Riding a horse on an empty stomach is not a favourable option. Horse’s are designed as trickle feeders that means they are constantly eating little bits of food over long periods of time. Due to this they are constantly secreting acid to support digestion even when they are not ingesting food. When a horse is not fed for some time, the acid gathers in the stomach and can increase the risk of the horse developing gastric ulcers.
Often it was believed that feeding horses before exercise would cause issues such as colic, discomfort and body function. However, offering roughage before you ride is very beneficial to your horse. Feeding roughage before you ride has no adverse effects on your horse’s performance.
The length of time to wait to ride after a horse has eaten depends on what it has been fed. Roughage is the perfect option to feed before riding as the hay will counteract the harmful effects of the stomach acid. As eating hay requires the horses to chew more they produce more saliva which also dilutes the acid. Lucerne is the best type of roughage to feed your horse before riding as it has a strong resistance to stomach ulcers due to the high calcium and protein content in it.
Grain based feed on the other hand is not recommended to feed just before riding. If a horse is fed grain meals then it is better to wait 1-4 hours before riding your horse, depending on the amount of feed and the level of exercise planned. This is because grain requires more energy for the horse to digest and if you go exercise straight away body function is reduced as energy is not spent on digesting but rather on the exercise the horse is doing.
When you are finished riding it is also better to offer roughage to them and wait at least 30 minutes before offering them grain.
In short roughage, especially Lucerne is the best thing to feed your horse before and after exercise. Large grain-based meals should be avoided before and after exercise.