Poll on Free Choice Feeding #poll

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

If you have tried unrestricted free choice feeding of hay for your horse please check all the options that apply.  Replies are anonymous.



Confused. Are the above the only options you're interested in? 

I feed my PPID, non IR horse free choice unrestricted hay. I can't report on any changes as I have always done so. He needs it to maintain weight without a significant amount of supplemental feed, since about 2 lb. a day of ODTBC to carry minerals is about all the BP I can get him to eat. 

Should I worry about this?


IN  2010


Nancy C

I would be curious to know Melinda, is he self regulating?  IOW, how much in pounds does he actually eat when fed unlimited free choice?  Is it different from the 20 pounds you have indicated in your case history?

Nancy C in NH
ECIR Moderator 2003

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I too am confused by this poll question. My comments below are admittedly based on a short personal history in the ECIR group and no specific knowledge of the intention of the poll, so my comments here could be entirely wrong here and are in no way intended to give offense to anyone. I've learned many, many very useful things on this site and from the volunteers here that are REALLY helping me do better for my horse. And I'm very grateful for this resource.

When I recall comments and advice on the ECIR site about the complexities of equine nutrition and management, it appears to me that this poll Q&A may be in danger of over simplifying to the degree that it threatens the accuracy/usefulness of the results. For example, in the Q&A there is no accounting for the S/S or palatability of hay, exercise or not (which can moderate appetite, I think I recall reading on ECIR), or time span over which changes were observed. Also, there is no way to know if the answers are recalled from distant memories of management before ECIR protocols, or based on written notes and data over time.

If there is a desire to draw out anecdotal experiences or data from members, perhaps one of the free on-line survey tools could be used to create question banks, that if well designed and free from bias, may illuminate broader trends with members and their horses. Each member would be responsible for answering the survey questions according to the survey guidelines (written by the survey author) and using their own current case history (CH) as their basis for their answers to be as accurate as possible (i.e. don't rely on memory). In this way, ECIR might be able to 'mine data' from their members more quickly and easily than trying to slog through many case histories. Such a survey, if well designed, could attempt to distributing the data mining effort across each individual member with the online survey tool collecting the results in an easy format for analysis, with both raw data and analysis available to the group after the close of the survey. Just an idea, FWIW.
MaryS and Hoover

Sept. 2016,  South Central PA

Hoover's Case History: https://ecir.groups.io/g/CaseHistory/files/Mary%20and%20Hoover  .


Thanks, Mary. We have been kicking around data collection ideas/survey ideas; Case Histories are very, very important (as we know) for giving the volunteers information about what is happening with the horse, so that any information given back to the owner will be in the right ball park.  

I like the idea of survey tools, question banks, and getting owners to fill in the survey using their own CH's.

If anyone has experience with this, and would like to help out, let me know.


Jaini Clougher (BSc,BVSc)

Merlin (over the bridge) ,Maggie,Gypsy, Ranger

BC 09
ECIR mod/support



Yes, I agree with you that CH are very important. I recall a post from someone seeking help with an unusual situation a while back and members trying to suggest this and that ... and then Dr. Kellon posted with some really specific and useful help to the horse owner. When I read it, it was clear from Dr. Kellon's reply that she had read the CH and found a pattern that pointed to a specific thing (I can't recall the details off-hand). That was when I noted two things: 1) Dr. Kellon can offer remarkably specific and important advice from a remote location using her knowledge and years of experience and 2) Current, accurate Case Histories are critical for getting good advice (from Dr. Kellon or any of the ECIR volunteers).

I saw in the 'call for volunteers' that ECIR is looking with someone with a background in statistics. I don't have any education or work experience in this area. I have a familiarity that survey tools exist, but I've never done any serious work with them. If ECIR is looking for someone to investigate this area (i.e. the 'front end, survey/data collection effort' and unbiased question generation) and have no other members are available at the moment, I could try to help out.

MaryS and Hoover

Sept. 2016,  South Central PA

Hoover's Case History: https://ecir.groups.io/g/CaseHistory/files/Mary%20and%20Hoover  .

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

I really should have specified IR horses since that is the main focus but regardless if you have always done free choice feeding you have nothing to compare it with to determine any effects.
Eleanor in PA


EC Owner 2001

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

Thank you for the thoughtful post, Mary.

The poll function here only allows for one question and three possible answers.  I totally agree that an in depth analysis needs much more information than that but this was posted as a (preliminary) informal survey in reaction to a "nutritionist" who repeatedly posts claims that free choice feeding will lower weight, reduce consumption and lower insulin with zero data to back up those claims.  She just did it again this week as a press release. Statements are made such as even 10 minutes without hay in front of them will trigger a stress/cortisol release that results in IR.  There is published formal data that completely repudiates that.
Eleanor in PA


EC Owner 2001


Yes, Nancy, absolutely self regulating. In fact, I'd have him eat a bit more if it were up to me. But he is not insulin resistant, so not what Dr. K. was looking for. I haven't weighed hay for quite some time. We bale our own hay, so bale size, wt., tightness, etc., are quite consistent. Still feeding the same amount as when I was weighing at 20 lb., because that's what he will come close to eating all of, but rarely runs out. 


IN  2010


I really appreciate the information I have found on this site about this issue and especially about the role of leptin in controlling (or not) hunger. I struggled for years with the very widespread wisdom among nutritionists that free-choice was the only way to go. Among my non-IR horses it has been fine. For the IR group, however, it has been disastrous--2 serious founders and massive weight gain over the winters. Even with the smallest hole slow-feed nets they quickly become experts at extracting huge mouthfuls at a time: and the more they eat, the more weight they gain, the more ravenous they get, and the more sick they end up. 

Kristen and Jasper, BC

December 2016

Nicole Sicely

I have read a few of the books written by this person and have tried free choice feeding with my NON IR horses.  It was a disaster.  I gave it a solid 2 months and neither horse self regulated. I used small hole hay nets that never ran out of hay...  I figured 2 months was long enough and I needed to stop for the health of my horses.

This winter I got a round bale because I have a new horse who is ulcer prone.  I still have one horse from my previous attempt.  Both of these horses have realized the hay isnt going anywhere and will walk away and come back nicely.  I'd say they did "self regulate" but in the opposite direction. They both gained weight and THEN self regulated.  So they have held steady at this higher weight, if that makes sense.    One might think, maybe I wasnt feeding them enough previously and this is the weight they are "supposed" to be at.  But thats not true.  They have always received 2% or more of their body weight.  Currently they are at a BCS of 6. They have always been at a 5 until the round bale....  (the round bale does have a slow feed net over it).

So on 2 attempts of 24/7 feeding my horses did not lose weight.  One attempt the self regulated one, one they didnt.  Not sure why the difference.  


Nicole in VT

Joined 9/22/04


On Fri, Feb 24, 2017 at 04:31 am, Nicole Sicely wrote:
I'd say they did "self regulate" but in the opposite direction. They both gained weight and THEN self regulated.  So they have held steady at this higher weight, if that makes sense.    

Over the past year with my new horse, this has been my experience too. It seems from my observations that my horse "self-regulated" at different BCS depending on the feed source. I made a lot of changes in feed/hay over the past year as I've learned more on the ECIR site.

  • free choice pasture - BCS 8
  • free choice hi-palatable (soaked) hay, high S/S - BCS 7 and slowly gaining
  • free choice low S/S hay, decent palatability - BCS 6+
  • 2%, same hay as above - BCS 6 (likely needs 1.5 % or exercise to lower BCS)

This horse was diagnosed as IR in Sept 2016. Dr. Kellon said this horse might not be IR and his high insulin could be a result of being very fat (based on looking at his blood work and breed, refer to old post 203222). It will be interesting to see his next lab results when vet comes to give spring shots.
MaryS and Hoover

Sept. 2016,  South Central PA

Hoover's Case History: https://ecir.groups.io/g/CaseHistory/files/Mary%20and%20Hoover  .

regina bruno

i believe i know who you are referring to here.  this person gave me a "funny feeling" a few years back when i was first exposed to some of her info.  i did some research on her education and teaching history.  let's say the PhD is not in equine nutrition....
Regina and Smokey
June 26, 2017
Laurelville,  Ohio

 https://ecir.groups.io/g/CaseHistory/files/Regina%20and%20Smokey  .
https://ecir.groups.io/g/CaseHistory/album?id=8316  .


Only once have I tried completely free choice feeding.  Blitz was 2 at the time and I had him turned out in a small herd in a 4 acre field with a large bale hay feeder.

In 3 months (September to November) he gained 50kg (which then took me 9 months to get off him with regulated hay access) which took him to a bcs of about 7.

He also got the most horrific mud fever, as he was preferring to stand hock deep in clay mud at the hay feeder, than grazing on dryer parts of the field.


Someone told me it wasn't the hay, but the grass, which made him fat!

(Blitz is a "normal" not PPID or IR - he just doesn't have an "off" switch)


Mar 2017, Alsace, France

Tartine Case History: https://ecir.groups.io/g/CaseHistory/files/Katrina%20and%20Tartine

Tartine Photos: https://ecir.groups.io/g/CaseHistory/album?id=4725

Blitz (non-IR) foot photos https://ecir.groups.io/g/Hoof/album?id=4743&p=Name,,,50,2,0,0 


I gotta say I'm kinda confused by this poll too. Initially I followed protocol very closely and gave him more or less 2% of his body weight in hay. He is very IR and I have to very careful with his diet. However, over time on 2% hay weight, he lost too much weight and every day acted like he was starving to the point that he was a pest about trying to eat. His top line was very prominent, you could see some ribs and he was starving. I tried absolute free choice but he gained a little too much weight on that. So I started giving him a full slow feed hay net worth of hay- about 30-40 lbs. Takes him anywhere from 1.5 - 2 days to eat it all. He has a good body condition score, and he doesn't act like he's starving all the time. It's the only area I haven't followed protocol exactly. 
Coral & Po

Sept 2013

South Texas

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

Hi Coral,

If you are feeding to maintain normal body condition score you actually are following protocol. The 1.5 to 2% of body weight is a starting point. It works for most but not all. You adjust from there, just making sure the ESC + starch of your diet is in the safe zone.

In some cases the actual DE (measured calorie content) of the hay is too high or too low for the % guidelines to work. There may also be issues with how well (or not) the horse ferments and extracts calories from their high fiber IR diet. In any case, the bottom line is NO laminitis and a normal body condition score.
Eleanor in PA



EC Owner 2001

Bev Pettit

Before I joined this group I began feeding free choice to my four horses, two Quarter Horse geldings and two Haflinger geldings. All four healthy and good weights. I started feeding free choice based on what I had read by certain individuals stating that free choice is how horses should be fed. After two months all four horses gained weight. They would eat through hay filled feeders placed in various locations around their dry fenced areas. Suddenly, one of the Haflingers came down with acute laminitis. He tested High IR. The free choice feeding stopped for all four. And now they are all down in weight and doing fine on three small feedings per day (where I was before the free choice feed change). So for me, free choice was not a good choice.

Bev and Majestic, Arizona

Rachelle Muller

I find this kind of information really helpful because I've been told I should feed everything from 15 lbs a day to free choice!  My horse has been free fed most of her life and spent most of it obese.  I didn't really start restricting her food until this year when I wanted to get rid of the weight she had gained over the winter when she was free fed in a herd environment.  Feeding her 18 lbs a day (in two feedings) with very little work this summer has gotten us to the point where she is pretty trim.  Her ribs are easily felt, but not easily seen.  I've added another lb per day now and will be keeping an eye on her body condition to monitor how much feed she should be getting.  I think 18 lbs was a good starting point for a "diet", but I think she will need maybe 20 lbs a day to maintain her weight with no work.

Rachelle & Maddie - Kamas, Utah
Maddie Case History
Maddie Photo Album
Date Joined 6/28/2017


I free fed my herd for several years on very tight hay nets in a herd situation.  They got very fat.  One is now obviously OR, and I am trying to get the weight off using 16 lbs of feed.  I am making little headway, so am rotating down.  They are starving,  according to them.  I had a horse get fatty liver disease when he stopped eating his share, as he was truly starving.  We saved him with IV treatments at Davis.  (This was while we were free feeding.  I am now very careful not to take weight off too fast.)

Gail Russell. Forestville CA.

Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone

Tori Cullins

I also feel that free choice feeding (6 years ago?) may have been the beginning of my pony's journey of laminitis. Recommended by his trimmer (keep those nets full is the secret!), he blew up over a couple of months. Trimmer encouraged to keep him on the free choice 'it takes some horses up to year to adjust'.... Put him back on regular feedings (less than a year), but diet wasn't balanced, laminae was letting go starting seasonally but progressively chronic, 'ouchy' took precedence over exercise. Foundered in all four by May 2015 and joined this group (not quite soon enough)  and 2 years later he is only now approaching his pre-free-choice slim self.... and we're still working on the kinks. 
Tori and Orion

April 2015, Eagle Point, Oregon

Case History: https://ecir.groups.io/g/CaseHistory/files/Tori%20and%20Orion

Photo Album: https://ecir.groups.io/g/CaseHistory/album?id=808