As horse owners, we always seek the best practices to ensure our horses are healthy and happy.
One such practice that significantly impacts their well-being is ground level feeding, yet hanging up hay nets is a common practise that we don’t even think about twice.
But horses are naturally designed to graze with their heads down.
Ground-level feeding is more in line with a horse’s natural behaviour and instincts.
It can reduce stress and boredom, as it allows the horse to maintain a more natural head position and engage in a natural foraging behaviour.
1) It mimics a natural grazing position.
Horses are naturally designed to graze with their heads down.
This head-down position allows them to reach the grass and foliage more easily, and promotes a proper alignment of your horse’s spine and neck.
This alignment is crucial for supporting the horse’s weight and distributing it evenly across its body.
By keeping their head in a lowered position, horses engage their neck, back, and core muscles, helping to strengthen these areas and maintain a healthy posture.
Moreover, the head-down grazing position encourages the horse to elongate its neck, allowing for proper flexion and extension of the muscles in the neck and withers.
This flexibility is key in preventing stiffness and promoting an optimal range of motion throughout the rest of the body.
This posture also encourages a slowed rate of consumption, where the horse chews more meticulously, leading to smaller, more thoroughly chewed mouthfuls.
This aids in better mixing with saliva, reducing risks of choke and colic. It also improves processing of the feed, increasing nutritional benefits from each bite.
2) It improves respiratory & dental health.
Eating with a lowered head encourages airway drainage, acting as a defence against inhaling feed-related particles and dust, thus reducing exposure to respiratory irritants.
When horses eat from elevated feeders, they are more likely to inhale these particles, which can lead to respiratory problems like heaves or equine asthma.
The natural grazing position also facilitates proper wear of the teeth.
Eating from the ground allows the horse to chew in a more natural and effective manner, which helps in even grinding down of the teeth, preventing dental issues such as uneven wear or sharp points.
3) It improves safety and cleanliness.
For stabled horses, eliminating high feed tubs and racks reduces the risk of injuries or entanglement with feeding equipment.
Feeding on the floor opposite their droppings site, using shallow, reinforced rubber feed tubs can be effective.
These tubs, while safe to remain in the stall, should ideally be removed between meals to minimise contamination and wear.
Horses that tend to paw while feeding or scatter their hay can benefit from a feed tub secured in a clean corner with an attachment mechanism, which can give way in case of entanglement.
Using a hay trough that corrals hay at floor level, while ensuring its construction is horse safe, can be helpful.
Ground-level feeding is considered a more natural and healthier option for horses, aligning with their evolutionary design and needs.
Practical tips for ground-level feeding.
- Safety first: When feeding your horse at ground level, ensure that the feeding area is clear of any hazards or objects that could pose a danger to the horse. Remove rocks, sticks, and other debris that could cause injury.
- Stable surface: Provide a stable and even surface for the horses to eat from. An uneven or slippery surface can cause your horses to lose their footing, leading to potential injuries. Use rubber mats or a properly maintained feeding area to ensure stability.
- Appropriate feeders: Choose the right type of feeder for ground-level feeding. There are various options available, such as rubber feed pans or specially designed low-level feeders. These feeders should be sturdy, easy to clean, and resistant to tipping over.
- Portion control: Divide the horse’s daily feed ration into multiple smaller meals. This helps mimic their natural grazing behaviour and prevents them from overeating or consuming their food too quickly. It also reduces the risk of digestive issues like colic.
- Regular monitoring: Keep a close eye on your horse while feeding, especially if there are multiple horses eating together. This allows you to ensure each horse gets its fair share of food and prevents any aggressive behaviour or bullying. Separate horses for feeding supplements if necessary.
- Environmental considerations: Take into account the weather conditions and the location of the feeding area. Avoid feeding horses on muddy or wet ground, as it can lead to hoof problems. Provide shelter or use a feeding area with a roof to protect the feed from rain or snow.
- Hydration: Always provide fresh and clean water for your horses at the feeding area. Ground-level feeding can increase the risk of ingestion of dirt or sand, so maintaining good hydration is important to prevent digestive issues.
- Manage feed scattering: For horses that scatter feed, secure the feed tub in a clean area and consider using a hay trough to contain the hay.
- When using hay nets, hang them low. Sometimes you’ll need to use a hay net for your horse. Hanging them as low as possible allows your horse to lower their head when feeding. You can also use slow-feeders, such as hay pillows, that function like a hay net in slowing your horse down, but they aren’t tied up, simply left on the ground.
- Prioritise ground-level feeding. It won’t always be possible to feed your horse at ground-level, but if you make it a habit to feed mostly from the ground, your horse will benefit from it greatly.
Ground-level feeding is more than just a feeding method; it’s an approach that respects and aligns with the natural behaviour and physical as well as psychological needs of your horse.
By adopting this practice, you contribute significantly to their health, safety, and happiness.