It's a common practice in the equine world to leave horses standing around for long periods of time with no access to hay. This could be down to 'diet and weight control/management' or simply because they've eaten the hay net you provided them and you're not back to top it up for another 12 hours.
Horse's are designed to eat constantly. The stomach of a horse is the smallest unit of their digestive tract and can hold roughly 8 -15 litres. Depending on what they've digested, it takes 4-6 hours for the stomach to completely empty. If you're feeding your horse in short bursts, they're probably stuffing themselves as quickly as possible and then spending the rest of their time hungry. Once their stomachs are completely empty after that 4 hour period, stressy behaviour and sometimes ulcers may start to occur. Food guarding may also become an issue, making feeding difficult for both you and your horse/s.
We feed our horses Adlib Meadow Hay. By doing so, we eliminate the risk of our horses standing around without forage for long periods of time. The thought of Adlib Hay can be terrifying to a whole lot of people and we often get told that horses can't go Adlib because they'll stuff themselves silly and at some point explode from all that they've eaten.
Horses that eat and eat and eat will eventually learn to self regulate, once they understand and trust that if they walk away or stop eating, that they won't run out and be left hungry again. This can take months and we've personally had liveries with us that took the better part of 12 months to learn this. This is why movement needs to be encouraged as much as possible while they figure things out and in general.
I think it's obvious by now that we'll never stop going on about track systems and just how wonderful they are. Track systems allow you to manage your horse's diet, for example a Laminitic, without restricting their movement. When you have a species appropriate diet and an environment best suited to them, your horse will thrive.
We aren't saying you should give your horse Adlib Hay 24/7 if your horse gets no movement, but we are saying Adlib Hay combined with a suitable environment is the best way to manage your horse, even down to the science of their stomachs. If you're keeping your horses somewhere that compromises something as simple as their movement or access to forage, then I think that calls on us humans to be looking at other options that can give our horses a better way of living.
We get it and we've been there. Some livery yards and farmers can make life very difficult, which may make turning your horse out on to lush grass very tempting. They're getting as much forage as they want that way, right? While yes, your horse being turned out on to grass allows them to eat whenever they want, this isn't the sort of forage your horse will benefit from.
Grass is very high in sugar and potassium. Like we mentioned earlier, horses need a constant supply of food. However, horses digestive systems are designed to pull every single nutrient and mineral from their forage as naturally, horses are meant to be on a diet of rough forage as seen in the wild. When you take sugary grass and a stomach designed to pull nutrients for the roughest of forage, this is when other problems will start to occur - Laminitis, Obesity, EMS and Grass Related Behavioural Issues to name a few.
It sounds like a nightmare for us owners, and it can be at times. This is why looking outside of traditional methods and researching the simple needs of your horse is so incredibly important.
This photo is of one of our Rehabs Bob, who came here to help better manage his weight. He has access to 24/7 Adlib Meadow Hay and has been on one of our track systems in a herd. As you can see, he has lost weight and maintained the healthier weight he is now. This weight loss was achieved in roughly 3 months.
Various information/statistics pulled from the below -