Hoof Nutrition Intelligence Hoof Nutrition Intelligence is a twice-a-month web segment that is designed to add to the education of footcare professionals when it comes to effectively feeding the hoof. The goal of this web-exclusive feature is to zero in on specific areas of hoof nutrition and avoid broad-based articles that simply look at the overall equine feeding situation.

Below you will find Part 1 of the latest question and answer installment that you can share with your footcare clients.

Q: How can I slow down the speed at which my horse consumes feed?

By Krishona Martinson

Extending the length of time horses spend foraging has been linked to improvements in horse health and well-being, including reductions in unwanted behaviors, ulcers, choke and insulin and glucose responses after a meal.

Slowing feed intake is important for horses on restricted diets, those who are fed a few times each day and horses who tend to feed aggressively and quickly. Many horse owners can slow equine feed intake rates by simply altering how they deliver feed to their horse.

1. Slow‐Feed Hay Nets

Researchers from the University of Minnesota revaluated different hay nets to determine the effect on horse intake rates. Horses were fed hay (1% bodyweight twice daily) off the box stall floor (control), or from one of three hay nets, including a large net (6-inch openings), medium net (1.75 inches) and small net (1-inch).

Horses eating from the medium net took just over 5 hours to consume the hay while horses eating from the small nets took 6.5 hours to consume the meal. Both the control and large net resulted in consumption times of 3.2 and 3.4 hours, respectively.

If small or medium hay nets were used for twice daily feeding, the anticipated amount of time horses would spend foraging would be 10 to 13 hours each day, more closely mimicking a horse’s natural grazing behavior.

2. Grazing Muzzles

Research has shown grazing muzzles can help slow a horse’s intake of both pasture and grain. Researchers from the University of Minnesota determined the use of a grazing muzzle reduced a horse’s pasture intake by approximately 30%.

Researchers from Illinois recently evaluated two grazing muzzles when horses were fed grain and determined the use of a grazing muzzle slowed grain intake, but tended to spill more grain. However, horses were able to acclimate to the grazing muzzle and increased their intake rate over time.

3. Specialized Grain Feeders

Researchers from Texas A&M University tested a newly designed feed bucket (Pre‐Vent Feeder) and determined that the bucket slowed grain consumption and reduced grain spillage. Horses spent 21-60 additional minutes eating grain from the feeder compared to a normal bucket or tub.

In a separate study, researchers from North Carolina State University developed a waffle structure that was inserted into a feed bucket. The waffle insert increased grain consumption time by nearly 50% compared to feeding from a bucket without the waffle insert.

4. Obstacles 

Researchers from North Carolina State University tested grain feeding time using a bucket that contained four 4-inch diameter bocce style balls. The balls were effective at extending the feeding time by 4 minutes and maintaining the time it took horses to consume feed after multiple days of use. The researchers also found the balls produced the lowest glucose and insulin responses compared to other feeding methods tested.

5. Forage Quality

The fiber content in hay can be used to slow horse consumption. Neutral detergent fiber (NDF) is a measurement of insoluble fiber and provides the plant with structural rigidity. NDF levels from 40%-50% are considered ideal and promote hay intake, while NDF levels above 65% tend to result in a reduction in intake by most horses.

6. Feeding Order

Research has determined that horses consumed grain slower when hay was fed 20 minutes before feeding grain. When hay was fed before grain, grain consumption was 0.3 pounds per minute compared to 0.4 pounds per minute when hay and grain were fed simultaneously.

Slow‐feed hay nets, grazing muzzles, specialized grain feeders, obstacles, forages high in NDF and feeding order are all effective management strategies for slowing horse feed intake. Most importantly, they represent simple and affordable management options that horse owners can implement.

Krishona Martinson is an Extension program leader and horse specialist at the University of Minnesota.

Hoof Nutrition Intelligence is brought to you by W.F. Young Co. (Absorbine). Absorbine

Like many significant achievements, Absorbine® grew out of humble beginnings—and through the tenacity of someone willing to question the status quo. In this case, it was a young woman in late 19th-century Massachusetts: Mary Ida Young. Her husband, Wilbur Fenelon Young, was an enterprising piano deliveryman who relied on the couple’s team of horses to make deliveries throughout the Northeast. Inspired by Mary Ida and Wilbur’s vision, Absorbine® has continued to add innovative products throughout the years — products used every day by horse owners around the world. Which is why, since 1892, we’ve been The Horse World’s Most Trusted Name®.

Click here to read Part 2 of the June 1, 2019 installment: How does laminitis develop with horses that consume lush pasture grass?

Click here to read more installments of Hoof Nutrition Intelligence.