Should I work the horse before I feed?

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Feb 19, 2004
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I'm taking care of a friend's horse for a few days and I was told I could do some training with him. (My friend and I are training him together.) Well, my question is, is it OK to work him before I feed him? (This is a big horse, not a mini.)

It's just ground work, no riding. Stuff like leading him around, practicing STOP, BACK, TURN, REVERSE, CIRCLE, etc, and some round-penning - like lungeing, only without the lunge line, since we always do it at liberty.

I knew that this shouldn't be done after the horse has eaten, but is it OK to do it before?

The horse is a 3 year old Quarter Horse/Arab gelding. He is currently 14.3 hands. His feed is 1 flake of alfalfa hay and 3 flakes of grass hay in the morning, and 2 to 3 flakes of grass hay in the evening. His pasture offers very little grass, so his grazing is off of the hay.

I would be doing the work at about 9:00 AM to 10:00 AM, and not for any longer than 30 to 40 minutes.

Right now, it's 11:45 AM, PST, (Yes, I stayed up late!
) I need an answer by 8:30 AM, PST, so please hurry if you can.

Thank you!
Horses will live if they have to work before their breakfast, but they may inflict some damage in retribution.
It depends on what he's used to- if breakfast is sacrosanct in his normal routine, i.e. no one ever interfers with it or works him before breakfast, then I wouldn't do it.

If he is used to being fed later and you show up early, you might get away with working him before his stomach realizes it's breakfast time. But considering how late you are getting there I suspect he will be waiting for you and his hay.

Work him whenever you want to. Just have respect for the fact that if it's right before a meal he will be cranky and not paying attention to you, and if it's right after he will be full and you shouldn't push him at all until he comes out of his post-supper nap on his own. Groundwork outside of a round pen is much more mental work for a horse than it is physical, you will not be pushing him to work on showmanship stuff after a meal.

Perhaps you could do that first and then after 30 minutes or so do the roundpen work?

Sorry if that didn't make sense, I'm too tired to post coherently but you wanted an answer and no one else had given you one yet.

Hi Joe,

If my horses are kept in stalls overnight, I DO feed them first then work them. I wait about one hour first. If they are out where they can graze I do not feed first.

Horses kept up are restricted on feed intake and I feel they have more energy and will feel better if they get to eat first.

Hobbyhorse 23

Yes, I'm sure they will live without breakfast first, but this is my preference. I do feed them on a regular "early" schedule however. Feed the same time in the AM and PM each day.

Hi Joe. I am happy to see that you have a horse to work with. I can just imagine how excited you are about this. So nice to see you on the board.

Joe, my horses have always been on a feeding schedule. A set time for them to eat. I would not interefere with that schedule to work a horse. I find that if a horse is waiting to be fed, (that's why he thinks you are really there, not for work, but to feed him) that he is going to be very impatient and not work good for you at all if that is messed up.

Just by you showing up there, in the owner's absense, I think the horse knows you are there to give him his food that he has been waiting for. So feed him first.

I would say to let him eat first and give him ample time to digest. Then his mind will be off of food and on to you. If he's fed and digested well, then he is going to co-operate with you better. But if he's hungry, expecting to be fed, and you don't feed him, he's going to be anxious and not have his mind on working at all.

Just like my boys, Joe. If they get up and I expect them to get outside and do some chores for me, they are going to be crabby as heck if I don't fix them their breakfast first and allow them to digest with Sponge Bob, and send them out on an empty stomache. Just my humble opinion Joe.
This horse dosn't really eat in meals though. His feed in the morning lasts quite awhile, since it's his grazing - insted of grass. (We feed him his hay in the run-in shed.)

But thanks for the advice! I'll see if I can do the round-penning in the evening sometime. By the time his food settles in the morning, it's too hot out for round-penning, lol!
We're in Sheridan, Oregon, and it's a hot summer right now!

Thanks again!
OK- you cannot expect a horse of this age to work and live on what he is being fed. The hay amount is adequate for a horse hos size and age- especially since you indicate that he still has some left- so it is like grazing- BUT he needs more carbs if he is going to work, or he will lose weight and fail to put on muscle, which, at his age i s critical. I would not advise you to change hos diet in any way whilst your friend is away, but you both need to sit down and decide what you are going to do when he gets back. Grass/ hay will sustain a horse AT REST more than adequately- this horse is still a baby and is still growing and maturing. He needs more. Please stop working him.

I don't think by the discription of what he plans to do with the horse and his age, that he needs to stop working him! Unless of course he is very thin. Some whoa, back, stop, circles and some round penning does not sound too strenuous to me for any age horse. He is not riding the horse either.

JMO..........but hey Joe needs to know that perhaps he is not in wrong! Hard for any of us really to offer an opinion of him in general since we do not know his body type or weight. But if he has feed in front him nearly all the time I would work him with your projected schedule before breakfast.

But I would think a three year old should know most of these things already and needs a only "refresher course"?

Usually the "working a horse and feeding" rules apply to grain. If you can tear him away from his hay, go ahead and do it. One needs to worry about the carbohydrates in the system and the heat produced by grain. I follow an hour rule, I don't feed grain an hour before or an hour after I work a horse. However, I feed alfalfa as a treat right after I ride or work a horse, hard or not.

If the horse has good weight and he's not going to be ridden or worked hard consistently, the feed is good for a three year old. Some three year old QH's run easily large and can maintain on air. Thus, if they are no longer growing, no grain is necessary. Commonly, cutting horse trainers maintain their horses only on grass hay and they are worked pretty hard.

I would go ahead and give the hay, wait about 15 minutes, then get him. Be aware, this is NOT part of his schedule and he will probably give you heck!
mizbeth said:
I would think a three year old should know most of these things already and needs only a "refresher course".

Not exactly. This horse was trained by his first owner, just for riding. He's still learning ground manners, so that's mostly what my friend and I are working on. He is a very good riding horse though!

Well, thanks for the advice everyone!
I think we'll just wait an hour after feeding to do round-penning. We don't work him that much, and even when we ride, we only go at a walk. We're working on getting the horse to stop, (which he's not good at!
) before we move onto a trot. We're also working on getting him out of a "Tom Thumb" bit, and switching back to a reguler jointed snaffel.

And we got rid of the tie-down!! Yaaaaayyy!!

Thanks again everyone!

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