work level, or a new batch of feed. Also, consider having his teeth checked.

    Horses in hard work that are turned out during the day on good quality grazing may be eating some much forage in the field that an extra bowl of hard food is over-facing their appetite.

    Tempting stressed horses is another matter. The root cause may be physical or mental.

    Among the physical causes of poor appetite could be discomfort, usually in horses eating small amounts of forage. In this case either gastric ulcers or overflow of starch (from a high cereal meal) into the hindgut causes discomfort. Something as simple as a new batch of forage can precipitate this.

    Anxious horses are more difficult to settle into a regime of eating. You need to work out what is concerning them, and rectify that. Things that work are feeding at the front of the stable, frequent small meals, turning them out, or visual access to other horses.

    For sudden loss of appetite in a horse, especially those that are good eaters, you cannot rule out illness or disease, so if in any doubt, check the vital signs and consult with your vet.

    Top tips

    • Make the meal more tempting: offer less per meal, and more meals per day; mix in apples, carrots or a glug of molasses to make the meal more succulent; or add a scoop of soaked molassed sugar beet pulp to the feed.
    • Turn out to chill out: increase the time horses are turned out, especially if they can pick at grass.
    • Variety: horses increase their time spent eating if a variety of forages are offered in different locations around the stable, as this helps recreate the natural browsing instinct.
    • Find something they do like: changing downwards to a low-energy, high-fibre or horse and pony type cube, has been shown to work.

      Gorse: this old wives tale does seem to work. A frond of gorse in the manger, however unpalatable it sounds, seems to encourage the appetite.

    • Vitamin B12 injections are often used as a pick-me-up, and to perk up an appetite. Using a B-vitamin supplement may therefore help with fussy eaters.
  • This feed forum feature was first published in Horse & Hound (9 December, ’04). Don’t miss this week’s feed forum, which focuses on the problem of gastric ulcers

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