What can I do to convince my picky eater to eat?
This question is totally frustrating! You want them to eat - but you can’t figure out how! We can break this down into a few steps to make the detective work a bit easier, and then we can also play some tricks on your horse to make his meals more delectable. If you horse is losing weight or his performance or energy level is dwindling, it’s time to get serious and have a Veterinarian help you. Even if that’s not the case, it’s a good idea to rule out some physical ailments with the help of your Veterinarian:
- Teeth! Sometimes eating can hurt. Is it time to have your horse’s teeth floated? Don’t forget to have your Vet check for jaw issues, as well. More on teeth health here!
- Ulcers. Horses that have ulcers are often reluctant to eat and drink.
- Other digestive issues.
- Is your horse dehydrated? Decreased water intake often leads to a horse avoiding his food.
Sometimes meds and supplements make your horse say "BLECH"
Now you can start to rule out some feed issues:
- Have you switched anything around in his diet? This includes a new brand of grain, a new hay source (or even cut of hay), a new supplement?
- Is your horse on any medications that may cause his food to taste funny?
- Is any of his food spoiled? Or bug/rodent infested? (This is why I save my feed bag labels... just in case there is a recall or I need to return the food.)
- Are his supplements outdated or expired?
Make sure his food is bug and mold free!
Don’t forget to look around his environment for things that may be affecting your horse.
- Does he have a new neighbor that is threatening during feed time?
- Are his paddock mates causing him stress?
- Is a new routine (exercise, turnout, stabling) interfering with his usual schedule?
- Is his feed pan, feeder, trough, etc. dirty and in need of cleaning?
- Is his hay pile covering up some bedding that’s in dire need of a deep cleaning?
- Has anything changed in his environment or his routine?
So what can you do to make his food more palatable if you are still stumped?
- Consider adding water. Many horses like to dunk their own hay, and if they can’t they may not want to eat as much. Grains and pellets can be made into an awesome mash by adding warm water and letting it sit for a few minutes. More on adding water here.
- Consider removing some water from his food. Perhaps he doesn’t want to drink his dinner? You may need to experiment with finding the balance of added water while remaining yummy.
- Give him the less palatable foods when he’s the hungriest. Giving him the yucky stuff after several flakes of hay and some grazing time may not be the best idea! Try first thing in the morning instead if you can.
Adding good treats to his meal may entice him to eat more. For a list of good, bad, and iffy treats, read this gem.
- If he has a supplement or medication that is just about as horrible as a horse can imagine, mix it up with some yummy water, applesauce, or molasses and give it to him via syringe.
- Can you add some flavors to his meals that you know he loves? Chopped up carrots or apples?
- If you think your horse objects to a powder, perhaps some canola oil can mask the smell and taste for you. Added bonus - it’s a healthy oil for your horse.
- Use ninja mind tricks. Maybe your horse needs some healthy competition for food! Perhaps a new friend next to him that will entice him to finish up.
- Perhaps he is using ninja mind tricks on you? Sometimes a horse just needs to eat what’s in front of him. If he knows you will doctor it up or bring out the good stuff if he snubs his food, he’s training you here! See what happens if he has no options.
What do you do to entice your picky eater to eat?