In part 3 we consider grazing and what our options are for the good doer.

While it is obvious when we look at a field of lush, rich, green grass that this is unlikely to be suitable for good doers, is the alternative of very short cropped grass the best alternative, or perhaps something in between?
Firstly, it’s important to understand that there are a couple of factors here that we are aiming to control, the first being overall quantity and the second being sugar levels and subsequently the potential for more calories. When managing the good doer, both factors should be considered.
While we can strive to do the best by our equine friends when it comes to grass intake, it is very rarely completely black and white, although there are some fundamental scientific facts we can base our management on, grey areas still exist which can muddy the waters. Management must not only consider the facts below but also the individual horse or pony involved.

In order to understand the reasons behind suitability of different grass lengths, we need to consider where the nutrients are stored within grass and how we can gauge grass intake.


How much grass does a horse eat?

Research suggests that horses and ponies can eat anywhere between 1.5 – 5.2% dry matter of their bodyweight per day. As a rough guide, using an average of 3% bodyweight, a 500kg horse could consume 15kg dry matter of grass in a 24 hour period (on good grass), this is just over 0.6kg per hour. This highlights the very real danger of horses consuming excess calories from grass alone. As a general rule, grass will always provide more nutrients than hay or haylage so, if the grass is good it’s likely that the horse’s energy demands will be partially, if not fully, satisfied (or exceeded) by what he grazes each day.

During the process of photosynthesis, grass creates sugar (sucrose, glucose and fructose), required for growth, and any excess is converted into storage carbohydrate. This sugar can be referred to in a number of ways: one being non-structural carbohydrates (NSC), which is the simple sugars, fructan and starch fraction of the plant. A term more commonly used in pasture analysis, is the term water soluble carbohydrate (WSC), which encompasses simple sugars and fructans.
UK grass species store excess sugar (produced by photosynthesis) as fructan, while those adapted to more tropical climes store the majority as starch. UK grass species must have the genetic potential to produce high levels of WSC in order to be productive throughout a long grazing season and a cold winter.
When it comes to where sugars are stored, WSCs are generally more abundant in the stem and leaf sheaths than in the blades of grass; levels tending to increase with plant maturity, peaking during flowering and thereafter declining. Over 30% of fructans can occur in the tops of mature plants, especially at flowering (going to head), but levels remain lower if the plant is not allowed to head.
Unsurprisingly, we notice a preference in grazing behaviour that can be linked to sugar storage, selection for grazing being closely linked with WSC content, making reducing WSC intake arguably even more challenging!
In some conditions, WSC levels in grass can reach up to 50% (dry matter)! This is significantly more than grass hay or haylage which can reach ~20%. Having knowledge of when these sugar levels are likely to be at their peak may help to inform better management for good doers and those prone to problems such as laminitis.

While these figures can sound scarily high, it is important to remember that while undesirable for some, sugar is by no means unnatural for horses. In fact, many working horses, of healthy body condition, tolerate sugar well. However, for those requiring a low sugar and ultimately low calorie diet, management of grazing is essential, although it is important to note that a completely sugar- free diet is an almost impossible goal. The best that can be achieved is to minimise sugar intake from forage (grass, hay, haylage), which is typically the largest contributor of sugar in the diet.
Sugar levels can vary between seasons. In the UK, there is increased potential for a rise in horses WSC intake during spring when soil temperatures reach 5°C, and again in the autumn. While there is an increase in the level of WSC during this period, the potential for increased intake is more likely linked to an increased potential intake of grass overall. When it comes to considering WSC levels, while certain species can accumulate more than others and certain times of year may see a peak in level, WSC concentrations are more closely associated with environmental conditions.


What impacts the WSC level in grass?

There are many factors that influence the level of WSCs in grass and the same grass pasture can vary from year to year and even at different points throughout the day! While there are no absolute guarantees, considering the following factors, which increase WSC levels may help to identify times of greatest potential intake. It is important to note that a lot of these factors have a common theme running through them – stress. When grass is under stress of any kind, WSC levels accumulate.

  • Temperature: Cold nights and bright sunny days. The risk of WSC accumulation increases during spring when grass is growing, when the night time temperature drops below 5°C and during the winter months, immediately after a hard frost or when grass is snow covered. In these conditions the plant is unable to use the WSCs for growth, which can lead to accumulation. The risk increases further when these colder nights are coupled with bright sunny days.
  • Reduced soil fertility
  • Water stress e.g. drought
  • Sub-lethal herbicide application
  • Presence of heavy metals in soil
  • Time of day (afternoon/early evening): when the right environmental conditions allow,WSC levels will rise during the day (sugars accumulating as a product of photosynthesis)peaking late afternoon and decreasing once the sun sets. The plant then uses these sugarsovernight for growth, and as such, levels tend to be at their lowest first thing in the morning(typically 3am to 10am). Where grass has undergone ‘stress’ e.g. drought or night frost, thisprocess of converting sugar to fibre cannot occur, meaning the grass may still be high in sugar come the morning.· High WSC accumulating species: e.g. Ryegrasses
  • Stage of growth: flower/development
  • Light intensity: Sunlight and bright days! High light intensity is thought to increase WSC levels in pasture, low light intensity is thought to do the opposite.
  • Over-grazing and under-grazing: Over-grazing and exposing the crown of the grass causes ‘stress’ to the plant resulting in increased WSC levels. However, under-grazing and allowing grass to ‘go to head’ also results in potential for higher WSC intake.

Management tips for reducing WSC intake:
– Avoid turnout on frosty bright mornings during the winter months or bright days in the spring/autumn where overnight temperatures have dropped below 5°C.
– When daytime temperature rises above 30°C, respiration increases faster than photosynthesis and subsequently WSC content is reduced. As such these periods of increased growth may present opportunities for reduced WSC turnout.
– Turn-out early morning or late evening (bearing in mind exceptions noted above).
– Turn-out on cloudy days or in shady paddocks where there is less photosynthesis, so sugars do not accumulate as quickly. It is for this very reason, that wooded areas (excluding trees which can pose risk such as sycamores and oak) can be very effective turnout areas where calorie/WSC intake is trying to be reduced.
– Don’t be too focused on grass species. Cultivating a pasture comprising of low WSC- accumulating grass species is harder than it might seem and even then, environmental conditions and management are likely to have a larger bearing on actual WSC intake. The additional challenge is that lower accumulating WSC species are often associated with lower productivity, so choosing a grass species that is well adapted to the growing area and seeking the right advice on seed mix is crucial. Management practises to minimise WSC intake would still apply if a lower WSC accumulating species is achieved, while avoiding plant stress by enhancing soil fertility and moisture level, will also help.

So what is the problem with short grass?

We know that when grass is under stress it is higher in WSCs. So, where grass is grazed close but importantly not to the point where the grass is permanently damaged, the horse is repeatedly taking the newest growth (which is under stress) and therefore likely to be high in WSCs and ultimately calories (and low in fibre). However, this is less likely to be the case where the area grazed is so small that the horse is grazing faster than the grass is growing, which will result in permanent damage to the sward and ultimately degraded bare pasture.

So is longer grass the answer?

In short, no. While longer, older grass is typically higher in fibre and lower in WSC (providing it has not gone to head), the horse is able to take larger mouthfuls and therefore a much greater quantity overall as compared to the shorter grass. Therefore, it is completely conceivable that the same amount of calories/energy (and WSC) could be consumed, therefore potentially presenting a similar risk. In fact, it could be argued that this type of grazing actually presents more risk in terms of overall calorie consumption due to the likely larger quantity.

So what is the answer?!

It is really down to the individual. We know that turning out for a shorter period of time can lead to compensatory grazing (the horse/pony eating more grass in less time!) and is therefore ineffective, so what are our options?

One option would be to graze close but not to the point of sward damage. This can reduce overall intake through reducing bite size (essentially like a grazing muzzle) BUT this could come at the risk of not meeting minimum fibre requirements and crucially not satisfying the horse’s appetite (which is linked to dry matter intake rather than number of calories) – resulting in a hungry horse! Long term grazing in this manner can also compromise dentition (causing excessive wear to the front teeth). If you decide to keep your horses under this management (or have little choice in the matter) ensure that you supplement this with a high fibre (late cut hay/haylage potentially alongside straw, (at a maximum 30% of the forage ration)) to help meet requirements and satisfy appetite.

Another option is to remove grazing from the picture altogether. Arguably the easiest way to control intake, by removing the main factor which is difficult to regulate. You can then pair turnout on a bare or woodchip paddock with a suitable low calorie forage source such as late cut forage, ideally soaked and or steamed.

In both of the above management scenarios, Trickle Nets can be used to increase chew time and mimic grazing.

A grazing muzzle is another alternative and despite not quite conforming to that picturesque idea of ponies grazing naturally in the field, can achieve something close to what we are after – opportunity to burn some calories by promoting movement and a trickle feeding of food through the system enabled through essentially restricting bite size. Be sure to introduce these gradually and adhere to best practise regarding appropriate length of grass for use and maximum duration of wear.

Other methods of restriction such as strip grazing and mixed grazing are available but don’t work for all, a lot of these systems still enabling intakes which far exceed requirements of many leisure horses and ponies.
If using any management that incorporates grazing, try and also consider the environmental
conditions and let these inform your day to day management. Also consider compensatory grazing. If grass intake is restricted using a grazing muzzle, for example, which cannot be used for more than 12 hours, the remaining 12 hours will need to be spent in a stable/dry lot to avoid compensatory grazing.

Pasture and/or forage is likely to be the main source of sugar in most horses’ diets and while some can tolerate this, others may need their intake restricting whether for specific health concerns or to moderate behaviour or energy levels. Grass pasture is undoubtedly one of the most natural feed sources for horses however it is important to consider how it has changed since the horse’s evolution and therefore, should be constantly reassessed as part of the horse’s diet.


Briony Witherow MSc RNutr. FHEA
Practical Equine Nutrition
Consultancy in Equine Nutrition
Tel. 07908 984 034

A four-part series on the tale behind the good doer.

Part two:

In part one we explored how our native breeds have evolved and some of the challenges that modern management presents. In this blog we discuss different pasture types and how these compare to what our native breeds require.

Within modern management, it is increasingly common for horses to graze monoculture (single grass species) pastures, more suited to dairy cows and production livestock. This is a major factor suspected to contribute to obesity levels, as ponies would naturally have grazed meadows which featured a variety of grasses and browse, rather than single species pastures.

Broadly speaking, pasture type can be divided into four main categories, knowledge of which can help us to appreciate some of the differences between what horses have evolved to thrive on and what they are presented with in domestication.

Improved grassland has been managed to increase its productivity. These pastures are dominated by productive species such as ryegrass, and white clover. These species are designed to be more competitive and provide more calories per mouthful.

Semi-improved grassland has had some agricultural improvement (such as drainage or fertilisation) and is dominated by species such as ryegrass and cocksfoot.

Semi-natural (or unimproved) grassland is where grazing, cutting or burning prevents scrub and trees from becoming established but is otherwise not altered by human intervention. This type of grassland is species-rich and is usually dominated by less productive species such as fescues, along with sedges, rushes and mosses. Unfortunately, species-rich grassland is now relatively uncommon, however some good examples still exist, in places such as Exmoor and Dartmoor.

Degraded grassland is exactly as it sounds – grassland that has been mismanaged and become poached, over-grazed or under-grazed, dominated by weeds such as thistles, nettles and docks. This is an all too common sight with horse pastures and is undesirable, even for the good doer.

The majority of grassland grazed by domesticated horses in the UK would be classed as improved or semi-improved, containing more productive species such as ryegrass. Ryegrass is an example of a species that has been continually ‘improved’ to be more productive for farm animals such as cows and sheep and as such can be one of the least suitable swards (area of grass) for meeting the needs of the native pony, the species specifically bred for high energy (high sugar) values.

Less productive species such as fescues and timothy are better for the native horse or pony. These species accumulate lower levels of sugar and therefore tend to be lower in calories than their more productive counterparts. These grass species would be more similar to what ponies have adapted to thrive on – a larger quantity of lower quality fibre alongside other roughages.

Unfortunately it is not as straight forward as just seeding different grass species and letting them grow! These lower productivity (lower sugar) grasses – being less competitive – can struggle to thrive if not well adapted to the growing area. As such, seeking the right advice on a seed mix is crucial. Alternatively, management practices, such a turning out at certain times of day or making use of shady pastures and cloudy days can be employed to reduce sugar intake, thereby making it more suitable for our natives (see part 4 of this series for more details).

Join me in part 3 where we look at the potential impact of over-rugging on our good doers.


Briony Witherow MSc RNutr. FHEA
Practical Equine Nutrition
Consultancy in Equine Nutrition
Tel. 07908 984 034

A four-part series on the tale behind the good doer.

Part One:

Evolution vs domestic reality – can looking back at what the horse has evolved to eat help us to understand why obesity and laminitis are all too common place in our domesticated horses and ponies?

Let’s start at the beginning. Our equine friends have adapted to survive in nutritionally sparse environments, sourcing the necessary nutrients from coarse, low-grade fibre. Under modern management systems however, this is often far from the case.

Many UK domestic ponies are of native type, these types having adapted over millions of years to thrive in unforgiving, seasonal environments where grazing is sparse and of poor quality. Unlike its feral counterpart, the domestic horse and pony undertake little work and yet are receiving a comparative abundance of high-quality grazing and forage, in addition to the provision of shelter and rugs; somewhat tipping the scales in terms of calorie intake (see figure).


Wild/Semi-Feral Horse

Domesticated Native Good Doer

Trickle feed (up to 22 hours/day) would rarely fast voluntarily for more than 2-4 hours at a time.

Meal fed. May spend long periods without food unless slow feeders are used, or feed is physically staggered.

Large quantity of poor-quality high fibre forage containing a diverse range of species and roughage types (browse and grass)

Comparatively small amount of high-quality forage typically grass based (conserved/fresh) and limited number of grass species. Usually a single forage source is provided.
Grazes from the ground and browses other roughages, constantly moving and foraging. When stabled, often eats from a single position from a raised net or rack.
Can typically cover 20 miles per day in search of fresh grazing and water Little or no turnout. Increased time spent in a stable other than ridden/in-hand exercise


This is exaggerated by the horses’ naturally adaptive behaviour of building up stores of body fat in the summer as a buffer against the ‘inevitable’ scarcity of winter feedstuffs. The combination of these factors promotes adipose deposition (the laying down of fat stores).

Obesity can be defined as the result of an imbalance between energy intake and energy expenditure and it is easy to see how this imbalance occurs under modern management, with food in plentiful supply. Horses and ponies are considered more likely to become obese during the summer months, displaying seasonal differences in metabolic rate, food intake, gut transit time, and energy expenditure all of which are increased over the summer months and decreased during the winter. During the winter months the horse’s appetite is reduced and animals enter a period of negative energy balance, during which mature animals lose body weight and condition. These losses are then regained in spring and summer when high quality forage becomes available.  In contrast to this natural fluctuation, studies have also shown the body mass of obese animals to remain constant irrespective of season – this could reflect the state of cumulative weight gain achieved over consecutive seasons.

In addition to this, climate change and improvements in technology could represent further cause for concern for our good doers. Anecdotally, grass is seen to be growing later into the year, providing a longer grazing season, the calories from which are not always accounted for in subsequent forage and hard feed provision. The vast improvement in the quality of rugs and provision of shelter, has seen horses not needing to burn extra calories in order to keep warm and therefore laying down fat instead. All of which offsets the natural winter weight loss which horses and ponies have evolved to employ.

By enabling year-round positive energy balance, the effects of successive summer gains on fat deposition build year on year, rapidly resulting in obesity.



Why is it that of a number of animals which graze in the same field, and are subjected to the same management regime, some remain perfectly healthy and others get fat?

Native pony breeds in particular are reported to retain strong seasonality with respect to appetite and body condition. This seasonality predisposes them to gain weight through the summer months, where food is plentiful, before losing this weight over the winter months, where food is scarce. There is some suggestion that genetics, and more specifically, a ‘thrifty gene’ lies behind this propensity to gain weight with such relative ease. In a ‘normal’ animal, it is thought that closely regulated systems function to maintain body weight within a narrow range – this regulation system having a sensing mechanism for energy stores to be matched by eating behaviours and energy metabolism. The idea behind the ‘thrifty gene’ proposes that this system will be inclined to favour mechanisms encouraging weight gain, due to the survival value of that characteristic in surroundings with unpredictable and restricted access to food. Therefore, natives and cob types will typically store fat more readily due to having adapted to harsh climates involving travelling long distances to find food and water. The metabolism of these animals is specially adapted for optimum fat storage, so it’s no wonder we are finding them hard to manage in a domestic environment that provides in excess of their needs.

Another key factor to consider aside from general management is exercise. Horses have evolved to graze up to 22 hours per day, and in the wild can cover distances of up to 20 miles per day in search of fresh grazing and water. This acts as a good reference point for what a healthy horse can manage under natural conditions, and why, in domesticated conditions a lack of exercise often leads to weight gain.



So what does this tell us?

The native pony requires a constant supply of small amounts of low protein, high fibre forage. Meanwhile, many domesticated horses and ponies (in comparison to their feral counterparts) have a lifestyle that provides plenty, allowing them to, in the short-term at least, thrive not just survive. Exposing the horse to situations it is not evolved to deal with, such as year-round access to good quality food, often in excess, it isn’t surprising that the prevalence of obesity is so high.

With the prevalence of obesity reported as upwards of 50% of the equine population, it is essential that we get to grips with what these underlying factors are and changes we can make to improve the long-term health and ridden longevity of our horses and ponies. A good starting place for this is to evaluate the differences between the environments under which they have evolved to thrive and the domesticated environment which we provide. You only have to observe semi-feral pony populations to appreciate the vast differences in lifestyle and environment (not to mention condition) and a notable difference is the grasslands upon which they graze.

Join me in part 2 where we discuss the difference between semi-natural and improved grasslands and find out why this might be such a key piece of the puzzle when getting to the bottom of equine obesity. 


Briony Witherow MSc RNutr. FHEA
Practical Equine Nutrition
Consultancy in Equine Nutrition
Tel. 07908 984 034

So as I write this there’s only a few days to go until Christmas, and excitement in our house is pretty high. Most of the presents are organised, and many of you will be thinking about getting a gift for your horse. Christmas is a great excuse to over indulge and splash out, but what does your horse actually need over the festive period?

  1. Less rugs not more

Hands up if a new rug is on your Christmas wish list, or perhaps it will be a ‘self gift’ dressed up a present for your horse? Rugs are great, they keep your horse clean and dry perfect when you want to fit in a quick winter ride. There is literally a rug for every occasion, and picking up any horsey magazine you are bombarded with choice. Keeping your horse warm and cozy with several rugs in the winter is sensible for an older horse, a horse that is clipped and in regular work, or any horse who doesn’t hold condition so easily.

However many equines simply don’t need a rug, never mind several duvets layers, and for a horse who is overweight providing less rugs can be the easiest way to promote some weight loss. Native and cob type horses are after all designed to exist on limited calories and harsh weather conditions during the winter, without the luxury of stables, feed and rugs. Horses are well documented to be able to tolerate changes in temperature well, and a healthy horse can cope to at least minus ten degrees without a rug.

Seasonal weight loss is perfectly normal, and should be encouraged in any overweight, or ‘good doer’ horses. Losing weight during the winter months is Nature’s way of re-programming the body after the horse gains weight during the Spring and Summer months. However as horse owners we expect our horses to look exactly the same all year round, and without seasonal weight loss over the Winter, horses are getting fatter year on year.

So why not think about how much your horse actually needs that thick rug or rugs, could your horse benefit from less rugs, or perhaps even no rug at all? Allowing your horse to get slimmer over the festive period will really help your horse to be healthier in 2019.

  1. Exercise

Christmas is a hectic time, and it’s a whirlwind of of parties, drinks and entertaining. It can be hard to fit in riding during the winter months, and the darkness wind and rain don’t always inspire you to tack up your horse. Keeping your horse exercised over the festive period is so important, particularly when horses are often stabled more.

Many yards will keep horses stabled during Christmas, and this can be a sudden change if your horse is normally turned out for most of the day. Veterinary practices often report a rise in colic cases in colder weather, and over Christmas and one reason for this is lack of movement.

Try and keep your horse exercised as much as possible over the holiday period, whether that is turn out, ridden work, long reining or other work in hand.

Not only will this be beneficial to your horse’s digestive system, encouraging regular gut movements but you will also be helping to prevent your horse gain weight over the festive weeks.



  1. The right amount of forage

As noted horses are often stabled more over Christmas, and this might be a decision that you can’t control. If you have a house full of guests it can be harder to get to the yard as often (although needing to feed your horse is a great way to escape the relations!). As a consequence horses are either given too much hay or haylage, or simply run out leaving them with nothing to eat for hours.

So what can you do?

Firstly it’s essential to work out how much hay your horse actually needs, rather than just throwing a few slices over the door.

Your horse should be receiving 1.5%-2.5% of its body weight in hay, and weighing out the hay out in advance will certainly make stable duties on Christmas Day easier.

Secondly look for ways that you can make your horse’s hay allowance last longer. Can you team up with a yard friend so one of you gives the horse’s hay at 3pm say and the other at 7pm? Using a robust small holed hay net, such as the Trickle Net is another great way to prevent your horse running out of hay.

  1. Less of the extras

Over Christmas us humans do tend to over-do the eating, there’s mince pies, cocktails, biscuit and chocolate selection boxes everywhere, not to mention the turkey plus all the trimmings. Quite why we do this every year, swiftly followed by a January health kick, I’m not totally sure, but there’s no need for our horses to match our significant increase in calories.

The horse world is awash with treats, supplements and ‘extras’ that you can feed your horse, but do they really need these? It’s natural to want to buy your horse a gift, most owners would see their horse as one of the family, but why not make this ‘gift’ a training plan, or a lesson rather than sugar laden treats.

I hope this post gives you some ideas about what your horse does and doesn’t need over the festive period. You can learn more about keeping your horse healthy over Christmas by downloading my free Winter Horsey Survival Guide at the link below:


Wishing you a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year



Nicola Kinnard-Comedie MSc, BHSAI Int. SM

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You’ve heard it before, or perhaps you even do it. Feeding ad lib hay is often thought to be the most natural way to feed forage. Well that depends entirely on the horse you’re feeding. Feeding ad lib hay can be a big mistake for some horses and ponies. Especially our Native breeds.

Our Guest blogger Nicola Kinnard-Comedie from NKC Equestrian Training talks about when ad lib works well, and how and why it often doesn’t.

When is ad lib hay just too much?

Many horse owners will be aware that it’s essential to provide your horse with sufficient forage (hay or haylage), but how much do they actually need? It is popular with some owners to feed ‘ad-lib’ hay, but what does this mean and is this the best option for your horse?


Why would I want to give my horse ad-lib hay?

We know that the horse is a ‘trickle feeder’ designed to be eating for around 18 hours in a 24 hour period. The horse needs to chew to produce saliva and this has a healthy effect on the digestive system, buffering the naturally acid areas of the stomach where gastric ulcers can occur. Life is quite different for the domesticated horse which may be turned out in a small paddock and stabled for 12-18 hours a day. It is well documented that feeding restricted amounts of hay can raise cortisol levels, increase incidences of gastric ulcers and induce stress related behaviour such as crib biting.

In an attempt to replicate more natural feeding behaviour lots of owners want to give their horse a large quantity of hay, so that it doesn’t run out and the horse can be constantly eating. This sounds ideal, and many argue that the horse will only eat as much as it needs so that it will maintain a healthy weight. But is this true for all horses?

I have a good-doer… can he have ad-lib hay?

This is where feeding ad-lib hay becomes problematic, and for a horse that is overweight allowing free access to hay is not recommended.

It is important to note that each horse will have individual requirements for how many calories they need in a day, just like people. Whilst forage should make up the majority of any horse’s diet, providing an all day ‘hay buffet’ is just not suitable for a good doer or an overweight horse or pony. This includes your native types who are more inclined to hold on to extra weight, and are not designed to metabolise the amount of calories provided by ad lib hay.

There are many reason ad lib may not work for your horse, but we will look at two big ones.

Firstly hay significantly differs in nutritional value and unless you have each batch of hay analysed you don’t really know how much sugar, starch and calories you might be providing. Hay made earlier in the season will be more calorific, hay made from predominantly ryegrass will contain a lot more sugar than hay made from a meadow grass mix. It’s worth remembering that hay is a farmed crop. It is fertilised and tended to provide maximum nutrition. This is a long way from the natural forage (gorse, bark, moss, different grasses, reeds weeds and scrub) that our native breeds thrive on in their natural environment.

Secondly your horse may not be able to regulate thier intake as well as owners assume. Horses are meant to have ‘nutritional wisdom’, selecting the nutrients and quantities that they need, but there isn’t actually much empirical evidence to support this idea. Horses which are overweight, or good-doers, may also be insulin resistant, which means that will also be resistant to another hormone called Leptin. Leptin is a useful hormone which tells the brain that the horse has had enough to eat. The overweight horse effectively doesn’t have this ‘off- switch’ so it will continue to eat….and eat…and eat!


Which horses can have ad-lib hay?

For horses that are the correct body weight and in regular exercise, or have increased nutritional requirements providing free access to hay can work well. For example horses living out may have access to a large round bale of hay in the winter months, and provided they aren’t overweight they will regulate their intake reasonably well. For those living out they will also be moving around more, inevitably spend time away from the hay and will have increased energy requirements from the cold.

Horses which are stabled can either guzzle their hay too quickly, or waste it turning it into a bed if providing with excess. The best way to provide continual access to forage for a stabled horse if to divide the hay up into smaller quantities, (feeding some at 4pm and more at 8pm), and to use a system designed to slow the horse down, such as a Trickle Net. This allows the benefit of much longer time to access forage but prevents the horse eating it too quickly.

How much hay does my horse need?

Your horse needs 1.5%-2.5% of their ideal body weight as food intake. Depending on your horse, it’s health status and your pasture grazing alone may provide sufficient intake for the Spring and Summer months.

For the rest of the year, and for horses who have restricted access to grass, you will need to provide this as hay.

If your horse is overweight, it is recommended to feed 1.5% of his/her body weight. So for a 650kg horse, that’s 9.75kg per day. Many owners have no idea how much hay they actually feed- do you weigh hay out?



I hope you have found this blog useful in helping you decide how much hay your horse should receive. Please remember to consider how much hay your horse actually needs, the type of hay you are feeding, and don’t forget ways to provide more access to forage without allowing your horse to overeat and become obese.

Nicola Kinnard-Comedie MSc, BHSAI Int. SM
NKC Equestrian Training run Horse First Aid and Horse Anatomy courses across the UK together with qualified vets
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