Updated: Sep 28, 2022
I recently saw someone stating feeding Adlib hay isn’t suitable for most horses and very rarely do horses learn to self-regulate. In the comments were piles upon piles of comments from disheartened owners, talking about how they had to make the decision between an obese horse or a horse that struggled with restricted hay.
There seems to be a gap in the equine world where owners with fat equines that also suffer from anxiety around feeding (or resource guarding) fall into. Having an obese horse has its own problems but having a horse with intense anxiety, resource guarding behaviours and Ulcers does also. Additionally, there’s a common misconception that a horse with EMS cannot live on adlib hay without worsening their condition.
There are so many professionals, both online and in person, who advise owners on certain diet and management related issues (ourselves included). This of course can be very confusing when there are so many conflicting ideas on how we should keep our horses which is why research can be and more importantly should be an essential tool to use as an owner.
Our experience with adlib hay varies but ultimately is a very positive one. We’re in the position where we look after other people’s horses daily, and although we love them all like our own, it’s easier for us to be patient with a horse and take a step back to look at the whole picture than it may be for the owner. There are very few horses who just know how to self-regulate right from the get-go, which is why creating an environment that encourages movement, exercise, increased fitness levels, stamina, weight loss and muscle gain is so, SO important.
We as owners control every aspect of our horse’s lives – when they eat, what they eat, whether they spend their time in a herd or in a stable, what exercise and movement they get and how often, the list goes on. When we have restricted their hay for such large portions of their lives, relinquishing control and allowing our horses to eat however much hay, whenever they want it, can mean your equine stands there all day to begin with - feet planted, eating their body weight in hay. Obesity is something owners need to be vigilant of, but the issues caused from restricting hay are often issues that go ignored.
Most of you know, a horse is designed to eat constantly throughout the day. The stomach of a horse is the smallest unit of their digestive tract and can hold roughly 8-15 litres and depending on what they’ve digested, takes 4-6 hours for the stomach to completely empty. When we feed our horses in short bursts, they’re most likely going to consume their hay at a quick rate, spending the following time between refills hungry. After the 4–6-hour period it takes for the stomach to empty, stressy behaviours can start to occur which leads to a greater risk of ulcers, food guarding issues and aggression or anxiety.
Turning your horse onto grass may seem tempting as a way to get around this issue but if your horse is laminitic prone, suffers from EMS or other metabolic issues and/or is grass affected, this just isn’t practical. Grass being very high in sugar and potassium, so therefore unsuitable, means when a horse ingests grass their digestive system pulls every nutrient and mineral from their forage (naturally), creating an array of issues. A species appropriate diet consists of low sugar, low potassium, high fibre forage – as seen in the wild.
I am not by any means suggesting if you stable your horse for the majority of the day or they receive very little movement, to then feed them adlib hay. However, I am saying we should be looking at creating environments for our equines that still implement free choice, natural behaviours and adlib hay whilst encouraging our horses to achieve enough movement daily that they then reap the rewards. Equines that have a past of being fed restricted hay have possibly been left hours without forage before. If we keep letting the hay run out, we’re teaching our horses that the hay is limited, therefore precious and they will at some point be left hungry without forage – possibly frustrated, anxious and stressed. Why wouldn’t they get frustrated?
Through the countless horses and rehabs we have cared for, we’ve seen for ourselves that horse’s that do turn into hoovers around adlib hay CAN learn to self-regulate given they are provided with time and the right environment. Creating an environment where any anxiety and stress related issues around hay are lessened and one that ALSO encourages movement and fitness, is surely the best of both worlds. - I would like to clarify PB Livery feeds adlib meadow hay to our residents on non-grass Paddock Paradise track systems, in various herds with members of all ages, sizes, breed and medical needs. Fergus, the pony pictured below, first underwent rehab for sub-clinical Laminitis and EMS and then retired with us (age 26). He was successfully rehabilitated whilst on adlib meadow hay and on track life which achieved the second image. The first picture is the before/beginning of his journey.
Edit - I would like to further clarify we net all adlib hay in a variety of hay boxes, small hung hay nets and large hay bales which we find works well for our large herds. All hay is meadow hay and is strategically placed around each track to encourage movement as opposed to staying in one area.