Mythbuster Monday: Set Feeding Schedules Make a Horse Less Likely to Colic

On Mythbuster Monday, we tackle a variety of equestrian myths to either bust or confirm. Today’s discussion: Do set feeding schedules make a horse less likely to colic?

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: Do set feeding schedules make a horse less likely to colic? Is variation in feeding schedule harmful? What are the reasons horses colic from meal time variation? Read further to find out!

Myth: Set feeding schedules make a horse less likely to colic

Myth or Fact: Myth


Colic is the most common reasons large animal veterinarians get called out. The word colic is an all-encompassing term that means abdominal pain. There are many reasons colic happens. The most common reasons are related to the gastrointestinal tract — they are gas colic and impaction colic.

Signs and symptoms of colic include lack of appetite, pawing, flank watching, biting or kicking, parking out and laying down and rolling.

But, does a set feeding schedule decrease the risk of colic?


According to Equus Magazine, studies have shown there are no physiological reasons for horses to be fed on set schedules. Horses are not likely to colic if meals are at different times. The conditions of colic are seen when horses are fed large, starchy meals at feeding time, not from the time itself. Colic also may happen due to horses not having ample free choice hay between feeding times. If your horse has a balanced diet and plenty of free choice hay, there are benefits to variable feeding times.


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Wishing Well Services also published an article on horses and set feeding schedules. In their article, they write that it may feel like your horse should be fed at the same time every day because they’re expecting it, which can lead to undesirable behaviors such as weaving and pawing. These behaviors can come off as the horse being stressed, but they’re just an impatience response. As long as the horse has access to free choice forage, it does not need to be fed on set schedules.


The Humane Society of the United States published in their article that for a horse without previous history of colic, variable feeding times is not a big deal. The change in schedule may be an annoyance to the horse but does not pose any health problems. For the known colic-prone horse in the barn, a set schedule may be beneficial.

Another important point brought to the attention of the reader pertaining to feeding is to place less emphasis on the exact time and more emphasis on creating a daily feeding schedule that does not provide grain directly before or after exercise. If a horse eats directly before or after periods of exercise, the blood flow is being used in the lungs, slowing digestion, which could cause colic.


After diving into the research, it appears that set feeding schedules do not directly correlate with an increase in the risk of colic. Horses should be provided free choice hay or pasture to ensure their digestive tract is never empty. It’s more important to align feeding times with exercise schedule to provide optimal cooldown time before introducing grain than to feed at the exact same time daily.

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.