Most horses are good examples of what it means to “eat like a horse”. The hard keepers that don’t dig in as well can drive their owners nuts.
To make matters worse, Murphy’s Law often kicks in, with the pickiest horses requiring restricted diets, supplements or medications you need to coax them to eat.
Like people, individual horses vary in their preferences for specific flavors as well as textures. Most healthy horses will eat just about anything, but the picky ones can pose a real challenge in finding something they will accept, especially if you need to add supplements or medications to it.
Even horses with robust appetites usually object to having powders puff up their noses when they eat. To prevent this, wet the feed lightly with water or oil (best is CocoSoya which also smells wonderful). This also prevents powders from sifting through and being left in the bottom of the bucket. Mixing powders into the feed thoroughly works for some horses, but there are others that prefer to have them top dressed without mixing. I never could come up with a reasonable explanation for why that would be the case, but nevertheless it’s true!
If the horse absolutely refuses to eat something you can try a few things:
- Start by putting just a tiny amount in the meal, increasing slowly
- Syringe it all directly into his mouth
- My favorite, a hybrid, is to syringe most of the dose into the horse before feeding then feed the meal with progressively larger amounts of the offending substance in the meal. This method has the taste of the supplement or drug in his mouth already before feeding.
- Some owners report the horse will accept things better when placed on the hay. This can work if you make sure the entire dose is actually sticking well to wet or oiled hay, and that the horse is truly eating and swallowing all of the hay, not spitting it out or sorting through it.
Sprinkling small amounts of the supplement or drug around the stall, on ledges as well as the floor, can also help desensitize the horse.
Texture can make a difference. You need some water or oil to make sure there is good adherence, but too much water may cause the horse to refuse the meal. Others like it more soupy. You have to experiment. Also be aware that water may actually enhance the taste or odor of whatever you are adding, while oils tend to mask it.
Some horses are remarkably picky even when nothing is added to their basic meals. This is a common problem when trying to switch from sweet feeds to low molasses options, or from high starch to low starch items. Important: If the horse is refusing to eat something that had previously been well accepted, suspect a problem with the feed even if you can’t tell anything is off, a dental issue causing pain, or some other illness. Refusal of concentrates and preference for hay is highly suspicious for gastric ulcers. Involve your veterinarian.
Otherwise, first try to wait out the boycott by not allowing any hay or turnout until the meal is cleaned up. If the horse has more staying power than you do, you’ll need to ramp up the appeal. My three favorite options are:
- CocoSoya oil – even barn cats have trouble resisting it!
- Crumble the horse’s favorite dry herbs or treats on top of the meal
- Stevia-based flavorings (don’t use other artificial sweeteners). Some people use Stevia sweetened pancake syrup but there are other options in horse agreeable flavors like apple, banana, peppermint, fenugreek and cherry.
It may take a lot of trial and error, but with persistence you can overcome the picky eater problem.
Uckele Health & Nutrition, maker of CocoSoya®, offers flavorings and oils that help entice the picky eater.
CocoSoya is Uckele’s Flagship Product! Rich in Omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids, CocoSoya provides a healthy fat and a cool- calorie energy source to build and maintain healthy weight while supporting healthy blood sugar levels. Promotes a glossy coat and excellent body condition. Helps to keep hooves nourished and moisturized from the inside out.
Features significant palatability, allowing supplements to be blended more easily and reduces the need for molasses to improve supplement or feed flavor.
Equi-Sweet is a delicious sugar free sweetener that masks the taste of medications or supplements. Great for weaning horses off high sugar sweet feeds. Encourages horses to drink water when away from home. Sweetened with Stevia, and will not cause an insulin rise. Zero calories, Zero carbs, Zero glycemic index.
Available in pint or gallon, in the following flavors: Apple Banana, Molasses or Peppermint.
Equi-Treats reward your horse without disrupting healthy blood sugar levels. Delicious bite-sized pellets with no added sugar or artificial colors. Wholesome treats are available in a tasty alfalfa base.
Available in additional sizes/flavors: Fenugreek, Apple Banana, Cherry Vanilla and Peppermint. Available in a 1lb or 5lb bag.
Permission to reprint this article is granted, provided credit is given to Uckele Health & Nutrition, who appreciates being notified of publication.
About Dr. Kellon
Dr. Eleanor Kellon, staff veterinary specialist for Uckele Health & Nutrition, is an established authority in the field of equine nutrition for over 30 years, and a founding member and leader of the Equine Cushings and Insulin Resistance (ECIR) group, whose mission is to improve the welfare of horses with metabolic disorders via integration of research and real-life clinical experience. Prevention of laminitis is the ultimate goal. www.ecirhorse.org
Uckele Health & Nutrition, maker of CocoSoya, is an innovation-driven health company committed to making people and their animals healthier. On the leading edge of nutritional science and technology for over 50 years, Uckele formulates and manufactures a full spectrum of quality nutritional supplements incorporating the latest nutritional advances. www.uckele.com.