Overfeeding Causes Horse Behavior Problems

If you are having horse behavior problems, overfeeding your horse is one of the first places to look.

It can be a big surprise to learn how many problems can come from overfeeding and how simply changing this one thing can make such a big difference with our horse.

In fact, here’s a big surprise I got. Our Vet, who is a very respected Veterinarian in the region said this to me: “Believe me, Overweight is a much bigger problem than underweight.” This is from a well respected Vet speaking from a health viewpoint. This makes sense when we consider all the health issues people have that are associated with overweight in adults and children.

In nature, horses eat throughout the day, they eat grass, and they typically don’t become overweight. (Good quality hay is just dried grass, so we can think of it the same way, but with less sugars to be concerned about.)

Correct Weight Formula: Food in = energy output.

Many of our horses don’t get a lot of exercise on a daily basis, so may not need as much food as we think.

One reason horses need to keep fit is so that they can run away and keep up with the herd. Flight is our horse’s main defense. They are quick to run from anything they consider dangerous.  It is the overweight horse that can injure themselves trying to keep up.

Overfeeding Causes Overweight

Overweight is a problem mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Mentally – They are feeling too good to be good. They just can’t contain themselves. It’s like kids in grade school on a big sugar high – it’s not good for anyone.

Emotionally – It puts them on even higher alert than normal. Horses are fast and strong by nature and the way they survive is to run away.

Overfeeding can lead to horse feeling too good
We wouldn’t want this horse behavior close to us.
Many people are shocked and caught off-guard at the speed and strength of their horse when they go into survival mode.  Also, many people are surprised to learn that horses are worried about their survival every day.

With overfeeding, everything is magnified. They become hyper-alert, more jumpy, more worried about their safety and surroundings, and much more reactive to things they don’t understand. There are a lot of things in our human world that we understand, but horses do not – especially anything new, moved, or fluttery. Again, with overfeeding, they are feeling just too good to be good. They can’t quiet down and behave – they just can’t.

Physically – A host of physical problems can arise. The short list includes organs (colic) and structure (muscle, tendon, joint, ligament injuries).

Rescue horses, especially, tend to get overfed because they are often undernourished. But if we overfeed, we will soon find a very different horse from the one we rescued. Suddenly, we will start seeing these mental and emotional problems show up and it can catch us by surprise.

If your horse seems overly thin, have a Vet check teeth and whether they need de-worming. That way, they will get the most possible benefit from the food they eat.

If you somehow rescued a stallion – it happens! – and you are not expert with stallions, you are probably in over your head. Seek help, geld him, or move him to a place set up for handling stallions.


It’s easy to try to “feed” our horse so they will love us – but what horses really love is a reliable, secure leader so they feel safe.

Overfeeding will come out as a lot of behavioral problems – “their personality on steroids” – and this is exactly what we don’t want, especially in the beginning. Horses are already stronger and faster than us. When we overfeed we get a horse that is “Fat and Sassy” and “Jumping Out Of Their Skin.” These are big problems to deal with even for very advanced people, and we don’t want to set ourselves or our horse up for failure.

If you are experiencing behavior problems, cut back on grain, or just don’t feed it in the first place. If you are boarding and they feed grain, ask them to just give a tiny handful.  Use your judgment when adjusting feed, but often a few pellets of grain will satisfy them because they hear it and feel like they got their grain.  Then they will just eat more hay. Hopefully the hay is good quality hay and hopefully not alfalfa. Alfalfa is usually more than most of our horses need and a little goes a long way. Then, if our horse is showing behavioral problems, we will have to cut back on the alfalfa, too.  This means our horse will not get to eat throughout the day as they can with grass and grass hay.

How to make it worse: Confine and over-feed.

How to make it better: Good quality grass hay (as much as they want) and low/no grain, room to move around, a herd to be part of, and the mental stimulation of learning and interacting with us.

No one has the ideal set up for their horse, yet these simple adjustments can often make things dramatically better.

For more, you can check out: About Horse Training And Why Our Horse Needs It.

Horses Forever!

Pat Moses
30+ Years of Supporting Horse Lovers
P.S. If you would like to ask questions about your specific situation, email Pat@Horse-Solutions.com, Subject: Set Up Free 15-Minute Phone Call.

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