Some horses paw or are aggressive at feeding time, this is more than likely due to frustration/pain. They are anxious to "self-medicate"; their stomach does not feel well due to the build-up of acid or ulcers and know as soon as they start chewing and eating it will start feeling better.
The equine stomach produces acid 24 hours a day in preparation for constant uptake and can empty in as little as 15-20 minutes. Chewing activates saliva production (an alkaline substance), which buffers gastric acid. Under natural conditions with free-choice forage, the horse will produce about five gallons of saliva every day and eventually “recycle” much of the water content via re-absorption prior to excretion.
Fiber present in the stomach prevents the “splashing” of acids. The lower part of the stomach, in addition to producing the acid, receives protection by also producing mucus. The upper, or non-glandular part, has no protection and thus is more susceptible to damage by the acids. The upper portion has squamous epithelium – not dissimilar, in a way, to our skin. Having fiber and saliva in the stomach is especially important during any physical activity/ exercise which causes the splashing of acids.
Additionally, if your horse consumes hay too quickly, the particle size will not be reduced sufficiently or have a high enough saliva-to-forage ratio. Saliva plays a crucial role in digestion. Large amounts of dry matter lacking sufficient saliva can contribute to impaction colic.
Horses may also experience stress (which can cause ulcers) due to isolation; not experiencing physical interaction with other horses! Slow feeding with multiple locations levels the playing field enabling your entire herd to eat and live together full time. Equines are herd animals; they benefit physically and psychologically from direct physical interaction. Dominant members will keep the others moving as they claim various locations. The less dominant individuals will have alternate sources to eat from; this encourages movement and can decrease cortisol levels associated with stress from being physically separated from herd members. Read more about slow feeding benefits.
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