Well this is a tricky one! What is best for our horses? Feeding from the ground, from a haynet or a haybar?
This discussion is forever ongoing as there is no correct answer! There are positives and negatives for all the methods and you have to decide what the best method is for your own horse. One thing we do all agree on is that we are trying to recreate their natural grazing behaviour – so ideally constant access to forage at floor level (to simulate free grazing in the wild).
So therefore we should all feed our hay from the ground?? Not so simple though:
Studies have shown that consumption rates are higher when hay is on the floor and therefore we are not achieving our goal of consistent grazing (unless you are going to visit every few hours to top them up and then in some cases watch your horse rapidly expand!!)
There is an increased risk of parasite re-infestation – if your horse is carrying parasites then the cycle will be hard to control if faeces mix with the hay and are re-ingested.
Some horses are very wasteful and mix their hay through their bedding. There are those that would argue you are feeding too much and they wouldn’t waste it if there was the right amount – however we are trying to achieve extended foraging time and not many of us can provide hay every few hours!!
When a horse lowers his head and eats from the ground his bottom jaw slides forward and allows for a natural chewing motion where the teeth grind together evenly. This also allows the Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) to function correctly.
Reduced irritants and better respiratory health; when the head is down the lowered airway promote airway drainage which helps flush out any inhaled dust or hay particles.
When a horse’s head is low to the ground the long back muscles are not contracted, this relaxed lengthened state reduces the occurrence of adhesions, trigger points and tension.
Hmmmm, OK so we should be using haynets??
Repetitive strain injuries (RSI), the repeated yanking motion a horse performs to get hay out of a net (esp when the holes are smaller), can be a cause of RSI. The neck muscling can overdevelop to compensate for the action and result in restricted range of motion in the poll and upper neck.
Contracted spinal muscling when the head is held high (along with tugging motion) can add to back tension.
Can slow the rate of hay consumption considerably; therefore better for digestive health and weight maintenance.
Cleaner and much less wasteful.
So as you can see there is a real conflict of what is ‘best’. As always with horses, no one rule fits them all!
Take these factors into account when making your decisions:
- Do I need to limit/slow my horses hay consumption rate to prevent excess weight gain?
- Does my horse drag his hay around his stable (if it’s on the floor how much is left over)?
- How long is my horse using a haynet vs grazing?
- Would it be possible to use a combination of techniques – he prefers haylage, so I’ll put that on the floor and then the hay in a haynet to prevent wastage.
- Would my horse eat from a haybar without emptying it onto the floor? Then I could use this to at least limit the tugging motion.
- Perhaps I could add some carrot stretches to our regime to try and counteract any muscle tightening?
- Is my horse prone to back tension?
The effect of a limit-fed diet and slow-feed hay net on morphometric measurements and postprandial metabolite and hormone patterns in adult horses. https://www.animalsciencepublications.org/publications/jas/articles/93/8/4144
A preliminary study on the effects of head and neck position during feeding on the alignment of the cervical vertebrae in horses. http://www.mctimoneyanimal.co.uk/image/data/research/Espeight%20research%20abstract%20final.pdf
A review of Conditions of the Equine Temporomandibular Joint.https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/cd7a/d4eae876fc7c3e37b5e94bf15fa08129c673.pdf
Webster V & Ellis AD. 2010. Preference of forage feeding position in stabled horses: a pilot study. In: The impact of nutrition on the health and welfare of horses, EAAP publication No. 128, pp. 87.