The entire process begins in the oral cavity of the horse. The tufts of grass that the horse tears off with its front teeth when grazing or the concentrate or forage feed that it gathers with its muzzle (nose) get crushed by its cheek teeth and mixed with saliva. The horse’s teeth have an essential function in this context and hence, it is import to regularly check the dental health of your horse.
Chewing mixes the feed in the horse’s mouth with saliva. The horse produces large amounts of saliva every day (around 10-15 litres) and unlike the saliva of other mammals, there are no enzymes in the saliva of a horse. It is, however, rich in bicarbonate. In addition, saliva is important for the regulation of acids in the digestive system of the horse. Consequently, it is important for the horse to be able to eat in peace and quiet and for a relatively long period of time – so that its feed can get properly salivated. This will also give the feed a consistency that facilitates its movement through the rest of the horse’s digestive system.
Forage feeds make the horse produce more saliva than concentrate feeds. Hence, it is recommended to give the horse a little bit of forage feed before it is given its concentrate feed. This also extends the horse’s feeding time – essential for the process of salivation. This is because the stomach of a horse has no so-called stretch receptors. Instead, it is the overall feeding time that creates a feeling of satiety or fullness. A gentle and relaxed feeding pace will also reduce the risk of blockages in the food pipe (oesophagus).