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Feed extra forage at night for your horse's digestive health

Horses' digestive systems are designed to work constantly throughout the day and night.

By Dr. Juliet Getty | 15-Sep-11

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Horse eating hay True or false? Horses don’t need as much hay during the night because they sleep.

False, and dangerous. Equine nutrition expert Dr. Juliet Getty frequently has to bust this myth. Believe the facts:

  • Horses are awake and moving most of the time.
  • Mature horses will sleep up to two hours per day, broken into short periods.
  • These 15 to 20 minute naps are intermittent throughout the day and night.

In other words, horses do not sleep for long periods of time the way humans and some other animals do. Being prey animals, horses must get their sleep in frequent breaks of short duration, ideally in a group situation where some take turns resting while others remain alert for dangers.

One more fact to keep in mind:

  • The horse’s digestion is designed to process food continuously.

Horses are trickle feeders, designed to graze continuously to keep the digestive system functioning normally, thereby preventing ulcers and colic. Feeding them in sync with their natural instincts and physiology requires that they have forage available any time they want it. And that means 24/7.

The solution is simple: Feed enough hay at night to make certain there is some left over in the morning. If your horse runs out of hay and you wake to find him kicking and pawing, he is hungry. But even if he seems to be waiting patiently, he may be in discomfort or outright pain due to the acid bathing his empty stomach. Certainly, he is also mentally stressed; this stress can lead to a multitude of health problems (including, ironically, being persistently overweight).

Ease your horse’s discomfort and keep his digestion healthy by giving him more hay than he could possibly eat. Once he realizes the supply will never run out, he will self-regulate and actually begin to eat less because he has relaxed, both physically and emotionally. And you can sleep better, knowing that all night long your horse is eating just the way he was meant to—like a horse.

Further Reading
Seven Feeding Myths Shattered

Dr. Juliet Getty has taught and consulted on equine nutrition for more than 20 years. Her website, /redirect.aspx?, offers a library of helpful articles, a forum on nutrition, and a calendar of appearances, teleconferences and interviews.

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Reader Comments

Carol    International

4/16/2013 12:35:07 PM

I started to feed at night just one year ago. A ANNCHP came over from the UK to France to help me go "barefoot" with my Appaloosa mare. She dropped into the conversation that she always fed her small herd their last hay nets just before going to bed bfor the reasons in this post. She wasn't being critical or telling me I should. However when she left it just played over an dover in my head. It made sense. It felt right; So for the last year I have been doing just that and my horse and 5 ponies are looking very well of it and their Paddock Paradise.

kilee rayn    sioux city, IA

10/1/2011 6:41:24 PM

I think that horses don`t sleep that much becase there are predators and might attack the horse. the average horse gets only about 15 to 20 minute nap or more.

thankful    any, MH

10/1/2011 4:02:24 PM

Thank you for writing this. I didn't know about feeding at night before. (Luckily I don't have a horse yet)

Danielle    O, ON

9/28/2011 6:52:02 AM

For those of you who are concerned with your horses eating too much, or too fast, you should try slow feeding nets. you can buy different brands and types, but you just fit it over the round bale (or small bale, or get slow feed hay nets for stalls). The holes are small, so the horses have to work harder to get the hay, and eat less. Plus there's not as much waste, and it can save you tons of money. (while keeping horses fed and Occupied)

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