The Role of Nutrition on Horse Behaviour: Part 1

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 Workload

The purpose of your horse’s diet is to supply them with the energy and nutrients they need. When considering your horse’s caloric requirements, you must
first evaluate their workload. As your horse’s workload increases from light, to moderate, to strenuous, they’ll require more energy.

However, there are two common reasons for unexpected behaviours that can be linked to diet and workload. These are:

  • Providing your horse with too much energy for their workload
  • Providing your horse with energy from carbohydrates, instead of fibre

A study conducted by Dr Nell Davidson et al. entitled ‘The effects of diet and exercise on the behaviour of stabled horses’ compared the behaviour of two
groups of horses, maintained on different diets (forage/grain vs forage) and exercise regimes (light vs strenuous).

It should come as no surprise the horses given the forage/grain diet and only light exercise demonstrated the highest levels of restless behaviours when
stabled and the highest levels of uncooperative behaviours when handled.

Quite simply, these horses were fed more calories than they utilised. If your horse is on a light exercise regime, they should be given a forage-first
diet, high in fibre, supported by a balanced concentrate to ensure they receive the right blend of vitamins and minerals.

For those horses on a moderate to strenuous exercise regime, grain should be replaced with fat and fibre in their forage-first diet. Horses should also
be given the opportunity to exercise and socialise with others. Keeping them at pasture supports both health and wellbeing.

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.


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The Role of Nutrition on Horse Behaviour: Part 2