Q: My horse is stabled on straw, which he will eat even if I mix old straw in with the new. I’ve heard it’s not good for a horse’s digestion, so why does he do it and how can I stop him?
Jane van Lennep answers:
Horses are designed to eat most of the time. When they were very small creatures at the dawn of their existence on the planet, called Eohippus, they made a commitment to veganism. After about 20 million years, climate change happened, their forests dried up and grasslands developed. Our browsing herbivore now became a grazing herbivore, but as happens in evolution, little Eohippus grew and grew!
Obtaining enough nourishment on a diet low in nutrition meant eating a lot, so eat a lot Mesohippus did and 30 million years on, he became Equus caballus, our present horse. The only way to support his large frame, however, was to have a huge appetite – eating 16 hours a day.
So you can probably see why your horse feels compelled to eat anything vaguely edible! A horse rarely goes more than two hours without eating and just about never goes over three hours. As well as eating, they’ll hang out with their friends, play, run away from predators and walk huge distances.
In a stable with nowhere to roam nor friends to hang out with, little is left to do but eat. So solve the bed eating by letting your horse get out more – if he’s playing, he’s not eating straw.
He should also have enough hay that he always has some to eat, but you may have to make it quite hard to get to, to avoid him becoming overweight. Small-holed haynets are okay and two small-holed haynets even better! Divide the hay into two lots at opposite sides of the stable to encourage choice and movement, and provide a large stable if he is kept in.
You are right to query why he is eating his bed, not just asking how to stop him. We all need to do this, and make that commitment to understanding their habits rather than trying to eliminate the ones we don’t like or do not understand.