They’re every owner’s worst nightmare: picky eaters. There are a few different reasons your horse may be giving you a hard time when it’s time to chow down, but regardless of the reason, it can be quite the headache. We buy our horses the best supplements and grains that we can in order to promote their health and to ensure that they are in the best possible condition, and these things are certainly not cheap. No one likes to see their money go to waste, especially on something so important. Luckily, we’ve gathered some tips and tricks for dealing with a picky eater, so you can make sure your horse stops pushing around their expensive grain and supplements.
Rule Out Injury, Illness, Or Dental Trouble
The most common reasons for most horses to start refusing to eat is injury, illness, or dental trouble. Your horse may experience pain eating because of poor dental hygiene, inflammation or infection of the gums, an abscess in the mouth, or even a damaged esophagus. Refusing to eat or drink can also be a sign of Choke, an illness which causes extreme amounts of pain in the horse’s throat.
It is also important to consider colic when you see that your horse has refused to eat. While colic is just about every horse owner’s worst nightmare and is something that all of us would really rather not think about, it is always best to catch it before it progresses into something worse.
If you notice that your horse stops eating their food, it is always a good idea to immediately inform your veterinarian and request for them to come out and do a thorough examination on your horse. In this case, make sure that your veterinarian takes the time to check your horse’s mouth and throat, as well. Your veterinarian will determine if your horse has stopped eating their food for any physical reasons. The sooner you have your veterinarian come out to conduct a thorough exam on your horse, the better; it is always best to catch whatever is going on sooner rather than later.
When your horse’s health is concerned, it is always better to be safe rather than sorry, and it is good to always remember that horses have a very limited way of explaining to us what is going on when things go wrong. Even the small gesture of refusing to eat can mean that your horse is trying to tell you something.
Sometimes, tough love is the best love. When you cater to your horse and switch out their feed for something tastier, you are letting them know that they can simply refuse to eat their food and receive something better. If you have ruled out physical reasons with your veterinarian and your horse is still being a picky eater, try simply practicing some tough love and leaving them with one option. If they are hungry, they will eat. Resist the urge to add sugar cubes, apples, carrots, or molasses to your horse’s feed in order to bribe them to eat; this is basically rewarding them for bad behavior, and it teaches them that simply refusing to eat means that you will follow suit with yummy treats. A bit of tough love never hurt anyone!
Eliminate Group Feeding
Many barns choose to feed horses their separate buckets of grain all in one common area, often times a pasture. If your horse has displayed signs of disinterest in eating and is currently being fed in close contact with other horses, he or she may be experiencing stress from feeling like their food may be stolen by the other horses. To determine if this is the issue, isolate your horse away from the other horses at feeding time and encourage them to eat. If you find that they have no trouble eating the entirety of their meal away from other horses, it might be best for you to arrange for them to be stalled for their mealtimes, or even simply brought to a seperate area to ensure that they will not feel any stress when attempting to enjoy their meal.
Add Water To Grain Buckets
There are multiple benefits to adding a bit of water to a horse’s grain. The main benefit is that it aids in hydration, and it also helps prevent colic, as it aids in digestion and keeping the food from becoming impacted as it makes its way through the horse’s digestive system. When it comes to picky eaters, adding water to a bucket of grain can help mix the flavors together, making it hard for the horse to be picky about the flavors of certain grains or supplements. Consider this situation a win-win!
Strategize Feeding Times
If you have noticed that your horse picks around certain supplements because they don’t like the taste, it may be best to only add supplements into the grain when they are hungriest; the first grain of the day is a great opportunity to squeeze in the supplements, as they are often so hungry in the morning that they have no trouble gobbling down their first meal of the day. When they have had time during the day to munch on hay in their stalls, or grass in the pasture, they may be more inclined to nudge things around in their grain bucket and eat things selectively. Strategize supplementation and feeding times to coincide with when your horse is hungriest to avoid any chance of them refusing to eat anything in their bucket.
Of course, everything we do is with our horse’s best interests in mind. If you notice that your horse has started to refuse to eat, call your veterinarian immediately to rule out any illness, injury, or dental problem before you do anything else. Once you have ruled that out, follow the tips and tricks mentioned in this article to get them back on track. Sometimes, all our horses need are a little bit of tough love so they can get a lot of what’s good for them.