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  • Writer's pictureLouise Stobbs

The 3 Fs - Forage

All horses are designed to eat a diet of predominantly long stem fibre. We can provide a diet as close as possible to this by grazing on long, older, diverse and species appropriate grasses or by providing diverse meadow-type hays. Just like us horses need diversity in their diet so just feeding one type of grass isn’t great for optimal health. A lot of grazing land in the UK is modern ryegrass which isn’t really suitable for horses as a species, it is rich and designed to fuel cattle. 🐄 This is why so many horses struggle on grass with metabolic issues and laminitis.

While managing the land may be out of our control on livery, we do have options to make it work. We can restrict grass intake by strip grazing, but horses still need that long stem fibre so we must supplement with suitable forage for their guts. It seems a bit of an alien concept to feed hay in the summer when the grass is growing but eating a diet of very short, lush grass and not much else is not going to produce a healthy gut.

All horses have the same fibre requirements, even obese and laminitic horses. It is never okay to starve a horse, you will cause so many other health problems from the stress of going hungry. Instead of weighing hay when you have no idea of the actual nutritional content in each bale, get yourself some trickle nets (I personally use Nibleze as they are extremely hard wearing but soft on the teeth), get some tested meadow hay and don’t let your horse go hungry. You can even soak it to reduce the sugars if you feel the need to.

We have a yard full of horses some of which have come to us very overweight, they all have access to ad-lib meadow hay in trickle nets 24 hours a day and they all come down to a healthy weight without feeling the stress of being restricted. Once your horse knows the food will always be available he will be less stressy about it.

If your horse’s droppings are loose and green his gut is not healthy, this is not normal even though you see it everywhere when the horse’s go onto summer turnout. Your horse should not be coming in bloated and sluggish. 🐷

If you are not allowed to put hay out in the field, it is wise to feed your horse plenty of hay before he goes out so he is not going out with an empty stomach, if you are on 24/7 turnout I would bring them in through the day and offer hay so they have a break from the grass and are still getting some long stem fibre daily. 🌾

The easiest way to ensure your horse isn’t running out of hay too soon in the night, is to give so much that he still has some left in his nets/feeder in the morning, while horse’s can safely go for a few hours without food, it is impossible to judge when your horse is finishing overnight and it is more logical to have some left over, its not like its going to waste.

If your horse is stressy around food this will often settle down once they have access to hay 24/7, they will begin to self-regulate rather than gorge once they realise it will always be available. 🐴

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