While spending as much time as possible turned out is beneficial for horses, feeding them in groups can sometimes lead to problems as the more-dominant horses get most of the grain or hay, even when resources are plentiful. In the wild, stallions eat first, then mares, and finally young horses; in domesticated situations, dominance is based much more on individual personalities than age or sex, Dr. Katherine Albro Houpt reported in Horse & Rider.
Studies have shown that horses eat better and longer if they can see other horses while they eat, possibly because they feel safer. Providing unlimited grass or hay does not usually incite aggressiveness, but adding grain meals into the equation does; even the anticipation of a grain meal fed on a schedule can make horses aggressive.
If certain horses in the field are losing weight or if there are bite and kick marks on coats, a bit of investigation into herd hierarchy is in order. If one horse is found to be the aggressor, farm managers can combat the behavior by:
- Bringing the horses in during feeding and then turning them back out when all horses are done eating
- Providing an extra feeding area (or more) so that any horse pushed away from food has another option
- Allowing for more space between feeding areas (these should be at a minimum 10 feet apart)
- Tying the dominant horse during meals to sturdy posts and with quick-release ties
- Feeding on open fence lines, not near corners of fields or pastures (where less-dominant horses can get trapped)
Read more at Horse & Rider.
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