Instore Pickup & Local Delivery


Your Cart is Empty

  • Add description, images, menus and links to your mega menu

  • A column with no settings can be used as a spacer

  • Link to your collections, sales and even external links

  • Add up to five columns

  • Understanding the Emotional State of Horses and Their Feeding Behavior

    June 13, 2024 4 min read

    Understanding the Emotional State of Horses and Their Feeding Behavior

    Horses are highly intelligent and social animals, capable of experiencing a wide range of emotions. These emotions significantly influence their behavior, including how they approach feeding. Understanding the interplay between a horse’s emotional state and its feeding behavior is crucial for owners, caretakers, and trainers to ensure the well-being and optimal performance of these magnificent animals.

    The Emotional Landscape of Horses

    Horses, like humans, experience emotions such as joy, fear, anxiety, frustration, and contentment. These emotional states can be observed through various behaviors and physiological responses.

    1. Joy and Contentment: Horses display joy and contentment through relaxed body postures, soft eyes, and a willingness to interact with humans and other horses. They may engage in playful activities and exhibit a healthy appetite. A content horse will often graze calmly, take regular breaks, and chew its food thoroughly.

    1. Fear and Anxiety: Fear and anxiety are common emotional responses in horses, often triggered by unfamiliar environments, loud noises, or sudden movements. Signs of fear and anxiety include wide eyes, flared nostrils, tense muscles, and a high head carriage. An anxious horse may exhibit erratic feeding behavior, such as gulping down food rapidly, refusing to eat, or displaying aggressive behavior towards other horses during feeding times.

    1. Frustration and Boredom: Horses can become frustrated or bored, especially when kept in confined spaces with limited opportunities for social interaction or physical activity. These emotions can lead to undesirable behaviors such as cribbing, wood-chewing, or weaving. Feeding behavior may also be affected, with horses either overeating out of boredom or losing interest in their food.

    Factors Influencing Feeding Behavior

    A horse's feeding behavior is influenced by various factors, including its emotional state, environment, diet, and management practices.

    Emotional State

    The emotional state of a horse plays a significant role in its feeding behavior. Horses that feel secure and relaxed are more likely to have a stable and healthy feeding routine. In contrast, those experiencing stress, fear, or anxiety may have disrupted eating patterns.

    1. Social Dynamics: Horses are herd animals and have a strong social hierarchy. Dominant horses may control access to food, leading to increased stress and competition among lower-ranking horses. This can result in aggressive behaviors during feeding times and inconsistent food intake for submissive horses.

    1. Human Interaction: Positive interactions with humans can enhance a horse’s emotional well-being, leading to better feeding behavior. Horses that trust their handlers are more likely to eat calmly and consistently. Conversely, negative experiences with humans, such as rough handling or punishment, can lead to anxiety and reluctance to eat.

    1. Hormonal Influence: Mares that are in season or those with hormonal inbalances may eat less feed compared to normal. If this only occurs when your mare is in season, then there isn’t much to worry about. But, if feed appetite reduces significantly or slowly over a period of time and doesn't revert back to normal, then it’s time to call the vet. 


    The environment in which a horse is kept significantly affects its feeding behavior. Horses prefer to eat in a safe, familiar, and quiet environment.

    1. Stable Conditions: Horses kept in stables with adequate space, ventilation, and lighting tend to have better feeding habits. Overcrowded or poorly ventilated stables can increase stress levels, leading to erratic feeding behavior.

    1. Pasture Access: Access to pasture allows horses to graze naturally, which is beneficial for their digestive health and emotional well-being. Horses that spend more time grazing tend to be more content and exhibit fewer stress-related behaviors.

    Diet and Feeding Practices

    The type of diet and feeding practices also play a crucial role in a horse’s feeding behavior and emotional state.

    1. Balanced Diet: Providing a balanced diet that meets all nutritional requirements is essential for maintaining a horse’s health and emotional stability. Deficiencies or imbalances in the diet can lead to health issues, affecting the horse’s mood and feeding behavior.

    1. Feeding Schedule: Horses thrive on routine. Establishing a consistent feeding schedule helps reduce stress and anxiety. Irregular feeding times can lead to digestive problems and increased stress levels.

    1. Forage Availability: Horses are natural grazers and need a constant supply of forage to maintain healthy digestive function and emotional well-being. Providing ample forage, such as hay or pasture, helps prevent boredom and reduces the risk of developing vices.

    Strategies to Improve Feeding Behavior and Emotional Well-Being

    Improving a horse’s emotional state and feeding behavior requires a holistic approach that addresses environmental, social, and dietary factors.

    Creating a Positive Environment

    1. Stable Management: Ensure that stables are clean, spacious, and well-ventilated. Providing a comfortable and secure environment helps reduce stress and promotes better feeding behavior.

    1. Pasture Access: Allow horses to spend as much time as possible in the pasture. Grazing is not only beneficial for their physical health but also provides mental stimulation and reduces stress.

    Enhancing Social Interaction

    1. Social Bonds: Encourage social interaction among horses by keeping them in groups whenever possible. Social bonds help reduce anxiety and promote a sense of security.

    1. Positive Human Interaction: Build trust with horses through gentle handling, consistent routines, and positive reinforcement. Horses that trust their handlers are more likely to exhibit calm and consistent feeding behavior.

    Optimizing Diet and Feeding Practices

    1. Balanced Nutrition: Work with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist to develop a balanced diet that meets the horse’s nutritional needs. Address any deficiencies or imbalances that could affect the horse’s health and mood.

    1. Consistent Feeding Schedule: Establish a regular feeding schedule to help reduce anxiety and promote better digestive health. Consistency in feeding times helps horses feel secure and reduces stress-related behaviors.

    1. Ample Forage: Provide a constant supply of high-quality forage. Horses need to graze throughout the day to maintain their digestive health and prevent boredom.

    1. Feeding Enrichment: Incorporate feeding enrichment techniques, such as slow feeders or scatter feeding, to encourage natural foraging behavior and reduce boredom.

    At Oakford Stockfeeds we have a good range of slow feeds, and appetite supplements to help improve your horses feeding behaviour. To view our range simple visit us in-store or online!

    Leave a comment

    Comments will be approved before showing up.