Some horses are fussy about the flavour and texture of feeds, while others have small appetites. Owning a horse that is fussy can be frustrating, especially if they are dropping condition. Often, it is just a case of trial and error to help you find out whether they prefer or dislike a particular mix or cube or certain ingredients, or like their feed in a certain way.
If your horse is working, not eating the recommended amount of hard feed will mean he misses out on essential nutrients, as well as calories, which will affect his ability to perform and hold condition. In certain cases, a reduced appetite can be caused for reasons such as stress, teeth issues or health problems, such as gastric ulcers.
As a first step, consult your vet, book a visit by your equine dental technician and consider whether the horse's worming is up to date. If all of these are clear, try the tips below to see if they can help you boost your horse's appetite....
1. Feed plenty of fibre
To help maintain a healthy digestive system, ensure your horse always has access to good quality forage and that he consumes no less that the 'healthy' minimum of the equivalent of one per cent of their bodyweight. This means a horse weight 500kg should consume at least 5kg (11lb) of forage/fibre per day. If hay or haylage are not your horse’s favourite food, try providing other fibre sources, in separate buckets from the hard feed. Low-sugar soaked sugar beet is ideal, and can be fed on its own or with chaff or alfalfa. High fibre cubes or nuggets are also tempting sources of additional fibre. If your horse isn't keen on his hay or haylage, consider whether it could be unsuitable, such as mouldy or dusty.
2. Provide small meals
Divide the overall concentrate ration into as many small meals as possible, in order to avoid overloading the stomach and causing digestive upsets that can affect appetite. Unless you are convinced that they help tempt the horse to eat, leave chaffs and sugarbeet out of the concentrate meal.
3. Give a calorie and nutrient boost
Nutrient or energy-dense feeds are useful when horses won’t eat large volumes. Consider using a balancer, which will provide quality protein, vitamins and minerals. High oil supplements are useful as they are generally more palatable than straight oil that you might pour into your horse's food. They provide a concentrated source of calories, which can be added to an existing balanced diet to increase the overall calorie content without significantly adding to the overall volume fed.
4. Try different flavours and textures
If, despite trying a variety of mixes and cubes, your horse still needs tempting to get his nose in the bucket, you could try mixing in a little extra molasses, apple juice or blackcurrant cordial. Grated or sliced carrots or apples are another idea, as is dried spearmint or a handful of his favourite horse treats. Other herbs which can be added include fenugreek, cinnamon and aniseed.
Some horses like a dry texture to their feed, while others like theirs wet. So, if you currently feeding nuts or a mix, try a soaked feed instead. This can prove a good solution if an older horse is struggling to eat because of compromised dentition. In winter, using warm water to soak or dampen feed can prove tempting to some horses.
5. Offer digestive support
Consider feeding a prebiotic or probiotic supplement to encourage and support a healthy microbial population in the gut. This should not only improve digestive efficiency but also help avoid digestive upsets or discomfort, which could affect appetite. Probiotics contain live bacteria to top up levels of beneficial gut bugs, while prebiotics either feed the good bacteria or 'mop up' the bad ones.
6. Reduce his stress levels
If your horse is stressy, reviewing and adapting his management routine may be necessary. Ensure he has plenty of turnout, and when he's stabled that he has ad lib forage. Reposition haynets or mangers near the door or window so he can see out – and see other horses – while eating. Some horses, especially youngsters, do not like putting their heads down into deep buckets so choose shallow buckets or trugs for them.
For more helpful feeding advice, visit: www.baileyshorsefeeds.co.uk; tel: (01371) 850 247.
Love Horse Riding? Sign up to our emails for the latest news and special offers!
Ever fancied being famous? If you would like your equine partner to appear in the pages of Horse magazine, then read on and find out how to apply...
Got a Horse magazine problem? Looking for a phone number or email address to ask someone for help? Click here to find the right person