Nutrition Affects a Horse's Behavior

Image of horses eating.

Has your horse not quite been themselves lately? Have you noticed unusual fatigue or conversely, excitability? You may be surprised to learn that nutrition and dietary choices play a significant role in determining equine behavior. And, it is not simply what they eat, but how.

Horse owners often report feeding their horses three large meals a day and this can be the culprit for many behavioral concerns when observed over time. Equine research has taken a closer look at what may be occurring. If your horse is experiencing behavioral concerns, schedule an appointment with your equine veterinary specialist to discuss if nutrition could play a role.

There have been several relationships drawn between what horses are fed, how much they are fed and how they behave. The most common observation is that horse's fed three meals a day exhibit intestinal irritation. These horses often elicit an exaggerated amount of excitability. This has largely been observed in race and show horses. For horses who do not participate in shows, an eating style like this can result in intermittent fatigue and excitability. Because horses are naturally foraging animals meant to graze and eat throughout the day, food loading can not only inflame the digestive system, but ultimately result in a nutritional deficiency. Horses are unable to absorb large amounts of nutrients all at once. Accounting for the quality of food a horse receives affects absorbability almost as much as size of the meal.

The major concern equine veterinary specialists share is that irregular behavior may be more due to a nutritional deficiency. The neurohormonal processes that control behavior and temperament are dependent on maintaining specific nutrient ratios. Developing a relationship with your veterinary specialist can help you learn how to discover the most ideal food rationing, the best times of day to offer your horse food, and how to evaluate the overall nutritional status of your horse at home.
The relationship between equine nutrition and behavior is receiving significant attention in the continuing education sector for equine veterinary specialists. Current research centers on gauging the glycemic loads in common feeds while observing blood glucose levels related to horse activity and behavior.

Schedule an appointment today with your horse's veterinarian to discover the best methods of feeding and what type of food will suit your horse's nutritional needs and behavior best.

Sources:
Skelly, Christine, “Horse Nutrition.”
Ralston, Sarah L, “Evidence-based Equine Nutrition.”

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