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The Connection Between Diet and Mood Swings

You have likely heard the expression “feeling his oats” and maybe you wondered where it came from. It probably came about after an owner fed to much oats to their under worked horse and then got bucked off right away. A horse is more active and lively if they have adequate energy whether it comes from corn, oats or beet pulp when compared to an underfed and energy lacking horse.

Many owners can tell you about the effects that certain feeds or dietary components have on the behavior of certain horses. As a result the horse feed industry has developed a niche market for supplements that either calm a horse or provide a horse with extra energy. However, the question remains over whether these products actually work. Can a horse’s diet really affect their behavior or attitude.

The first thing you need to remember is that horses are just like people, they are all individuals. People will each react to

certain foods individually as a result of certain allergies or enzyme reactions and horses are the same way. This is why you should be skeptical of any blanket statement involving feeds or ingredients when it comes to behavioral effects.

If fed excessive amounts of grain no matter what type there are individual horses that may get hyperactive. Although this doesn’t mean that every horse should never be fed grain again. You simply need to find different feed ingredients that won’t affect the particular horse with adverse reactions.

Attitude is often also affected by environmental stresses. A horse with a bad attitude is often the result of a reaction rather than a personality trait. The horse’s daily routine is full of several areas where a horse can react adversely such as a training situation, a management situation, a physical problem, an equine social problem or other disagreeable factors.

Illness often affects behavior. A horse may display depression, lethargy or crankiness if they are ill, developing an ailment or in chronic pain. If a feeding program of nutritional additives are given in an attempt to make up for a deficiency in training or handling they will not work.

It is important that owners stick to the basics when dealing with horses. When having trouble with a horse’s attitude the first thing to do is go back to the basics of equine behavior to try and determine what is causing the adverse reaction. However, this doesn’t mean the feeding program isn’t the cause for any behavior problem in horses. Rather humans are too quick to place blame for a horse’s bad behavior on feeding programs when it may be something else entirely.

If you find that your horse’s diet is the result of their bad attitude then there are several areas where you can start to correct the problem. When managing the behavior of a horse through their diet the most important thing to remember is to match the feeding program with a horses activity needs. The overfeeding of energy is the most common mistake that leads to hyperactive horses. The reason for this mistake is because many horse owners do not understand where energy comes from in a horses diet so they are not aware when they are giving their horse too much energy for their activity level. Horses will react in two ways when they have too much energy in their diet. They will either become fat and there won’t be much difference in their attitude or behavior, or the horse will become hyperactive and burn off the extra energy through nervous behavior.

So how exactly do you increase the energy intake of a horse that is hyperactive after being fed high levels of grain? You should give the horse a diet that is high in fat or oil. Increased amounts of grain can lead to some horses becoming hyperactive because they are able to quickly digest and absorb the starch in the grain which causes a responding “spike” in their glucose and hormone levels that cause them to become over-sensitive.

Since a horses body can’t determine where a calorie comes from it users some as activity sources while other it uses for growth or fat deposits. Whether the calories come from corn or oats the cells in the horse’s body use them indiscriminately. The main goal of horse owners is to have an animal that looks sleek, glossy and well padded with fat so that the horse looks in good health with good care. This is often the issues since an animal needs an abundance of calories in their diet to get fat. A horse can look healthy by consuming a diet containing fat rather than a diet of grain which is associated with hyperactivity.

You should decrease the amount of grain and starch in a horse’s diet as you increase the level of fat which can be up to one and a half to two pounds per day. The horse can get an adequate amount of energy to meet their activity level when you increase the level of fat content and decrease the amount of grain or starch that is in the horse’s diet. However, you avoid the “spikes” in the horses metabolic hormone levels because you are not feeding as much starch and as a result you can avoid the mood swings in the horse’s behavior and attitude.

A horse’s behavior can also be affected by nutrients such as vitamins, minerals or amino acids as a result of their specific roles in metabolism. When deficient in certain vitamins and minerals some horses can become hyperactive. However, other horses may have a decrease in activity when they are missing the exact same nutrients.


Read the next horse nutrition article on Supplements Can Change Your Horses Behavior.
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