Poll Recap: Picky Eaters

More than half of the respondents said they've had a picky eater in their barn.

Photo: iStock

Some horses like their feed sweet. Some prefer alfalfa over grass hay. Some will eat anything put in front of them, while others will refuse feed all together for a variety of reasons (including for no reason at all).

Go to a barn or stable with multiple horses and chances are likely that you’ll find at least one equine Goldilocks in the bunch. In last week’s online poll, we asked our readers if they’ve ever had a horse that was a picky eater or decided he no longer wanted to eat what they offered him. More than 400 people responded and we’ve tallied the results!

Of the 413 respondents, 212 (51%) said yes, they've had a picky eater or a horse that no longer wanted the feed they offered. The remaining 201 respondents (49%) said they have not.

Additionally, more than 100 people shared their experiences:

Several respondents recalled stories about their picky eaters:

  • “He was picky about his hay. I bought one or two bales to test seven types until he chose a favorite.”
  • “I tried to identify what he did not like and remove it from his ration. It worked well.”
  • “He will eat anything in his food except Himalayan salt, but he loves the Himalayan salt licks. Go figure.”
  • “This is a boarder's horse. I have found one particular pelleted feed that he likes. I'll never change it out!”
  • “I keep his feed and water fresh and just wait until he eats. He is not underweight so I don't worry too much”
  • “My OTTB will only eat ear corn or shell corn ... not cracked corn. After three years I gave in.”
  • “I have a mule that only wants alfalfa. I hide handfuls of grass in her flakes and added wet hay pellets and beet pulp.”
  • “It was a case of needing her teeth floated.”
  • “She won't eat her alfalfa cubes now. She used to love them.”
  • “I have to change supplements or stop feeding things when he refuses them.”
  • “My horse has only rejected poor-quality hay when the barn acquired some.”
  • “My aged Arabian stallion refused senior feed one day and hay the next. He was diagnosed with liver disease.”
  • “I'm fighting this issue right now. I have reduced grain, upped forage, and added ulcer meds.”

Some said their horses are often picky when it comes to medicine and supplements in their rations:

  • “He tries to spit it out when there is medicine in there.”
  • “I have had some that would eat around any supplements or medicine that was added.”
  • “Only if it had Bute in it. My horses have always been pigs.”
  • “I have a couple that will refuse or pick around meds and supplements in their grain.”
  • “We have one that decides to be picky when she has medicine in her feed but we use oil for that.”
  • “I needed the horse to swallow a medication in powder so I used carrot juice. It helped.”
  • “Especially around any medicine he needed. I had to dose him with a syringe.”

Many respondents commented on how they get picky eaters to eat:

  • “Crushed-up ginger biscuits in her feeds”
  • “My nutritionist and I found a combination that worked for my picky-eater hard-keeper senior horse.”
  • “Water is added to all our feed but yogurt is the lure we use for picky eaters. It gets them every time.”
  • “We add Calf Manna or alfalfa or carrot powder to supplemental food.”
  • “I used molasses, gradually adding the food I wanted him to eat and decreasing the molasses.”
  • “I've used molasses to bind to supplements or meds and mixed into the feed to mask taste or smell.”
  • “Over the years we have used Guinness, Honey Nut Cheerios, and currently Hydration Hay with our picky eaters.”
  • “I mixed his chopped hay with Dengie Molasses Free Forage Mix, which he enjoys.”
  • “I switched from sweet feed to Genesis horse feed and added Rebound from Biostar.”
  • “He would not finish grains. I mixed dry apple flakes with it and he finished it all.”
  • “I chose to feed him from a different shaped/colored bucket”
  • “I just buy something else. There's no reasoning with a picky mare!”
  • “Freshly ground flax seed was great at stimulating the appetite!”
  • “I changed type of grain and added water.”
  • “I top dress the feed for all my picky eaters with Gastromin and now they dive into the feed dish!”
  • “I changed out the bucket and add molasses or cookies.”
  • “My horse went off his feed. We don't know why. Mixed in Calf Manna and immediately took interest in feed again.”
  • “I just gave the horse something it would eat: a different bale, chopped hay, new grain, cut out supplements, etc.”
  • “I offered different, fresher, tastier feed until the problem was solved.”
  • “I tried Empower Boost by Nutrena and it changed my horse's attitude towards all food. Now a good eater.”
  • “I added Kool-Aid to their meds.”
  • “I have added aloe juice to a picky senior horse and it has helped with appetite.”
  • “I mixed everything in honey and oats until he started eating again.”
  • “I used sugar-free flavoring for my EPSM horse.”
  • “I added dry molasses, which she enjoyed, then gradually backed off of it.”

Others said they have not had any picky eaters in their barn:

  • “I have three geldings who have never refused to eat ever!”
  • “They are like me. Not fussy eaters.”
  • “While my horse shows definite preferences, he'll eat whatever he's fed.”
  • “None of my horses have been picky, but they've had preferences and I accommodate them.”
  • “All my horses have always eaten well.”
  • “No, mine inhales most anything you put in front of him!”
  • “No, my horses are pigs! Some eat slower than others, I make sure teeth are done and separate slow eaters.”
  • “I feed boiled or soaked oats with a little bran and molasses. Never had a horse refuse that mix.”
  • “I have been fortunate that all have been robust eaters. It's a red flag if off feed.”

While some left general comments:  

  • “Underlying disease needs to be ruled out.”
  • “I'm very picky about the hay for the horses. I haven't had any horse refuse good-quality hay.”
  • “If my horses wouldn't eat I would be checking on their health real fast.”
  • “If one of my horses doesn't eat something is wrong. Immediately start looking for cause.”
  • “Leave the hay in the manger, when the horse gets hungry, they eat.”

You can find tips for feeding the finicky horse, suggestions for horses that don’t like to eat their supplements, learn about forage alternatives for senior horses that can’t or won’t eat hay, and read about different ways to make sure your horse gets his medication all at TheHorse.com.

This week, we want to know: are you involved with horses in the capacity of a business or hobby? Vote now and share your comments at TheHorse.com/polls

The results of our weekly polls are published in The Horse Health E-Newsletter, which offers news on diseases, veterinary research, health events, and in-depth articles on common equine health conditions and what you can do to recognize, avoid, or treat them. Sign up for our e-newsletters on our homepage and look for a new poll on TheHorse.com.


About the Author

Jennifer Whittle, TheHorse.com Web Producer

Jennifer Whittle, TheHorse.com Web Producer, is a lifelong horse owner who competes with her Appaloosas in Western performance events. She is a University of Kentucky graduate and holds a bachelor’s degree in Community Communications and Leadership Development, and master's degree in Career, Technical, and Leadership Education. She currently lives on a small farm in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.

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