Horse Health: Feeding All Night Long

by Dr. Juliet Getty

True or false? Horses don't need as much hay during the night because they sleep. False, and dangerous. Equine nutrition expert Dr. Juliet Getty frequently has to bust this myth.  

Believe the facts:

  • Horses are awake and moving most of the time.
  • Mature horses will sleep up to two hours per day, broken into short periods.
  • These 15 to 20 minute naps are intermittent throughout the day and night.


In other words, horses do not sleep for long periods of time the way humans and some other animals do. Being prey animals, horses must get their sleep in frequent breaks of short duration, ideally in a group situation where some take turns resting while others remain alert for dangers.


One more fact to keep in mind: The horses digestion is designed to process food continuously.

Horses are trickle feeders, designed to graze continuously to keep the digestive system functioning normally, thereby preventing ulcers and colic. Feeding them in sync with their natural instincts and physiology requires that they have forage available any time they want it. And that means 24/7.


The solution is simple: Feed enough hay at night to make certain there is some left over in the morning. If your horse runs out of hay and you wake to find him kicking and pawing, he is hungry. But even if he seems to be waiting patiently, he is in discomfort or outright pain due to the acid bathing his empty stomach. Certainly, he is also mentally stressed; this stress can lead to a multitude of health problems (including, ironically, persistent overweight).


Ease your horses discomfort (and keep his digestion healthy) by giving him more hay than he could possibly eat. Once he realizes the supply will never run out, he will self-regulate and actually begin to eat less because he has relaxed, both physically and emotionally. And you can sleep better, knowing that all night long your horse is eating just the way he was meant to like a horse.


Dr. Juliet Getty has taught and consulted on equine nutrition for more than 20 years. Her website, offers a library of helpful articles, a forum on nutrition, and a calendar of appearances, teleconferences and interviews.