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Full Version: "Natural" Feeding Causing Hoof Problems?
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Seems like all I'm hearing these days is how horses should have hay in front of them 24/7! The idea behind this is that horses in the wild graze constantly. However, my barefoot trimmer is saying she is seeing a lot of hoof problems from people feeding their horses this way. For many horses, it is just too much food. Trish said that some of her clients' horses are very overweight, and this is causing white line problems.

When you think about it, there is not really anything "natural" about keeping a horse parked beside a bale of hay around the clock. Wild horses might have constant access to grazing, but they also, as I understand it, often travel as much as 25 miles a day in search of grass and water. I've seen wild horse herds in Montana, and it looks to me like they come close to starving in the winter, and then, if they are fortunate, manage to put on a little weight in the warmer months if there has been enough rain and the grazing is good. That is what is "natural!" Not something I'd want for my own horses, though.

But, anyway, if you are granting free access to hay, and your horse is having some lameness problems, you might want to consider that this could be the cause. Trish is recommending that if people want to make hay available to their horses at all times, that they use some type of slow feeding method.

My vet was NOT happy last spring with how much weight my horses had put on over the winter, so I have cut them back this year. They are still not as trim as they should be, but they are in better shape than they were a year ago.

Just thought I'd bring this up for discussion.

I totally agree with you. I know I overfed Joe thinking more hay was better and the result was that he came out of winter way over weight. Once the grass took off, he got even heavier and the result was laminitis. Keeping horses confined in a barn or pasture isn't natural either. Wild horses cover a lot of ground while they graze and aren't grazing on fields of alfalfa.

Pick up just about any book on horse care, and it will tell you that you have to be careful to not feed too much in grain, but that free access to hay and/or pasture is okay. Well, in many cases, it isn't. Sometimes I think the "experts" are sadly lacking in common sense.

The horses here are only turned out at night during the summer. This past summer they got pretty fat because we weren't able to ride as often as they needed. Dylan wears a grazing muzzle and was still too fat. They have slow feeders in the barn and, although I load them up on hay when it's below zero, they don't get hay constantly. Dylan got a net with smaller holes and it seems to have slowed him down even more, which is a good thing. He will hoover up anything in his path. With the severe cold they have all slimmed down to a good weight. I can't afford to put hay in front of them at all times. I've had horses for almost 40 years and have never had a problem with horses being fed two or three times a day. When you get right down to it, there's not much we do with horses that is natural.
I think horses that are left out all winter need to have hay as horses need to eat to stay warm.

I found this article:

Yes - offering as much hay as the horse wants is called "free choice" hay feeding. I do believe this is best for the horse's health, because in the wild, horses forage constantly for food. Horses don't sleep much, and if they were free, they would spend the rest of their waking hours nibbling on food.

The horse's digestive tract is designed to always have a small amount of food passing through it. The healthy bacterial flora in the horse's digestive tract can start to die off after as little as FOUR hours without eating. This is why feeding probiotics to horses is normally an excellent idea; their digestive tracts are constantly being disturbed by unnatural feeding schedules. When you consider how long stabled horses normally go without eating every day, it is no wonder that colic is a common problem! Three meals a day is great for people, but not so great for horses.

Roughages are so low in nutritional / calorie content, it's pretty difficult for a horse to become overweight from eating too much hay. That would be like a person gaining weight from eating nothing but salad. Smile Some people believe too much hay will result in "hay belly", but that is usually caused by other factors, such as age, or lack of excercise. It will certainly not cause him any digestive problem or colic.

Not only is it physically healthy for the horse, it is mentally healthy as well. Stabled horses that go hours without eating are exceptionally bored and feel hungry. They are designed to almost always be eating, so they feel very restless and unhappy and many resort to activities such as wood chewing and wind sucking to alleviate their "oral fixation", or even pawing or weaving just to alleviate their boredom. The horse feels most relaxed in the feeding position (head down) and while chewing.

I have to agree with you guys though.
Even wild horses don't eat 24/7. I imagine they have to go days without eating depending on the amount of snow that they deal with.

The digestion of hay does create heat but it takes a lot longer for them to digest hay than it does to eat hay.
You are right PG, wild horses are lucky to find hay depending where they are located. Its not like they are roaming on planted pastures. I guess its like everything else, what works for you may not work for others.
Maybe I'm very old fashioned but I feed my horses the same year round when it comes to what they eat. The only time I adjust it is if they start looking too porky or too thin. I've done this for decades with no problems.

Something else to consider in free choice hay is that wild horses don't have access to rich hay fields like where our hay comes from. And I would imagine they eat weeds, flowers, and even wild grains and berries when they can find them. I know as a kid our horses loved the mulberries that grew over the fence every summer, and eating other plants probably gives them herbs much like what I take for my own health. If you feed free choice, plain grass hay won't hurt your horse like richer hays such as alfalfa, which I've been told by my veterinarian shouldn't be fed to horses anyway. I do have some alfalfa in my hay, but very little due to what is growing in my supplier's hay fields.

So, like I said; I don't change the way I feed or what I feed... just how much according to my horses' needs and the amount of exercise they get that can vary due to weather and other unforeseen circumstances. They get fed twice daily and are doing fine.
Right on RH. The horse nutritionist I talk to says no alfalfa either if you want to give it to them, do it on the side.