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Best management routine for horses with varying hay needs

I need the collective COTH wisdom and experience to help me sort out a problem. Oh, and settle in… this is a long one.

I have 3 horses. Two are 29 & 30 years old, both quarter horse mares, holding their own. They’re at a good weight, they still have good teeth, and they do very well on a good senior feed and lots of hay. They would do especially well on free choice hay, but that’s not really possible due to horse #3 who is a lami-prone connemara pony with insulin resistance. She should ideally have no more than about 15 lbs of hay per day.

Here are my challenges: Our set up is not good for “separating” horses (it’s a shedrow type barn, with stalls opening into the paddock, and all horses currently come and go as they please. The only time we close the stall doors is at grain time, so the pony won’t steal the old girls’ grain. We’re set up this way specifically because the lami-prone pony is also ulcer-prone, and does best with a) absolutely as much turnout as possible and b) a “herd” situation, albeit a small herd of 3 in this case. One of the older mares also gets very stressed when either closed in or out of her stall, so it’s best for everyone emotionally to be able to come and go.

This causes issues with hay intake. In the beginning (up until the pony foundered last year), all 3 had access to free choice hay (which of course made the pony obese because she is not able to self-regulate, even after 3 years of being on free choice). After the pony foundered, I switched to feeding everyone in slow feed haynets (again, because of our set up, what we do for one we must do for all) with about 45 lbs of hay per day (split up into 4 feedings to try to keep them from having more than 4 hours at a time without hay). I supplemented the old girls with beet pulp and extra grain and they seemed to hold their weight fairly well although both are now on the leaner side of where I’d like to see them, and the pony is still overweight.

After 6 months on levothyroxine to try to kickstart some weight loss, the pony has lost about 100 lbs (with 100 more to go). However she lost the majority of that within the first 3 months, and hasn’t really lost anything since. She’s had active laminitis twice in the last year, so she is not yet able to be ridden although when she’s sound I try to get her out for 30 minutes or so of hand walking daily. But we just can’t get that weight to come off, and her insulin numbers are not coming down either. She is still on the levothyroxine, at the highest dose my vet is comfortable with.

Ideally, she should be getting 15 lbs of hay per day measured and soaked (our hay is under that magical 10% for sugars & starch, but my vet still believes that soaking will help from a calorie perspective). This brings me to the next set of challenges:

The only way to give only the pony soaked hay would be to separate them for all feedings. This means either actually running a fence down the middle of the paddock (which again I am loathe to do because the three of them do so much better when not separated), or having them eat all hay in their stalls, which means going longer between hay feedings. We could feed all of them soaked hay, but we did try that in the past and the two oldies lost weight quickly on soaked hay (obviously).

The next challenge (I know - this is getting out of hand) is that our property has one well, which is a hundred years old and 17 feet deep. So to soak enough hay for all three horses runs our well dry, so we end up having to have water brought in which is hella expensive, and also really unrealistic in winter as the well could literally be under a foot of snow.

See where I’m going here? The only way I can see to get weight off this pony is to soak her hay, and the only way to do that in a reasonable manner is to do the one thing that I really, really, really don’t want to do, which is to separate the horses.

Are any of you able to give me some ideas as to how to make this all work? I’d really, really appreciate it.

Have you tried muzzling the pony?


Hmmm. I hadn’t thought of that. She’s got a couple of muzzles that we used to use when we’d hand walk through our fields. I’m not sure she’d ever figure out how to eat hay through them, she couldn’t figure out the grass. But definitely something to think about!

I agree with trying muzzling. You could also just shut the pony in a stall for part of the time and leave the two horses’ stalls open.


She can eat hay through a muzzle. You can also soak her hay to remove sugars. Try the green guard brand first, I find they can eat more through this style. If she’s not losing enough, go to the black round style. This style does restrict their mouth movements so make sure pony has a few hours without it if you can swing it, so she can get salt and stretch her mouth.

Source: laminitic pony owner who can now have a trim pony, off medication and on 24/7 grazing.


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Running a fence down the middle does not separate them. They can still mutually graze, they can still stand together. They can still nuzzle.

You then have in one paddock those that can have 24/7 hay and the other one is the Jenny Craig paddock


Tough situation for sure. Can you maybe go halfway with it and separate them for part of the day? Run the partition fence with a gate in it. Part of the day close them off (where they can still see and touch each other, like the above picture) and let the old girls have free hay access while the pony gets a soaked net. Then part of the day with the gate open and a moderate middle ground amount of hay (or still free choice plus the muzzle for pony pants).


@Highflyer1 - that’s the other option I’ve been thinking of today, which is just shutting the pony in her stall for a few hours a couple times a day.

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Thanks MadTrotter. I do have a greenguard muzzle for her, I’ll start to work on it with her to see if she can sort it out. She gets very easily frustrated by muzzles and just kind of gives up. But that’s been with grass, which might contribute to the frustration because it’s so high value. With hay, she might be happier to try to spend a little time figuring it out. I’ve also got a black round one, so good to know that I could step it up if need be (and good tip about giving her a few hours without it so she can get salt, etc).

I do soak her hay (sometimes). It’s already relatively low sugar (under 8%, 0.4% starch). But because of our ancient well, we can really only soak when we’re getting lots of rain. I can often squeeze out enough water to soak enough for the pony but would be constantly running the well dry if I soaked it for the old girls too, so it doesn’t really solve the problem of having to separate them during meals.

@SuzieQNutter - yes, true. It’s not “real” separation. And as a last resort that’s what I will do. I’m just hoping for a “unicorn” solution (that likely doesn’t exist lol).

Thanks Pally - good idea!

I’m in a similar situation, including 2 horse and one pony who is IR and foundered last year. I eventually gave up and separated the pony, her hay is weighed and she is doing so much better. Older mare is still mad that she can’t get in with pony to groom, but they’re adjusting to the new normal.


I have a similar issue. The pony eats faster than any horse I have ever seen, and is just awful to my old gelding. They are being separated. In my case by sending the pony off to training, but if/when he comes back here, they’ll have separate paddocks, however that ends up happening. My poor old guy has lost weight, the pony is fat, and I am exhausted.


Isn’t it crazy how fast these ponies can eat? Mine can finish off her night’s hay (3 flakes in double netted small hole haynets) in two hours tops.

Following! Horses that have created a herd really make separation hard. I’m thinking the muzzle and and hour or two at either end of the day (better both) when they are always in their stalls and the mares can get some really high calorie food intake. Whatever length of time works for the stressed mare. If you follow a very rigid routine, you may be able to lengthen the time eventually. I’ve had good success on waiting out the initial panic 'Oh god the door is closed" (in my case, oh god the gate!) and as soon as they relax even a little bit opening the door. But the door or gate only, ever opens when they have at a minimum turned away from it at a walk. (Even if I am standing there in the pouring rain needing to get to work) No need to let the other two out, by the way. But a schedule may be a real help here.
Horses can eat hay astonishingly fast and I agree with you, not all learn to self regulate…I’ve watched, or not watched, two flakes per horse vanish in under 20 minutes with my boys, meanwhile the old pony is still there picking away on her grain. I swear, they do not chew, just swallow. And the big boy will clearly, never, stop. He will eat himself to death.
But I think a routine of an hour or two of separation, and then a muzzle for at least half of the other time, might work best. Full separation when they are bonded seems unkind to me.

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What a tough situation! I second the idea of separation with a sturdy fence that allows full eyes on/touch possible. I have tried hay with the Greenguard muzzle and my paint gelding hasn’t managed to eat much with his and he got very frustrated (He is IR/Cushings, two laminitis bouts under his belt in two years, but we are finally managing his feed and feet!) He can graze very well, although he gets very little actual graze, thank goodness!

He shares a barn/paddock/pasture with his Cushings gelding buddy who has no IR issues. They are separated with very sturdy corral panels as they play HARD over them when divided but it allows both to eat what they need. They groom over the panels and I do put them together as soon as the non-IR is done with his hay, for the most part.

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Thanks B_and_B. Great tips, definitely as long as I can keep to a regular schedule they should learn to be ok with staying in a bit longer. And to be fair, the stressed mare doesn’t bang at her door or panic to get out, she goes inward and kind of shuts down and stops eating - I’m not sure what may have happened in her past but I feel like she was left in a stall for a very long time on her own). Currently she does stay in for an hour at lunch time without worry so I think it’s not outside the realm of possibility that I could extend that time, and add another in-stall feeding period as well through the day.

Thanks Calvincrowe - yes, that’s the issue I foresee with my pony (although I am going to give her a fair shake at it) - she just gets so frustrated in the muzzle. She shows the same frustration with a double-netted small hole haynet. If she can’t get a huge mouthful to inhale, she feels like the world is ending lol.

Oh these IR horses are such a challenge, aren’t they?!?!

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The solution is always another equine. A donkey or mini, in fact, to keep the pony company. They have similar restrictions on hay, so perfect, right? That way, you can run a fence down the middle, but everyone bunks with a buddy. See? Brilliant AND enabling. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do here? :grin:


This is EXACTLY the solution :slight_smile:

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