On Mythbuster Monday, we tackle a variety of equestrian myths to either bust or confirm. Today’s discussion: Should you ride your horse directly after he eats?
It’s Mythbuster Monday, where Horse Nation dives into different equestrian myths and provides research-based evidence to either bust or confirm those myths. Today’s topic: Should you ride your horse directly after he eats? Will it make them colic? Does it make it harder for the horse to breathe? Read further to find out!
Myth: Don’t ride your horse after he eats
Myth or Fact: Both
We’ve all heard of the human myth that you should wait 30 minutes after eating to swim. This myth has no scientific research to back it up; however, refraining from riding your horse directly after he eats does have research to back it up.
According to an article by Laura Corona, she states that horses have fairly delicate digestive systems. She takes the stance that the United States Humane Society recommends that equestrians do not ride their horses for approximately an hour after they eats.
One reason for this is that horses are grazing animals. Their digestive tract is set up to eat small amounts throughout the day. Their stomachs are capable of only holding a little food at a time. This limited capacity makes horses more susceptible to gas buildups which can cause colic.
While colic is a generic term for abdominal pain, most use it to refer to excess gas in the horse’s stomach. In many cases, the excess gas can lead to ruptures in the digestive tract which can ultimately cause death. When a horse is being exercised, blood flow moves away from the digestive tract to other areas, which ultimately means the food he just consumed is being digested slower.
Corona states that riding directly after feeding isn’t advisable. It slows the digestive tract which could lead to a bout of colic. Also, when a horse’s stomach is full, his lungs have less space to expand during work. This will cause the exercise to feel more strenuous. For moderate workouts, you should wait at least one hour. If your horse is going to be working hard, research shows you should wait for three hours before exercise.
The Humane Society of the United States also discusses feeding before exercise in their horse care resources article. They write that you should ideally wait an hour after your horse finishes his meal before riding. This is because blood flow should not be diverted away from the digestive tract within this time period because it makes colic a danger.
Dr. Nerida McGilchrist writes in her article that because horses are continuous grazers, their stomach should never be completely empty. Having something in the stomach is important for horses so that gastric acids don’t splash around during exercise. If the horse hasn’t had any access to forage within two hours, the horse should be fed before exercise. Providing a small feed to a horse with an empty stomach will fill the stomach enough to prevent gastric ulcers.
McGilchrist states that what you feed before exercise is extremely important. Only forage should be fed because it requires a significant amount of chewing which stimulates saliva production. Grain should never be fed within four to five hours of exercise. This is because many grains are high in starches and sugars which means they trigger the release of insulin from the pancreas. If there’s insulin in the horse’s blood when he begins exercise, he will not be able to burn fat as an energy source. Feeding grain too close to exercise will cause a horse to deplete his muscle energy supplies and fatigue quickly.
After diving into the research, horses should not be fed grain before exercising. However, if a horse has an empty stomach, providing forage will decrease the risk of gastric ulcers. Horses that are too full have an increased risk of colic due to the slowing of digestion with exercise. There are also strains placed on the lungs during exercise when the stomach is full and taking up space.
Do you have an equine myth you’d like us to tackle? If so, send it our way! Email your suggestions to [email protected]. Put Mythbuster Monday in your subject line.