Dealing with a Hungry Horse By Kentucky Equine Research Staff - Equine Health and Welfare

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Dealing with a Hungry Horse By Kentucky Equine Research Staff

HCBC Staff
Created: October 21, 2015

Though these behaviors may be deeply rooted, hangry horses often have one thing in common: limited forage.Horses express “hanger” clearly and often noisily

Dealing with a Hungry Horse By Kentucky Equine Research Staff · September 8, 2015

Linking parts of two simple words, hungry and angry, has produced the fashionable adjective "hangry," a state in which a person is famished to the point of agitation. While humans can deal with a “hangry” disposition in a family member or friend easily enough, sorting out the attitude in your horse might be more problematic.

Though these behaviors may be deeply rooted, hangry horses often have one thing in common: limited forage.Horses express “hanger” clearly and often noisily. Cartoonists haven’t created enough words to describe the racket that precedes a meal in some barns, but these serve adequately: kaboom, bam, kapow! Though the cacophony raised by a stable’s occupants before mealtime defies description and can be oh-so maddening, what’s behind it?

Let’s take a deeper look at the two most common premeal antics.

Have legs, will engage. Who knew so many different sounds could originate from a hoof strike? A well-placed kick to the oak stall wall sounds completely dissimilar to the agitated strike on the metal stall door or the monotonous, though frantic, pawing of the stall floor. Most horses with these behaviors settle once the feed has been delivered, but others will merely modify the behavior. Instead of actually pawing, for example, they may hold a leg, fore or hind, in midair.

Wear and tear on the stall is the obvious disadvantage, but if behaviors are severe enough, owners might find that horseshoes become worn quickly, especially aluminum shoes tacked on to dedicated pawers, and hoof health might suffer. Chronic inflammation of the points of hock, an unsightly blemish called capped hocks, arises from recurring kicking.

Various forms of discipline and deterrents have been used with fluctuating success, as once ingrained, the behaviors can be difficult to stop. The use of rubber mats keep stall floors level, and stall walls can be fitted with rubber or other cushioning material. Bedding can be banked on stall walls, a tactic particularly useful if a horse kicks low. Another option: feed the horse outside in a paddock or drylot where there is less likelihood of injury.

Face of danger. Mealtime offers the observant horseman a veritable study in facial expressions. Unfortunately, those countenances are usually unhappy ones: ears pinned, muzzles twisted, teeth bared, eyes fixed. These scowls are real, so the question remains the same meal after meal: is this only a threat by the horse or will he act on the threat one day. Hard to say, isn’t it? Side with caution and steer clear of hostile horses by devising a way to deliver feed without one-on-one contact.

In a stabled environment, it’s easy to keep this intimidating horse away from others, even if it means separating him from other horses in the barn so he has no neighbors. This behavior spikes when horses can see one another through stall bars or open walls. Group-feeding situations might exacerbate the problem, considering this horse can actually focus aggression onto reachable, specific targets. Members of most herds, small or large, usually work out discord among themselves, and managers can help through thoughtful placement of feeders, allowing at least 40-50 feet between each one. This is usually enough distance to deter one horse from trying to control multiple feeders.

Why the fuss?

Though these behaviors may be deeply rooted, hangry horses often have one thing in common: limited forage. Because the gastrointestinal tract functions best when horses are allowed to pick at forage continuously, it is most advantageous to give horses access to hay appropriate for their lifestyle and metabolism.

“Without a near-constant supply of forage, horses run the risk of gastric ulceration, which manifests as pain. Saliva mitigates this discomfort as does the presence of feedstuffs in the stomach,” said Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., an equine nutritionist with Kentucky Equine Research (KER). “There is, therefore, a chance that horses are actually acting out because they know their gastric discomfort will diminish with a meal.”

Managers that have implemented this one change sometimes see a difference in premeal behavior, according to Crandell. Aside from appropriate forage, a supplement designed to support the gastrointestinal tract, both foregut and hindgut, will help horses with digestive problems.

RiteTrac, a total-tract supplement designed by KER, offers a two-prong approach to optimal digestive health; it keeps gastric ulcers at bay and buffers the hindgut. Horses with gastrointestinal upset frequently engage in stable vices, consult an equine nutritionist and or your veterinarian to find a solution.

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