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Feeding the Fussy Eater
There is nothing more frustrating than when your horse either turns his nose up or doesn’t finish his feed. Some may be plain fussy, but others seems to go off their feed as the showing season progresses. Tempting stressy horses is a challenge as they can seem to melt away in front of you. For some horses the root cause is physical and for others it’s psychological.
- For the horse that starts to turn his nose up unexpectedly, consider what might have changed – from a step up in work level to a new batch of feed or forage. Also consider if there may be any underlying issues such as worn teeth or gastric ulcers.
- Amongst the physical causes of poor appetite, top of the list could be digestive discomfort, usually in horses eating small amounts of forage. The discomfort could be from gastric ulcers – a reduction in forage means less chewing time and a build up of stomach acid. Discomfort in the large intestine may also be a cause of poor appetite as a result of starch overflow (from a high cereal meal) into the hindgut disrupting the delicate microbial balance there.
- Something as simple as a new batch of forage can precipitate this, even in horses that usually cope OK on such a regime, but so can stepping up the hard feed as work increases or for more condition. Also don’t forget the power of spring grass which is lush and sugary at this time of year.
- For horses for which the excitement of the day ahead gets in the way of settling into their feed, tricks like feeding at the front of the stable, frequent small meals , turning out, or providing a companion may help.
- Finally for sudden loss of appetite in a horse, especially those that are good eaters, you cannot rule out illness or disease, so if in any doubt, check the vital signs and consult with your vet.
Tips for tempting fussy feeders:
Turn out to chill out: increase the time turned out, especially if the horse can have a pick of grass while out.
Variety: research has shown that horses increase their time spent eating if they are offered variety whether it is in the forages offered or in feed toppings, as this helps recreate the natural browsing instinct and extends eating time.
Go for a high fibre diet: As well as that supplied by forage and chaff, look to add extra fibre in cunning ways , such as with a fibre block or changing the hard feed to one high in fibre.
Gorse: this old wives tale does seem to work. A stick of gorse in the manger is said to encourage appetite, even if it sounds a bit prickly!
Added vitamins: Vitamin B12 injections are often used as a pick me up, and to perk up a jaded appetite. B-vitamins are produced by the hindgut so if there is anything amiss with its function, a course of B vitamins may help.
Make the meal more tempting: offer less per meal, and feed more meals per day; also mix in something highly appetising to make the meal more interesting by using products such as :
Simplyirresistible is a healthy & delicious feed-topping bursting with goodness, designed to liven up mealtimes and support a healthy gut.
Made from only natural ingredients and available in two tasty varieties, simplyirrestistible can be sprinkled on top of hard feed, chaff or forage to add flavour and variety to dull everyday feeds.
Simplyirresistible can also be fed to good doers on restricted diets, to tempt picky eaters or ideal to feed with medication or supplements in a hard feed.
Each variety is packed full with an array of delicious tastes and textures, is full of natural plant antioxidants and contains a proven probiotic to support digestive health and help the horse get the most out of its feed.
Ruth Bishop BSc (Hons) Dip Eq S
Ruth heads up the Equilibrium Products Ltd nutrition program. She is well-recognised in the world of equine nutrition, as a consultant and as a former technical director of a large horse feed manufacturer. She also wrote the Dr Ruth nutrition column in Horse and Hound for many years, and is the author of the Horse Nutrition Bible (David & Charles). She has in the past provided nutrition inputs to the British Equestrian Federation World Class Performance squads.