The vicious cycle of meal fed, hungry hoovers can be remedied. In this post, we’ll focus on some of the physical (including obesity) and mental effects of stress and cortisol levels you may not be aware of. We'll also discuss alternative approaches to feeding that can lead to happier, healthier horses and less stress at feeding time.
Causes of Stress
Stress can be associated with a wide range of causes including, but not limited to:
Why Meals Cause Stress
Each time your equine consumes a long-awaited meal, the psychological cycle repeats itself. I must eat all of my hay as quickly as possible to "self-medicate." Their stomach does not feel well due to the build-up of acid or ulcers and they know as soon as they start chewing and eating it will start feeling better. Chewing activates saliva production (an alkaline substance), which buffers gastric acid. Learn more in our Slow Feed Savvy post.
Providing a slow feeder for meals certainly helps, but will not relieve the stress of being without forage for periods of time - which perpetuates the viscous cycle. Either your horse has forage available 24/7 or they don’t. This can be a difficult concept for some! It's equivalent to being sort of pregnant - either you are or you aren't.
Lack of Forage = Stress = Cortisol Production = Fat Storage
Horses are stoic by nature. Because they are prey animals, they may not show outward signs of stress.
Lack of forage is stressful for your horse - and stress produces the hormone cortisol - and cortisol production results in fat storage by ignoring insulin’s attempts to uptake glucose into the tissues. This can be the cause for easy keepers and air ferns. If appropriate forage is available at all times, they can typically eat more and maintain or lose weight.
Chronic stress and release of cortisol may also be responsible for conditions including:
Helpful How-to Resources for Slow Feeding
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Monique Warren is the owner of Hay Pillow Inc.