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Facts Friday: horses are grazers

I think I can state that all equestrians and non-equestrians know that horses eat grass. They are ‘grazers’. Perfect. Why do people tend to forget this as soon as they keep a horse in captivity? What are the consequences for the horse if we forget that they are grazers?

Physiology of grazers

Grazing animals are built to spend the majority of the day eating. Some grazers have multiple stomachs in order to help digest the food better. Horses only have one stomach.

Horses eat most of their day, up to 16 – 20 hours. They feed themselves with low quality feed with high amounts of fibre (fourage).


The size of a stomach of a horse is small and the capacity is approximately 8 liters, the size of a rugby ball. Horses stomachs produce hydrochloric acid continuously unlike humans, who only produce acid when they see or smell food.

So, if we feed our horses only a few small meals a day and they are spending much less than the natural amount of hours eating, they have an empty stomach in between meals.

Keep their stomachs filled

_lentegras_hippologicWhen there are relatively long periods when the horse has an empty stomach, problems can start.Horses require the saliva and the chewed fibre to protect their stomach lining against ulcers. Normally horses produce about 20-80 liters of saliva per day to protect against the almost 60 liters of hydrochloric acid they can produce. The acid gets produced whether they are eating or not, the saliva and fibre is only there when they are eating.

Feed more fibres than grains

In order to keep horses healthy, they must eat a diet with enough fibres (hay). This is not only important for their stomachs but also for the rest of their digestive track.

In short: a lack of fourage can cause health implications like gastric ulceration (stomach ulcers), hind‐gut acidosisazoturia (tying-up), laminitis and colic (abdominal pain).


KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAInform yourself about the horses digestive system. I participated in an online course about equine nutrition. It was a course provided by the University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom. It was very informative with lots of video and scientific resources. It is a 5 week course and it is totally free!

Click here for the link to the free online Equine Nutrition course from Coursera.

Sandra Poppema
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