Articles Blog


October 23, 2019

Video 2 – Why do horses eat so much? Why do horses have to have so much food? In this video you’ll learn about why
horses need so much food and how you can provide the right type of food for
them. Please be sure to give this video the thumbs up and if you’d like to
become a more knowledgeable horse owner make sure you subscribe to this channel
and hit the bell to be notified when a new video becomes available every week. When you watch horses, sometimes it seems as if they never stop eating, there’s actually a good reason for this, horses
are always attempting to put on weight, there’s a good reason for them trying to
get fat, horses just like all mammals, will try to put on weight whenever
there’s plenty of food available, in order to prepare themselves for the
downtimes such as drought or winter, so they’re programmed if you like, to eat
whenever they can, but that’s not the whole story.
Horses are particularly good at surviving on VERY high fiber grasses, in
fact they THRIVE on them, in the wild they eat grass that’s long and fibrous
and when there’s not enough of that they eat shorter grasses, they may actually eat
some of both throughout the day, it depends on what’s available, longer
grasses have MORE fiber and LESS sugar per mouthful and shorter grasses have
LESS fiber and MORE sugar per mouthful, this is a very important point which
we’ll be returning to later. In the wild horses live in what’s called a ‘home
range’ more about this in a later video, they stay in one area, even though that
area may cover hundreds of square miles, so they eat the plants throughout the
yearly cycle, ranging from fresh plants usually during the spring to browned off
higher fiber plants during the winter. Many other large grazing herbivores
MIGRATE, migration occurs so that they can follow the grasses as they peek in
different areas of the continent, so these animals rely on finding fresh
grasses all year round if possible, but horses stay in the one area and survive
on what they can. Domestic horses will eat themselves to dangerous levels of
fat if they can but it’s really important to understand that domestic
horses should have lots of food available but it should be higher in
fiber and lower in sugar, we should not starve fat horses but
should instead help them to ‘eat themselves slim’ more about this later.
Remember how in the last video you learned a little about the digestive
system of a horse, these next few slides are about the digestive system in a little bit more detail, stick with me because this is a really
important subject. See how different it is to the digestive system of a cow,
remember, cows need better quality food, so that’s higher energy and less fibrous
food, because they cannot survive on very high fiber food like a horse can, you
learned about this in video 1 but I’ll say it again here because it’s
really important to understand the differences, and comparing the horse to a
cow really helps with that understanding, also some of the out-of-date information
that there is for domestic horse management is actually taken from
knowledge about domestic cows, because they’re both large grazing animals, it’s
often been assumed that they can be managed in the same way but they can’t. Remember, cows spend MORE time on each mouthful of food in order to get more out of each mouthful, horses spend LESS time on each mouthful and rely on increasing their ‘throughput’, that’s the amount they eat, in
hard times. Cows cannot simply eat more when times are tough, each mouthful of
food has to go through a time-consuming process called rumination, so when food
is very fibrous and low quality there’s not enough hours in the day for a cow to extract enough nutrients from that low-quality food, the horse on the other
hand can, because they simply increase their throughput, which means they eat
more, and even if the food is very low quality, they manage to get some
nutrition from it due to the fermentation process that takes place in
their hind gut, remember a horse is called a hind foot fermenter. Please
comment below with what you’ve found interesting about this video so far. So
the horse has a small stomach, acid is constantly secreted into the stomach as
opposed to just after a meal, as it is with dogs and humans etc. so this means
that acid is being dripped into the stomach whether the horse eats or not. In
the free-living situation horses usually have access to some sort of fiber, even
if it’s just leaves and twigs, this fiber buffers the acid that is being constantly dripped into the stomach, this acid builds up if
the horse does not eat enough fiber, so domestic horses are very susceptible to
gastric ulcers if they don’t have access to ad-lib fiber, this is a very
important point and if you only learn one thing from this video this is the
most important. The inlet and outlet for the stomach at both at the top of the
stomach, this has implications, it means that lots of fiber, bulk, is required to
push the stomach contents on to the next stage, another important point at this
stage is that when the stomach is full of fiber a message is sent to the brain
to tell the horse to stop eating for a while, so fiber fills the horse up and
actually stops the horse from overeating. On the other hand if the horse is only
eating high energy meals, that are not high in fiber, they never feel full and
are always looking for more food, this is one of the reasons why stabled or yarded horses that are not getting enough fiber will chew or eat the
stable or fence if it’s made of wood, because they’re desperate for fiber. The
cecum, called the appendix in a human, and large intestine, are home to huge
numbers of bacteria which digest the food FOR the horse this is an example of
a perfect symbiotic relationship, the horse provides a home for the bacteria,
and the bacteria in turn digests the horse’s food, without the gut bacteria the
horse cannot survive and would actually starve to death. We now know that gut
bacteria is even more important than previously thought, we should aim for a large variety of gut bacteria to be present in the gut, the
more biodiversity the better. The horse gets this variety by eating a variety of
plants, the cecum is a vital requisite for a hind gut fermenter, it provides a
fermentation chamber for the horse to digest what would otherwise be
indigestible cellulose. One last very important point about the
cecum before we move on, is that like the stomach the inlet and outlet is at the
top and relies on fiber to push the contents down and up again, otherwise
blockages can occur which usually means colic. The horse’s hind gut has tight U bends which can lead to blockages and colic, this is another one of the reasons
that horses are so susceptible to colic, if a horse does not have access to
enough fiber the risk of colic is much higher. Just a quick word about how fat
your horse should be, it’s a good idea to learn how to Condition Score a horse,
this slide shows you how to do that, I won’t go in to detail describing it all but you can pause the video at this stage and study it if you like, you
should be aiming for your horse to be a score 3 on this scale, there is
actually another scale that uses 9 rather than the 6 levels in this one,
but this one is the most popular and the one I prefer. In this second video of the
series you’ve learned, why horses eat so much and why fiber in particular is so
important, that is, to buffer the acid that’s constantly being secreted into
the stomach, also when a horse eats enough fiber a message is sent to the
brain to tell the horse he is full and to stop eating, fiber is also a extremely
important to keep the gut contents moving through the gut. So if a horse has
enough fiber and he’s healthy he’ll not usually overeat, so it’s very important
that a horse always has plenty of low sugar high fiber food available. Good on
you for watching this video and learning more about what makes your horse tick,
stick with this series and keep improving your knowledge about horse
keeping. If you’ve enjoyed this video please let us know by liking it,
subscribe and share with your fellow horsey friends and please leave a comment with what you’ve found interesting, make sure you look out for the next video in
this series, there’s a link below, you can get the whole mini course about horse
grazing characteristics for free, see the link, if you’re interested in
more about better horse management by learning about what is really important
to your horse we have a private Facebook group but do the course first and see if
it interests you…

Only registered users can comment.

  1. I hope you like this video! This is the SECOND in the series – Horse Grazing Characteristics – Part 2 – Why do horses eat so much? Why do they need so much food? This is the information that your horse or horses WOULD REALLY LIKE YOU TO KNOW! You can skip ahead and watch the whole mini-course if you like on our website Please let us know what you think by commenting below 🙂

  2. I did know that it was important for horses to have high fibre food available at all time because of the constant flow of acid, I didn't know that tall grasses are lower in sugar than short grasses, very informative, thank you.

  3. It is a great video and system. I have learned a lot of new things, I had horses over many years but that doen ' t mean you can learn more, it is brilliant.

  4. Very interesting. Quite a difference of opinion on short and long grass. Makes sense to me but am aware that in general people put horses on short grass. Would explain as you mention about them being overweight and continuous eating

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *