The Impact Of Nutrition On Horse Behaviour

March 21, 2023 Tom Clark | Comments Off

As a horse owner, keeping your horse happy and healthy is essential and the horse feed that you provide plays an important role in that. Each horse is different and therefore has unique dietary requirements depending on their lifestyles, and the nutrients that they get through their diet help their bodies to function as they should. Getting to know more about how nutrition can impact your horse’s behaviour is crucial so you can reduce over-excitability, lethargy, and uncomfortable health problems. A good starting point is understanding how high-fibre horse feed benefits your horse’s digestive system and how essential nutrients are needed to balance the ration. Read on to find out more.

Your Horse’s Digestive System

Before diving into the impact certain horse feeds and nutrients can have on a horse’s behaviour, it helps to know more about the digestive system itself. Your horse’s digestive system is incredibly sensitive, which is why it’s so important to manage their diet in a way that keeps them happy and healthy, and free of any uncomfortable issues like colic.

Your horse’s digestive system is broken up into two parts, the foregut, and the hindgut. The foregut refers to the mouth, stomach, and small intestine. When a horse eats, the enzymes in saliva break the food down so it can pass into the stomach. Your horse’s stomach is small, and because they’re grazers, they continuously produce stomach acid. If there is insufficient fibre in the ration, the acid levels can rise contributing to the development of gastric ulcers. After the food leaves the stomach, it heads to the small intestine where most of the nutrient absorption takes place.

Nutrients and Behaviour

Did you know that nutrients present in some horse feed, as well as supplements, can have an impact on the way your horse behaves? The main components of horse feed, like carbohydrates, protein, fats, and other vitamins and minerals can have an impact on your horse’s day-to-day life.

Carbohydrates are also an essential nutrient to consider when it comes to learning more about the impact of nutrition on your horse’s behaviour. Simple carbohydrates, like sugar and starch, break down quickly into the bloodstream, which can lead to a spike in glucose levels – this can lead to an excitable, energetic horse, which can be problematic.

Complex carbohydrates also known as fibre are different and are found in forage and are digested slowly, making for a calmer, relaxed horse. A high-fibre diet, combined with other vitamins and minerals can create a balanced diet for horses that are in light to moderate work and can be found in hay, beet pulp, and alfalfa. This can provide a steady release of energy – which is preferable when dealing with a fizzy horse!

Feeding and Behaviour

How and when you feed your horse has an impact on them, as well as what you feed them! Horses need routine, so providing them with the same feed each day to suit their individual needs, at the same time, allows them to feel secure and also has benefits for the micro-organisms that live in the digestive system. If you need to change a horse’s diet, you should do this slowly to allow the microbes time to adjust – they are incredibly sensitive to changes in acidity levels too and so need time to adjust to new ingredients or feeds. Not doing this can cause problems and result in the horse experiencing digestive upsets such as colic. 

Causes of Behavioural Issues in Horses

There are a few different issues that can have an impact on the way your horse behaves. If you find that your horse is becoming fizzy and excitable, there may be too many simple carbs within their diet, this could be caused by feeding grains like maize and barley which contain a high level of starch.

But with this in mind, it’s also essential to remember that stress can have an impact on your horse’s behaviour. Making changes to their diet and routine may be necessary to manage excitability. The real challenge comes when at a competition as it often requires a horse to travel, encounter a new environment as well as coming into contact with unknown horses. Some horses cope with this better than others and it can take a lot of training and patience to condition a horse to coping with competitions.  If you haven’t done so already, then changing the basic diet can make a real difference and it is worth talking to a nutritionist for personal advice – it could make the difference between winning and losing.