It’s that time of year where lots of horses are spending more time confined to their stables than they are used to. As owners, we don’t want them to be bored and we want to make sure that they have constant access to forage to prevent colic and the development of gastric ulcers.
However, many of us work during the week and are only able to see our horses twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. Because of this, regular topping up of haynets isn’t possible and when you have a greedy/fat horse or pony, you need to get a bit creative to keep them occupied and make their forage last. So here is my list of tips and tricks for keeping your fatties occupied and hopefully help make their food last.
Firstly, unless there is a medical reason why your horse needs haylage rather than hay, I would only feed hay. Depending on how fat your horse is and how good quality your hay is, I would also consider soaking the hay to remove the extra calories! I would much rather a fatty have ad lib hay which is soaked for over 12 hours than small amounts of good quality hay or haylage.
So now let’s look at some tips for making your hay last longer:
- Use haynets/ doubled netted haynets/ trickle nets If you don’t already feed your horse from a haynet, I recommend starting. Of course if they are one of those special ones who have a habit for getting stuck in the haynet, this might not be an option, but it would also be my first point of call. If you are already using haynets, look at using smaller holed haynets or double or even triple netting your haynets. This makes it harder for horses to get the hay out, so they take longer to eat it. If you don’t like hanging haynets because your horse is prone to neck and back pain/stiffness, invest in a haybar but keep the hay in a haynet in the bar. This means that the horse is eating in a more natural position, but the haynet can still slow them down a bit.
- Hang Multiple Nets If you give your horse 8kg of hay at night, split this into multiple nets and hang them in different places in the stable. This means that your horse has to move between nets, rather than just standing still all night eating.
- Hang the haynet in the middle of the stable. As a general rule, we hang our haynets up against a wall because its easy and convenient. However, this makes it easier for the horse to eat them. Hanging them away from the wall where they horse can’t push them against anything make it harder for them to pull the hay out and means they will take longer to eat.
Be honest about if your horse needs a feed or not. Chances are, if they are a bit fat, they don’t need calories, they just need something to make sure they are getting everything they need. Look at feeding a balancer as these tend to be low calorie and have everything your horse needs to stay healthy. Scottie is currently on a performance balancer, which is low in calories but higher in protein than other low calorie balancers to help us build muscle.
I personally don’t like feeding just nuts/balancer by themselves in a bucket as I find horses just eat this really quickly. So if I’m feeding from a bucket I like to add at least a handful of chaff so that they have to chew and slow down a bit.
If you decide to add a chaff to your horses low calorie dinner, make sure you choose a low calorie option which is suitable for them. I personally like HiFi for fatties as it has lower calories than Alfaffa. Scottie is currently on HiFi molasses free and is looking fantastic on a scoop a day split between too feeds.
Using treats and enrichment in the stable can be a great way to keep your horse busy and eating continually. Obviously, if you want to give treats remember that you are adding extra calories to the horse. I will now talk you through a few ideas to make stable life more interesting for your horse without adding too many calories.
- Treat Ball instead of Feed Bucket One way to keep your horse busy would be to their breakfast/dinner in a treat ball rather than a bucket. If you don’t like the idea of them not getting their bucket, you could make their feed and then put half in the treat ball. This way they are getting the same amount of food, but it is taking them longer to eat it. Also, if I’m feeding a horse nuts/balancer from a treat ball I don’t feel the need to add chaff as the ball is already slowing them down. So using a treat ball and cutting out the chaff can cut down the calories you are giving them.
- Treat Ball with Grass Nuts As the name suggests, grass nuts are basically just forage in nut form. They tend to be fairly low calorie and are often recommended as a forage replacer. Giving a scoop or half scoop of grass nuts in a treat ball can be a good way of keeping your horse busy and make you feel like you are treating him without putting his diet at risk. If Scottie is in for a while I often give him a treat ball with grass nuts and occasionally the odd handful of chaff and broken up carrot.
- Treat Net with forage brick/cube You may have seen those really small haynets, well I love these for ‘treat’ haynets. An easy thing to do with these is to buy those forage bricks to put it. Typically 1 brick equals about 1 section of hay and is a great forage replacer as they generally take a horse longer to eat than they would a section of hay.
- Treat Net with hay and ‘treats’ If you don’t want to buy forage bricks, another thing I like to do with these small haynets is to fill them with hay and then make a small pocket in the middle what I fill with grass nuts and chopped carrots. Then when you hang this up in the stable they have to eat enough of the hay before they get to the good bits. Although Scottie seems to have learnt that if he shakes it hard enough, a lot of the grass nuts fall out into his bed… but it’s still keeping him busy!
- Floor Feeding Depending how messy/fussy your horse is, a good way to keep them busy might be to just put their feed straight on the floor. A lot of the time the feed will spread out and they will have to spend more time looking for it all. Or if you don’t want to give them their entire feed on the floor, you can shake part of their dinner or a small scoop of grass nuts on the floor for them to find.
- Floor Feeding in Hay Sometimes if I’m in a rush I like to put a small amount of Scottie’s hay on the floor, maybe a sections worth, and shake/mix half a scoop or grass nuts into his hay. He then spends searching through the small pile of hay to find all the grass nuts before actually eating the hay.
- Floor Feeding in the bed I know a few people who will sprinkle feed/nuts into the horse’s bed for them to search through. The idea is basically the same as mixing with hay on the floor, that they have to spend time looking for the food. I’m personally not a huge fan of this, no particular reason why over than that’s where he wees and poos and I wouldn’t want my dinner severed in my bathroom.
I always like a horse to have access to a salt lick, even if they never use it, so Scottie always has one in his stable. If you don’t already have one in your horses stable, I would recommend putting one up, especially if they are spending a lot of time inside. Chances are they will hardly touch it. Scottie hardly uses his, in fact it’s the same one I bought 2 years ago. But it’s there for when he does want it.
Be careful with sweet, sugar based licks as these are full of sugar which won’t help your horse keep the weight off, especially if they spend the whole time licking at it until it’s gone! I would only leave these in your horses stable if you know they aren’t going to spend the whole time at it. I can leave likits in with Scottie but not horselyx. Although I have seen people taking them out of the plastic holders and putting them inside haynets and hanging them up, making it harder for the horse to get to them. So this could be an option if you want to leave a lick with your horse.
Hopefully this post has given you at least one new idea to keep your horse busy in the stable or make his food last longer. Please comment with any of your tips for making your fatties food last longer.