A client told me via email, “How can I get my mare to lose weight? She’s in a starvation paddock. She eats practically nothing, but now she’s getting bloaty and she’s still fat.”
I gotta share this secret with everyone: horses are NOT humans.
If humans are desperate to lose weight, we can go to a fat farm and starve ourselves.
Starving a horse is bad. And yes, two flakes of hay per day IS starving a horse.
Why is a starvation paddock the opposite of what horses need? Because hay feeds the bacteria in the gut. When we don’t feed the horse, the bacteria are not getting fed.
Horses need grass hay available 24 hours per day.
I am aware this can be difficult depending on people’s situations. However, it is more difficult for the horse to not have access to hay. (think stress, ulcers, laminitis)
Mixed grass hay feeds the bacteria in the gut. No hay => no bacteria => wrong pH for digestion.
So now the mare is still fat, but she’s getting bloaty (that is, gassy) because she and the bacteria are not getting fed.
These bacteria affect the immune system and also the hormonal system. The gut is tremendously important to horses, who ferment their food.
We don’t ferment our food. We can go on a diet because of this. Horses cannot.
Studies show that once a horse is deprived of food for only 4 hours, the microbial system (which is hundreds of different microbes) is in despair. Everything is out of wack, off balance, the pH plummeting, too much acid in the stomach…it’s a disaster.
I understand that the horse needs to lose weight.
However it is way more important to keep the gut happy. If the gut is not happy, that’s when laminitis shows up.
If your horse is overweight, I suggest a Paddock paradise track system (see Jaime Jackson), with mixed grass hay (no rye), and no pasture.
I’ve had horses LOSE weight when switched to 24/7 grass hay only.
They lost the excess weight that their body was storing. It was storing food because it couldn’t digest the food. Why couldn’t it digest it? Because the gut didn’t have the microbes.
Why didn’t the gut have the microbes? They died off because no hay for them.
A true vicious circle.
Please feed your horse hay all the time. And no starvation paddocks — ever.