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 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 is 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, persistent 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.
Dr. Juliet Getty has taught and consulted on equine nutrition for more than 20 years. Her website, www.gettyequinenutrition.com , offers a library of helpful articles, a forum on nutrition, and a calendar of appearances, teleconferences and interviews. Dr. Getty’s comprehensive reference book, Feed Your Horse Like A Horse: Optimizing your horse’s nutrition for a lifetime of vibrant health, is available in hardcover and CD-ROM (pdf file) through her website or at Amazon.com. Dr. Getty offers a free (and popular) monthly e-newsletter, “Forage for Thought”; sign up through the website. Dr. Getty serves as a distinguished advisor to the Equine Sciences Academy, which produces the Whole Horse Symposium (www.thewholehorse.org) to be held October 15-16, 2011 at the National Equestrian Center in Lake St. Louis, MO; check the Symposium schedule for Dr. Getty’s appearances there. She is also available for individual consultations. Contact Dr. Getty directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or in Colorado at (970) 884-7187.