Horse Health Care – Feeding Horses in the Dark

It’s kinda like “Singing in the Rain.” My new mantra is, “I’m feeding in the dark…”
And you might be wondering why I’m feeding horses in the dark. Good question. I’m feeding my horses early in the morning and late at night for two reasons:
1. Evenly spaced feedings more closely mimics a horse’s natural feeding patterns2. This feeding schedule keeps my horses healthier, and lowers the horse feed bill
Wild horses spend 20-22 hours per day walking and eating. In other words, they graze. The rhythm of walking a bit, eating a bit, walking a bit, and eating a bit helps them digest their food. They don’t eat too much at any one time, and the walking keeps their digestive systems active.
Plus, the constant food intake prevents ulcers, since the fiber they eat forms a “mat” in the upper stomach, which prevents the acid from the lower part of the stomach from eating through the stomach wall. The lower stomach wall is protected from the acid, but the upper stomach is not. Without the fibrous mat formed by the constant intake of fibrous foods, horses develop ulcers in their upper stomach.
Horse Feed: Throwing Hay in the Dark
In the deep dark of winter, most people feed their horses breakfast around 7 am, and dinner at 5 pm. This is convenient for us humans because it’s a little warmer, plus the sun is usually up by then. The bad news is that it’s not such great horse health care. When fed only twice a day, horses tend to gorge, upsetting the natural rhythm of their digestive cycle. They don’t digest their food as well or as thoroughly as they should, which can lead to ulcers, mild colic, or internal adhesions.
Of course, changing this schedule isn’t an option for most people, since work often dictates their schedules or they board their horses at stables that only feed twice daily. If this is the case for you, there are several ways you can solve this horse feed problem:
Horse Feed Solution #1: Pay Someone to Feed for You
I have several friends who use this option. One friend boards her horse at a stable where the horses are only fed twice a day. She pays one of the grooms an extra monthly fee to throw extra hay to her horse for lunch and for a late-night snack. She also pays the stable for the extra hay. My other friend keeps her horses at home, but works all day. She pays a neighbor’s daughter to toss hay over the fence twice a day, at lunch and at dinner. Late in the evening, my friend goes out in the dark to give her horses a little horse feed for a snack.
Horse Feed Solution #2: Offer Free Choice Hay
If your horse doesn’t have a tendency to get too fat, offering free choice hay is another option to the horse feed dilemma. I used to do this, even when I boarded my horses at a stable. I would buy one large round hay bale per month, and deliver it personally to my horses’ paddock. They were fed regular meals of breakfast and dinner, and snacked on the round bale whenever they felt the need. This kept their bellies full… and their little naughty minds out of trouble.
Horse Feed Solution #3: Use Small-Hole Hay Nets and Other Feed Dispensers
Small-hole hay nets, as the name implies, are hay nets that have very small holes. This allows horses to eat only a few pieces of hay at a time, which means they can’t gorge, plus they stay occupied for longer. This also more closely mimics the slow grazing pattern of wild horses. They can be difficult to fill, not to mention time-consuming, but it does tend to keep horses occupied for twice as long.
I also use this great new horse toy called the Nose-It. It’s a plastic polyhedron that has a tiny hole in it. You can fill it with horse pellets, hay cubes, or any other healthy horse feed. Your horse has to tip it in just the right direction before feed comes out, which means he has to “play” with the Nose-It for a long time before he gets his full dinner. Again, like the hay net, this toy provides a way to feed your horse over a longer period of time. The only caveat with this toy is if your horse lives in a sandy environment. To prevent him from eating sand, put the toy in a large feed tub and let him play with it in there. This keeps his horse feed clean and prevents sand colic.
Horse Feed Solution #4: Feed in the Dark
This is possibly the least attractive solution if you are afraid of the dark or dislike the cold. I’m not fond of either, but I don’t find it too difficult. I work at home, online, so I have a flexible schedule. I prep the horses’ early morning hay portions the night before so I don’t have to do anything other than chuck it over the fence. Ditto with the late night dinner. Lunch, which includes a combination of beet pulp, senior feed, and hay cubes, all soaked, is prepped and fed during the day. My horses are fed around 5 am (I’m an early riser), 12 pm, and 8 pm. This spaces their meals out fairly evenly around the clock. If I’m going to be gone during the day, I use small-hole hay nets and the Nose-It toys to keep my horses occupied. This works well.
I take the same kind of care with any supplements I feed, which are syringed directly into each horse’s mouth to ensure that every horse gets what he or she needs. Some of my horses, who have been through trauma or have health issues, get a bitter herb supplement that helps them stay in a relaxed, healing mode. Others get my regulation Horse Goo, which includes mangosteen juice blue-green algae, probiotics, and enzymes. This system ensures that every horse gets the right feed and supplements.
The Good News About Horse Feed Solutions
If you use any of these solutions, especially during the winter, you’ll notice that your horse feed bill will probably go down. Horses fed more frequently or are fed over a longer period of time (as with the small-hole hay nets) tend to hold their weight more easily. Plus, they stay occupied for longer, which helps if you have “Mr. Destructo” in your herd. Finally, feeding this way helps prevent digestive health issues like colic and ulcers.
So while these horse feed solutions may not be the most convenient in the world for us humans, if they prevent a giant vet bill or reduce the feed bill, they may be worth all the hassle. I know it’s worth it to me… plus my horses love me for it!

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