What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Eating too Fast, Bolting Down Feed


Some horses eat their feed very quickly, "bolting" down their meals. This may simply be their normal behavior, or it may have developed in response to living conditions. Horses that compete for feed in a herd often learn to eat fast in a competitive setting.

Horses that eat feed (especially pelleted feed) too rapidly are in danger of developing choke (esophageal obstruction). Sometimes, you will notice these horses experience transient obstructions that self-resolve in a few moments, or not. Horses that have transient obstructions will stop eating and walk away from the feed. In some cases, they may even show transient colic signs. Then the obstruction resolves and they return to eating.

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your role


What To Do

Due to the danger of obstruction, it is very important to monitor these horses closely and in some cases, to institute management changes that help slow them down in their consumption of feed.

There are a variety of commercial slow feeders intended for this purpose. There are also common sense practices you can incorporate into your feeding. Possibilities include scattering feed over a larger area, feeding smaller meals more frequently, soaking pellets to soften them. Some even add large rocks to a feed pan so a horse must eat around the rocks.

Sometimes, separating a horse from a herd and feeding them alone slows them down. If a horse is separated from a herd at feeding time, they may eat more slowly, feeling less pressure to eat quickly before it is taken by a more dominant herd member. But this behavior is often well-established, and some horses will continue to eat fast even if fed alone.

What Not To Do

Do not ignore this problem, because bolting feed can result in esophageal obstruction (choke).

your vet's role

If you are concerned about bolting behavior, or your horse has experienced choke episodes before, discuss the problem with your vet. They may have recommendations to slow or resolve this behavior before it results in more serious problems.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • Are you feeding the horse alone or in a group?
  • Has the feed or management changed recently?
  • What, specifically, are you feeding?
  • What have you tried in order to solve the problem?

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP