Running Cool Blog

The Role of Nutrition on Horse Behaviour: Part 2

Cameron Jensen - Monday, July 24, 2017

 

Creating a diet for your horse begins by assessing their age, breed, workload and overall health. But, what about when your horse’s feed ration is unbalanced, leading to unexpected and unwanted behaviours?

In our new series on the role of nutrition on horse behaviour, we explore this further…

Every horse is an individual and your horse’s diet should be specifically formulated for them. It’s important you continue to pay attention to their nutrition throughout life as their caloric needs may change — at different times of year, when their workload increases and as they age.

Encountering unexpected — and certainly unwanted — behaviours can be challenging. While some behaviours are mild, such as difficulty when tacking up, other behaviours can be downright dangerous, like rearing, bucking and spooking under saddle.

As a horse owner, it’s important you don’t jump to any conclusions too quickly. Your horse isn’t necessarily trying to be “stubborn” or “nasty”; in fact, they’re often trying to tell you an important message — and it’s up to each of us to listen.

Remember, unexpected behaviours can be linked to a number of causes. Before making any changes to your horse’s diet, you should have them assessed by your veterinarian to ensure pain or an underlying health problem isn’t the cause.

If these possibilities have already been eliminated, it’s time to consider their diet.

Diet and Age

As your horse ages, you’ll need to re-consider their dietary needs. But, for now, let’s turn our attention to the young, nervous horse. These horses in their early stages of training are often mild and obedient at home, but in new environments become increasingly anxious.

For most young horses, they’ll develop confidence over time as they continue encountering novel experiences. But, with some simple dietary changes, life can become much simpler — and set your young horse up for lifelong health.

A study conducted by Dr Jan Bowman at Montana State University studied 12 young Quarter Horses at the beginning of training. Each horse was trained five days a week; one group received a hay-only diet (grass/alfalfa), while the other also received two kilograms of sweet feed per day.

During training, each horse wore a pedometer and heart rate monitor, so they could be easily scored for obedience and separation anxiety. As you may expect, the results linked high levels of sugar to nervous behaviours.

In contrast to the horses on a hay-only diet, the horses given sweet feed were:

  • Livelier
  • Less obedient
  • More resistant to being saddled
  • More inclined to buck and run
  • More anxious when separated
  • More inclined to vocalise

By reducing the amount of sugar in your horse’s diet, you will notice positive changes in behaviour. A forage-first diet, high in fibre, is ideal for every horse, regardless of their age. For those in training or competition, energy should be supplied in the form of fat and fibre, instead of grain.

At Running Cool, we genuinely care about your horse’s health and wellbeing. Our superior horse feed range supports your horse at every stage of life with well-balanced vitamins, minerals and protein for pleasure and performance. Click here to learn more.