It's not unusual for a horse to dive in as soon as his grain hits the bottom of the bucket. But if he eats too quickly, referred to as "bolting," he may swallow before the feed is thoroughly chewed or moistened with saliva. The large, dry particles can then become stuck in his esophagus and lead to choke--a blockage of the esophagus.
Here are some things you can do to discourage feed bolting and protect your horse from choke:
- Switch from a feed bucket to a larger, shallower feed pan. When grain is spread out in a thinner layer your horse will have to take smaller mouthfuls.
- Place rocks (fist-size or larger) in his feed tub. Your horse will be forced to eat around the objects, slowing his intake.
- Feed hay free-choice. Offering hay continuously throughout the day---using a slow feeder can cut down on waste---keeps a horse from becoming ravenous by feeding time.
- Feed smaller meals more often. Not only are smaller meals better for a horse's digestive system, but frequent feedings take the edge off a horse's hunger and the "novelty" out of feeding time.
- Separate horses at feeding time. Some horses fed in herd situations feel they must eat quickly before being bullied away from their meal by a more dominant horse. Horses fed in protected, personal spaces, such as stalls or separate paddocks, can eat at their own pace.