How long after feeding do you ride?

Easy fill hay net from SmartPak
Feeding hay to horses before you ride can help buffer stomach acids and reduce the chance of ulcers.

Okay, I admit it. I don’t wait to ride my horse after I feed him. I figure that after I’ve groomed him, tacked him up and walked him for 10 minutes or so (part of my regular warm up routine), he’ll be fine. And I’ve never had a problem. In fact, with my ulcer-prone TB I never ride him on an empty stomach. If I come in between meals I always give him at least some hay before I work him.

Now, I didn’t always feel this way. There were times when I’d show up at the barn, find out the horses had been fed early and turned around and driven home because I didn’t have time to wait for the hour that I thought was necessary. I know some people who even wait two hours after feeding so that their horses can digest their meals.

The big concern voiced by people is that riding their horses too soon after eating may cause colic. It’s a similar theory that you should wait an hour after eating before going swimming. As a masters swimmer I can tell you that while I wouldn’t eat a huge meal before practice (because I’d feel lethargic), I’ve never gotten a cramp from eating and swimming and I feel a whole lot worse if I don‘t eat before I swim. I often don’t finish my snack until I’ve pulled up to the pool in my car which might be cutting it a little close.

I suspect that with horses you see a similar effect: If your horse doesn’t eat a large meal of grain or pellets (several pounds) and you don’t take off at a dead run when you first get on, you probably are not harming him. After all, endurance riders feed their horses during their rides with no ill effects and this is a discipline where proper nutrition is integral to competition success.  Small meals that are forage-based provide the fuel needed without spiking blood sugar or diverting too much blood flow to the digestive system and help buffer the stomach acids that horses produce almost continuously.

If I fed my horse several pounds of grain or if he were still a race horse, a large meal before running would be a bad idea. For one thing, it fills the hind gut, adding enough weight to impact a horse’s performance.  For another, horses that begin exercise with elevated insulin may fatigue quicker, because insulin prevents muscles from making the best use of nutrients needed to fuel muscle contraction. For performance horses it’s probably a good idea to wait the recommended four hours before competition as it will allow the horse to perform at its best.

As for my TB, since he eats mostly forage and his “job” no longer requires great speeds or endurance, I’ll keep on riding him after breakfast.

12 thoughts on “How long after feeding do you ride?

  1. Glad to hear someone has made the same shift I have! I used to wait forever but now I find my horses do better when they have something in their stomach. Since they get very little grain, mixed with wet beet pulp, I don’t feel they get enough concentrates to be a problem. Plus my rides aren’t too strenuous for them.

    What about feeding after riding? I must admit, as long as he’s cooled out, I go ahead. Thoughts?

  2. An endurance rider here and I must admit that I error more on the side of riding right AFTER a meal and not right before. If it’s close to feeding, I’ll wait 15-20 minutes so she can be fed and start to eat, then I’ll take her out. I think something in their stomach prevent ulcers, keeps her more focused, and it’s what I have to do during rides.

  3. You got it, Liz. Endurance has busted more than one myth about horse care (water for a hot horse, anyone?) I, too, try to be sure there is feed in my horse’s stomach before a ride. Ulcer prevention! 🙂 Tamara

  4. Hi Liz,
    I also have a question about feeding, that I am struggling to find an answer for.
    We currently have one of our racehorses spelling at our agistment property. She has come off a bout of mud fever. Although she was over the fever, her affected foot would still swell up in the mornings (at the racing stables) due to the lack of movement and circulation in a stall. Here, it took about 10 days, and the swelling disappeared altogether. She was only being fed on hay + molasses, and chaff. Prior to feeding, I gave her a 15 – 20 min lunge.
    Now, I am asked to slowly increase grain (steamflake barley + molasses) to her diet. Over the course of a week, up to 4 coffee cups worth. I am increasing her lunging to 20-25 mins and of course monitoring her foot twice daily.
    My question is, how long after lunging shoud I wait to feed her. Previously, I havn’t waited – it was only a short, low intesity lunge and no grain. Now, a slightly longer and slightly more strenuous lunge (a little bit of canter, and faster trot, before just trot), and this small amount of grain, gradually increasing.
    Any ideas? My worry is that leg flaring up. I don’t have prior experience with mud fever.
    I am posting this on several forums, I would love to gather lots of information to base my decision on. Any suggestions or thoughts are much appreciated.
    Julia (Australia, FN Qld area)

    1. Hi Julia,

      Are you talking about coffee cups or coffee cans full of grain? If it’s just a matter of four cups of barley/molasses, I wouldn’t worry about waiting before you lunge her. Keep in mind that endurance riders feed their horses while on route without any issues. If you’re talking about four cans of grain, that’s closer to four pounds (give or take). In that case, I’d probably wait a half hour before working her.

      I ride my horse after he’s eaten (he gets about 3.5 lbs of concentrated each meal) but by the time I’ve groomed him, tacked him up and warmed him up at a walk for about 10 minutes it’s about 40 minutes since he ate.

      Good luck with your horse!


      1. Dear Liz,
        Thankyou for your advice. Yes, it’s only 4 coffee CUPS, definately not cans!
        If it was another horse with no foot/health issues, I wouldn’t even stop to consider this issue! Simply the mud fever gave me pause for thought, and the fact that once she recovered intially, and was returned to grain, the swelling began again. However, that was at the racing stables, where she was in a stall just about all of the day, whereas here she is in a 1.2 acre paddock.
        Just to clarify though, I feed her after I lunge her, not before. I don’t think this should change the issue – she does not get overly hot, or sweat significantly (if at all some mornings). I am in Far North Queensland, Australia, and it is mid Autumn, so mornings are quite fresh, not hot, and as I lunge as soon as the sun is up, she does not get overly hot. The whole point of the lunging is to get her circulation up and warm her muscles (circulation is obviously reduced when standing in a stall all day!). So I just check she is not overly hot/sweaty, and is not blowing but breathing normally. Usually it takes 5 mins to get back to the paddock, and then 5 mins of tidying her hay area (she’s one of those horses that likes to spread her hay everywhere to get to the molasses that dripped to the bottom!) before she gets either hay, molasses or chaff (and now the barley).
        Again, thankyou for your advice. I would welcome any further thoughts sincerly.

  5. My middle aged (around 23) Thoroughbred gets beet pulp 3x’s a day as he has problems with keeping his weight on. The barn gives him about half a medium pail of soaked beet pulp with added water as he is not a great drinker. Should I wait about 40 minutes after he has finished all this before riding him or wait a little longer? Thanks so much, Mary Anne

    1. Beet pulp is forage so it’s very similar to having your horse eat a few flakes of hay before you ride. I wouldn’t worry about waiting long. Beet pulp is highly digestible.

  6. Reblogged this on EQUINE Ink and commented:

    I still see this question come up on equine bulletin boards . . . and I still ride my horse after he’s/she’s eaten. Now, I don’t get on my horse 5 minutes after he’s taken his last mouthful and head off at a gallop! But still, I’ve never had a problem with it. In fact, it’s probably better for a horse to have something in it’s stomach to buffer gastric acid.

    1. I read a study (sorry I can’t find the link) on horses diagnosed with ulcers in the stomach and the esophagus that reported that the ulcers get worse when the horse is worked on an empty stomach and start healing when they have a stomach full of hay while being ridden. Grain and pelleted feeds can be problematic for the horse’s digestion regardless of whether or not they are ridden, but since horses developed to graze 24/7 and bolt at a moments notice, we would be wise to pay attention to that natural order.

  7. They should always have something in the stomach during exercise to prevent the highly acidic digestive juices splashing around and causing discomfort and possibly ulcers.

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