One of the golden rules of feeding is to feed little and often. Why this is important is considered here with regards to the horse’s digestive system.
Horses are recognised as trickle feeders. This means that they are consistently grazing, or would do so if given access to constant pasture. This isn’t because the horse is greedy, but rather because of the way the digestive system is in the equine body.
The Horse’s Small Stomach
A horse has a stomach that is quite small in comparison to its large size and the amount it can consume. The stomach can hold around 12 – 15 litres of food. Meanwhile, the horse can easily consume 2% of its bodyweight daily. For a good condition horse of around 16 hands in height, this would be around 10 kilograms worth of feed per day!
Due to domestication, habits have become that horses get fed once or twice a day and often don’t have access to pasture or copious amounts of hay. The result is often an equine that acquires ulcers. This is because if the stomach is left empty for four hours or more, the acid levels in the stomach result in the creation of ulcers.
Not only is feeding horses on a regular basis something that they would prefer it is also better for them! Taking into account the amount that a horse can contain in its stomach, providing constant access to pasture or small foods on a more regular basis will help to keep acidic levels low, as well as provide food consistently to pass through the small stomach.
The Small Intestine
The majority of nutrient’s from the horses’ food are absorbed in the small intestine. For this to be able to occur, the small intestine is quite long and the movement of food through it slow. Again, providing small amounts of food on a regular basis will help to keep things moving through the horse’s gut, but not put too much pressure on food to pass through quickly.
The golden rules of feeding aren’t just a list that someone decided to create for fun. They relate to what the horse’s body needs and often to how it works physiologically. When considering how you will feed your horse, keep in mind that they are built to be constantly eating roughage. This is quite dissimilar to the commonly accepted practice of large grain feeds once or twice a day.
Little and often is a great rule to follow with regards to horse nutrition. Feeding good quality feed is also something that should be considered by all horse owners.