Why all the fuss about eating?

Eating disturbances is an important early indication of many serious problems with the horse, like colic and ulcers

Why all the fuss about eating?

About 50% of the horse’s life is spent eating - at least before it was domesticated by man. After that the horse needed to adapt to the new conditions and we got responsible for the horse’s well-being. In this short article we will conclude the basics of the horse’s eating needs and how it can affect different aspects of the horse’s life. This is also an introduction in how HoofStep can help to understand the specific eating behaviour of your horse and monitor healthy eating patterns. Eating disturbances is an important early indication of many serious problems with the horse, like colic and ulcers. That is why HoofStep has chosen eating as a primary indicator of well-being.


THE BASICS


The horse is naturally eating 40-70% of the time during the different periods of the day.

Saliva is only secreted in the presence of food during mastication and is vital for a good digestion.

The digestive system consists of a small stomach and a large hindgut for fermentation.

The digestive system is very sensitive to changes and is well adapted to a high fibre content and continuous ingestion of food. Longer times of starving, irregular or sudden changes in the food intake or content can have severe consequences of the horse's well-being.



THE DEPTH


Several aspects of the horse’s relation to food affects both the mental and the physical status. Since the horse metabolic system is sensitive, any changes in food intake influence the horse's well-being.


Change in eating patterns

It is important to understand reasons for change in the eating behaviour of your horse. The support of this is that an early indication of eating changes can prevent very severe problems. Basically it could be limited access to water or food, a high fever or when changes in routines/stressful situations occur. Or just pain when eating, because of a problem in the mouth/teeth, if hurting when swallowing or problem with the stomach/indigestion system.


Suboptimal feeding

Problems with eating could also occur without change in eating pattern. In some regions the variations of weather during the year can make the grass very different in regard to nutrition. But the most common problems are if we do not have optimal routines or resources to cope with the horse's demands. Like, food is not served frequently enough, the eating situation is stressful or the proportion of forage vs grain is too low.


THE SOLUTION


HoofStep measures the horse's chewing and eating pattern and the behaviour time budget during the day, every week - all the time. This makes it possible to detect both slowly changing problems and very acute changes. Like:

  1. High fever
  2. Colic (see separate article from HoofStep), ulcers or other stomach/digestion issues
  3. Problem with teeth/mouth or swallowing
  4. Laminitis (see separate article from HoofStep)
  5. The horse is stressed by e.g. changing situation or bullied by other horses
  6. The horse is incapable of eating by e.g. stuck/trapped or incapable to move
  7. The horse is not able to drink because e.g. fecal in the water or it tastes bad
  8. Change in environment or routines

By understanding the normal behaviour of the horse you can also get an indication of how much time the horse spends eating, resting etc. Which is in itself an indication of how well the horse is doing right now and if you have to change anything in the horse's life. Every horse is different and will cope differently with a specific situation. We want you to understand more about your horse and to be closer to him/her - we give the horse a voice!


READ MORE AND IN DEPTH ABOUT HORSES' EATING


A good summary of research around feeding strategies in sport horses can be found in “NATURAL FEEDING STRATEGIES FOR SPORT HORSES”; A “CONTRADICTIO IN TERMINIS”?


More specific readings in

  1. Frequent feeding may minimize ulcers
  2. The equine digestive system a food factory
  3. Hypersalivation in horses
  4. Equine grain associated disorders