What do horses want most?

The hay has to match the herd

It is not uncommon for there to be conflicts between the stable operator and the owner regarding the feeding of their horses. Horse owners often want short breaks from eating, as horses in nature spend around 14 to 18 hours a day looking for and eating. Therefore, 24-hour free access to hay is preferred, especially in open stables.

Usually whole round bales are covered with close-meshed hay nets in order to extend the eating time. If the mesh is too tight, it can be very frustrating for the horses and a stress factor. Loose feeding of large amounts of hay leads to shorter eating times and often also to the scattering of the remaining hay.

Not all hay is the same, as can be seen from the example rations of leisure horses with two different types of hay (one “lean” and one “high-energy”). The amount of food eaten was deliberately chosen to be relatively low:
Hay A contains 5.4 MJ / kg; Hay B contains 7.8 MJ / kg. (Average 2019: 7.2 MJ / kg.)

Example A: Shetty, 15 years old, 150 kg, energy requirement: 22.3 MJ, assumed amount of feed eaten with 24 hours of free hay access: 5 kg of hay.

  • Hay A: 27 MJ - here the pony eats 4.7 MJ too much every day.
  • Hay B: 39 MJ - here the pony eats 16.7 MJ too much every day.

Example B: Warmblood, 600 kg, 11 years of age, energy requirement: 63.04 MJ, assumed amount of feed eaten with 24 hours of free hay access: 13 kg of hay.

  • 13 kg hay A: 70.2 MJ - the warmblood eats 7.1 MJ too much here every day.
  • 13 kg hay B: 101.4 MJ - the warmblood eats 38.36 MJ too much every day.

Example C: Haflinger, 30 years old, 400 kg, energy requirement: 46.5 MJ, problems chewing, assumed amount of feed eaten with 24 hours of free hay access: 5 kg of hay.

  • 5 kg hay A: 27 MJ - the Haflinger gets 19.5 MJ too little.
  • 5 kg hay B: 39 MJ - the Haflinger gets 7.5 MJ too little.

The three example horses have very different needs and the ration is not optimal for any of them.

  • Example A: The Shetty receives way too much energy.
  • Example B: If the warmblood were a sport horse in training, its energy requirement would increase and 24 hour access to hay A could be appropriate. It is therefore crucial which hay is fed.
  • Example C: Old horses often have badly worn teeth with which they can no longer grind the hay properly. Despite 24 hour access to hay, this Haflinger might be too lean and need soaked haycobs.

If you keep your horse in an open stable, an optimal herd composition is a basic requirement for healthy feeding. A group must not only harmonize in terms of character, but also be very similar in terms of feeding needs. Due to the stress of disputes about ranking at the feeding place, lower-ranking horses can be neglected.

A hay analysis is advantageous for calculating and structuring the ration, because without it, only rough estimates can be made. The consequence of feeding above requirements is weight gain up to obesity.

This can lead to serious health problems: EMS (Equine Metabolic Syndrome) and insulin resistance, laminitis and increased stress on ligaments, tendons and joints. The heavily rationed feeding, often only twice a day, also has health consequences if the eating times often only last two to three hours and the breaks are very long. Mental stress, stomach ulcers, wood eating, head banging and other behavioral disorders can be the result.

The healing of such secondary diseases and weight loss in horses are much more difficult and also more expensive than prevention. Therefore, a feeding adapted to the needs is very important.