The conveniences made available to us in caring for and feeding horses make life so much easier, save us money and time and in many cases also help us stay a little cleaner than we otherwise would.
We’ve talked about a convenience item previously (automatic waterers – you can read that post here) and now we think it’s high time we tackle another one.
Hay nets, wall mounted hay racks and elevated feed bins – basically anything that results in a horse not eating from the ground – are our focus here.
Horses have evolved to eat from ground level. The fact that they do so is not a stand alone element of how they function but is very neatly woven in with many parts of their well being.
Allow me to explain…
When horses are turned out and grazing, eating from the ground, they are chewing almost constantly. For every several chews, they take a step and over the course of the day walk several kilometres. This helps their muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints to stay supple, mobile and gently active. Eating from the ground also allows for any dust or debris that might be in the air to stay out of the respiratory tract because their nostrils are in a downward position, allowing gravity to work its magic. As they chew with their heads down, their jaw functions as it should to allow for optimal mastication (chewing) and preparation of the bolus that will go to their stomachs to continue digestion. This in turn allows for adequate saliva production, which then plays an important role in buffering the stomach from acid.
Another element of good digestion and gut function comes from the fact that when a horse is eating from the ground, the muscles of the neck, throat and back are stretched out into an elongated position. This not only allows the muscles of the back to remain strong and supple, preventing tension and problems associated with muscle shortening, but also allows for the correct muscular movements required to get the constant stream of food from the mouth to the stomach.
As you can see, the simple act of biting and chewing is linked with numerous elements, not just around digestion but many other parts of the body. When feed is placed above ground level the entire process of consuming and digesting food is disrupted. The jaw doesn’t chew as efficiently, the horse can inhale dust and debris, often from the feed itself and be unable to rid the respiratory tract of those irritants. Muscles in the back, neck and throat are shortened and tightened, less saliva is produced and the initial stages of digestion are off to a poor start.
Adding to this is the fact that in many cases, or at least part of the time horses are not truly ‘grazing’, as in moving whilst they eat and so the benefits of moving their bodies as they pick and chew grass are lost.
If your horse is kept or fed indoors, it’s important that as much of the natural eating process as possible is maintained and the best way to do that is to allow them to eat from ground level.
Many horse owners are concerned with wastage or the horse consuming bedding as it gets mixed with the feed or hay. There are many products on the market varying in price that facilitate feeding from ground level within a stable, yard, or paddock. Some of these include the Harmony Hay Feeder or the Hay Bar (not recommendations, just products we are aware of) and there are many more than just those two.
I recommend using a soft rubber tub for providing hard feed, placed on the ground to allow the horse to stretch down into the natural position when eating.
If possible, refrain from hay nets and hay racks that will keep horses eating for a prolonged period of time in the undesirable ‘head up’ position.
What are your thoughts? Do you feed your horse from the ground or at chest height? Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments below!