Feed time is my favorite time at the barn. The tranquil sound of horses softly chewing their grain after pacing, pawing and neighing in excitement of their food has always been soothing to me. Monitoring horses during feed time is part of being a barn manager since loss of appetite is a symptom for various horse illnesses. Watching your horse eats its meals can tell you several different things:
1. If your horse is not feeling well.
Horses in discomfort normally won’t eat. The loss of appetite is often the first symptom for a variety of equine illnesses. Noticing when a horse is rejecting food can help catch illnesses early and treat the horse right away. Also, if a horse regularly looks visibly uncomfortable right after finishing a meal, that can be a clue for ulcers and should be discussed with your veterinarian.
2. Whether your horse should see a dentist.
Notice how your horse chews the grain (or a treat). Poking their head up and tilting their head can indicate dental issues as the horse tries to maneuver the food in a position where it can chew comfortably. Also, seeing a lot of grain spilling out of your horse’s mouth while it is chewing, can be a sign that a dentist might need to adjust the bite.
3. Is your horse eating grain too fast?
If your horse is eating unusually fast, you might want to take measure to slow it down to prevent choking (find more about choking in horses here: Help, I think my horse is choking!) by putting large rocks in the feed bin or spreading the grain out in a flat feeding pan.
4. Know your horse’s “normal” eating habits.
All horses eat a bit differently. One horse at my barn gets a supplement cookie and will always pick that out of the grain first and then start eating. Then there is the type “vacuum cleaner” mare that will dig in as soon as the grain hits the feed bin and finish in record time. Then there is the gourmet gelding, who will carefully take a bite and thoroughly chew before taking the next bite and stop to lick the metal plate in the corner of his stall in between. Knowing what is normal behavior for your horse can help you noticing when something is out of the ordinary behavior.
Tanja Schnuderl is the Director of International Services with The Equine Expert LLC, a multi-discipline equine expert witness and consulting firm with expert equestrians offering legal expert witness and consulting services in court cases and legal matters. Tanja is an expert on Barn Management and Horse Behavior. She has been the Barn Manager for Moon Rising Farm close to Washington DC for many years and has established her own equine appraisal company, Sigma Equine LLC. Tanja grew up in Germany and was a paralegal for many years. For more information on Tanja Schnuderl email email@example.com, www.theequineexpert.com