With winter approaching and the drought conditions we’ve recently experienced in some areas, hand feeding our horses becomes necessary.
Here’s a few tips and tricks that can make it safe for you and fun for your horse during this daily interaction.
In fact playing games at feeding time is vital to maintaining or gaining ‘alpha’ status with your horses/s.
Firstly, remember that the alpha horse always gets to the food first and guards it with purpose – all the time!
So, if you are to be the alpha horse, don’t allow your horse to come into your personal space (about the length of a training stick or swinging string) while you are carrying the feed into the paddock or placing it in the feed bin.
It doesn’t take them long to get greedy and dive for the feed bucket as you try to get through the gate.
Even if you feed over the fence (the easy or safe way out with a very dominant horse or a whole herd) use your stick to keep them back until the food is in position.
When feeding more than one horse, try to place the feed in the same place and feed bin so the horses know who goes where in the pecking order – this is particularly important when there’s more than a couple in the herd.
Keeping the order teaches the horses to wait near their bin rather than feeling like they have to fight for their food every time.
Its amazing how soon they catch onto where they need to be which reduces the anxiety around feed time.
If you have a large group of 5 or more horses, you may even need to put out an extra bucket as the alpha horse will probably finish first and the extra means the others don’t miss out.
Same with the hay, make sure there are a few more piles than horses and that they are well spread out – some horses learn they can ‘guard’ 2 or 3 piles within ‘charging’ distance.
Sometimes people ask me if its OK to do things with their horse while they’re eating? My answer is ‘yes’ but you may need to start by just being friendly first until your horse sees you as no threat to their dinner.
If they do, use a stick to keep a safe distance and don’t back off if they threaten you – remember you are the alpha horse!
I use feeding time to clean and check hooves and even trim them or to treat wounds, groom or just be friendly.
I think its an important part of the relationship – that they can trust you to be close while they are feeding – watch close friends feeding in the paddock, they often eat side by side or out of the same bucket.
Here’s how I feed my herds;
At times, I’ve had to feed from round bales of hay and discovered that it doesn’t take them long to demolish it – five horses consumed a big bale in six days when given free access – they also drank a lot more to go with it!
When I checked out the round bale feeders commercially available, I decided they are not ideal for horses – being designed for cattle to eat through or in between the bars doesn’t mean they are safe for horses who panic a whole lot quicker – I could just see them getting their heads stuck and panicking – sure to result in some nasty injury.
So I improvised and have found a simple and cost saving way to keep the hay in one place that seems to be reasonably safe. By wrapping a 6 metre piece of 900mm tall sheep yard mesh around the bale and tying it securely to 2 capped steel posts, I’ve made an easily moved feeder which the horses can’t put their feet or heads through but can reach over (providing they are at least 14hh) to get the last bit of hay.
They can still toss some out as they root around for the seeds as mine do, but its not too much work to pick up around the area each day and set it aside for the lowest in the pecking order.
Aside from making hay available constantly when there’s little grass, I also feed a small amount of grain once daily to those on maintenance rations which includes their added minerals. They also have free access to a Himalayan salt lick.
The horses that need extra feed to maintain weight get the same minerals etc but more lucerne and Speedibeet plus Coolfuel Copra and linseed.
For more information on Nutrition click here.
Here is another article on Feeding Your Horse Naturally written by Lisa Ross-Williams and published in Equine Wellness Magazine.