If your horse is a good-doer and puts weight on easily, it can be tricky to get his diet right. Here, nutritional adviser at Bailey's, Caroline Dickens, explains what you can do.
First things first, a horse is never meant to starve. The stomach of the horse is constantly producing acid, and it’s looking for the sodium bicarbonate (in the saliva) from chewing to reduce that acid.
If there’s no food going through the system, the acid isn’t going to be reduced and this causes problems of possible ulcers, not enough hind gut motility, colic, and a lack of energy.
How to maximise your horse's chewing time
The answer isn’t to cut his feeding, but you need to maximise the chew time and minimise the calories he eats. To do this, follow the steps below.
- Choose later cut, course hay. This should hurt your hands slightly when you feel it. Leave the soft, nice hay for the poor doers. Course hay will help to maximise the time he takes to chew.
- Soak his hay for up to 12 hours a day. This will reduce up to 80% of the calories. If you’re starting from dry hay, build the soaking time up gradually. Palatability with hay from dry to soaked can be really different so start gradually. Initially, soak the hay for an hour, then for three, six hours and so on.
Soak the hay overnight and then in the morning, drain it and feed 10 minutes later. Don’t hang it up all day before you feed it as the warmth of the sun, coupled with the moisture from the hay, will encourage bacteria to grow.
- Restrict your grazing. Initially, you can try fencing parts of your paddock off, but if this doesn’t work, try a grazing mask instead.
- Consider a balancer as soaking the hay reduces calories by up to 80% and can reduce its nutritional content. To ensure your horse is getting enough protein, vitamins and minerals, feed him a balancer.
- Keep him fuller for longer by feeding dry foods that you soak. For example, Bailey’s Speedi-Beet, will help keep your horse fuller for longer. A mug of dry Speedi-Beet might not look like much, but once it’s been soaked, it will take up 3/4’s of a scoop. The benefit is your horse feels fuller for longer, but without consuming too many calories.