We all know horses love to eat…hungry like a horse, right? And most all of us also know that there is a serious issue when old Bessy turns her nose up at dinner time…she normally cleans her plate. There are many reasons why your horse may go “off their food” as we say…some are serious emergencies and others are not. Lets talk about a few reasons why a horse wont eat.

#1 - Colic its more than a stomach ache

The first of the bunch, colic…just the mention of it makes a horse owners blood run cold…colic is the #1 killer of horses. One of the first signs of a colicky horse is going off the feed. Not unlike us when we have a stomach ache, the belly hurts and he doesn’t want to put anything else in there. We’ve all been there. The problem is that the horse does not have the ability to vomit its stomach contents like we can to alleviate the problem. Horses can colic from trapped gas, having eaten something he should not have, ulcers or impaction. A colicky horse will try to lie down, look at his flanks, sweat and have an elevated heart rate. This is an occasion that you need to call the vet immediately.

#2 - Pain of Ulcers

Ulcers are a major cause of problems why a horse that won’t eat his food. The ulcers in the stomach or the hind gut are being aggravated by the food he is eating, so very shortly he learns that if doesn’t eat, the pain of the ulcers is less. Anyone that understands ulcers knows that this is the worst thing for him as both the food in his stomach and the saliva he coats his stomach with should be helping to buffer the stomach and reduce the acid. So, the ulcer gets worse. If you suspect ulcers, you need to treat them…they will not get better on their own.

#3 - Dental care

Another possible cause of poor eating is the lack of dental care. A horse’s teeth never quit growing, and if you don’t have his teeth cared for at least once a year, sharp points can form. Those points will cut into his gums every time he tries to chew his food…pretty self-explanatory why he wouldn’t want to eat. Other things that can also happen are cracked or impacted teeth that get infected, or uneven wear patterns. Any of the above are miserable for your horse…don’t neglect his dental care.

#4 - Picky Horse

Just plain picky horse. These are tough…some horses just are just not good eaters. It seems that the sun, moon and stars have to be aligned for him to clean his plate. For this guy you will just have to be patient, and through trial and error find a hay and feed that he likes.  I would go back to #2 and #3 above and explore ulcers and tooth care as a culprit before you assume he is just being finicky.


All horses are different just like us humans. Good horse management is finding a reason why your horse wont eat and acting accordingly.