With winter looming, horses are now being stabled more! I often get asked about haynets and feeding from the floor. So I thought I would post my thoughts on the matter! I don’t profess to know everything and as always there are exceptions to every rule, so bear that in mind when reading my rationale!
From a physio point of view thinking about the horses’s biomechancs I often advocate feeding from the ground, tub or Haybar (even with a small holed haynet tied inside to slow feeding), I understand this is not always possible but it certainly has it’s benefits!
So if we think of horses in their natural environment, they spend hours grazing in a downward ground level position, therefore we should think it important to try as best as we can to replicate this position within the stable environment to benefit the horses well being as posture.
Horses are foragers/grazers who in the wild, would travel over great distances to obtain food and water as the wild grasses are low in nutrition. In it’s natural environment the horse grazes for approximately 18-20 hours per day. The relatively small stomach and large gut are perfectly suited for this. If the stomach is left empty for prolonged periods (as often happens with stabled horses) the stomach lining can become damaged leading to ulcers.
Muscular and Joint Benefits
So my pet hate is haynets tied up high! Yes I know for safety we want them away from the floor but think of how the horse’s biomechanics are affected by high level haynets? not to mention the position allows debris to fall in the eyes.
So the emphasis we work towards is long and low, why? To obtain minimal tension through the neck and back; therefore working a natural stretch of the horses top line keeping the joints and muscles supple. So when we feed from high hung haynets it encourages spinal extension and epaxial (muscles along the horses back) activation, the muscles around the poll and base of the neck can become overused and become sore leading to ridden or behavioural problems as the horse finds difficulty engaging the hindlimbs.
Feeding at ground level allows the respiratory system to work naturally and most effectively as there is a decrease in exposure to respiratory irritants. A lowered head and neck position encourage natural airway drainage, this is their natural defence against deep inhalation of food and dust related particles that can lead to chest and lung infections, other respiratory effects and even choke.
Horses in their natural environment eat with their heads down. This permits them to see almost 360 degrees and being a flight animal it is important that the horse has this span of view whilst eating to ensure complete relaxation. Believe it or not even while in the “safety” of a stall the instinct is to survive.
If the hay is placed at the back of the stall, so the horse’s hindquarters face the door, a stressful situation is created. A horse may spend a lot of time grabbing a mouthful of hay and turning toward the front in order to face perceived danger which can lead to stereotypical behaviours in horses such as weaving or box walking.
So if you are facing a long winter of prolonged stabling for your horse have a think about how you can create a more natural environment to aid posture, digestion and well being!