As I write this, in the car, between two jobs eating my peanut butter sandwich, this subject seems very relevant.
In the rules of feeding, which we all learn diligently and follow religiously, it says that horses should never be worked for an hour after being fed.
This seems a simple rule, but as I’m sure many of you have discovered when you went into the big wide world, there are lots of grey areas and blurred lines.
For example, horses shouldn’t be starved because it’s bad for their digestive tract, yet this is what the rule suggests. So it’s finding the right balance.
If the horse is going around a cross country course then a full stomach of hay will not be comfortable, neither will half most probably. However, if they’re going on a slow and steady hack then a tummy full of hay is quite comfortable.
The same goes for bucket feeds. Most people feed a predominantly fibre based bucket feed nowadays, and if you’re horse only has half a scoop of dampened chaff then it’s similar to having access to a haynet, and the horse would most likely be fine for a steady ride out.
That’s not to say you should feed breakfast as the saddle is going on, but the hour wait can be relaxed a bit. However at the other end of the scale, a horse with a predominantly carbohydrate bucket feed (that is, oats or barley for example) should be allowed an hour to digest their feed regardless of the size of the feed or the workload as there is a higher risk of colic because carbohydrates are all digested in the stomach which has a reduced working capacity when a horse is exercising, so undigested food matter is likely to be passed into the intestines, where it cannot be made smaller so is more likely to get stuck and cause colic. Fibre is broken down in the hind gut so it is not as important if it passes quickly through the stomach as it will be broken down later on in the digestive tract.
Recently there has been a study into the problems caused by riding a horse on an empty stomach; most noticeably gastric ulcers, under performance, and poor behaviour resulting from abdominal pain – I know I don’t ride or teach at my best when the hunger pangs kick in!
So owners with horses on restricted diets are now being told to give a small haynet or a scoop of chaff half an hour before exercising their horse to ensure stomach acid is not sloshing around and causing all sorts of problems.
But can it work the other way? So if you have a horse who needs ad lib forage and tends to scoff it, should you be removing the source of food half an hour before you ride so that they aren’t bloated or over full and uncomfortable when working? Because surely, in a similar way that we lack lustre when replete, a horse’s performance or work ethic can be affected?
There’s some food for thought for a Friday. Perhaps feeding in relation to work is more complicated that we think!