For many years my horses ate from hay racks or from feed troughs or buckets mounted in their stalls. I liked it because there was less waste and everything stayed more contained — or neater.
But as with many “improvements”, sometimes it’s better to go back to what nature intended.
Horses were designed to eat with their heads and neck down. I was reading an article yesterday about horse racing, bemoaning the fact that so many racehorses break down at very young ages. Now, while this is probably not a significant factor, someone pointed out that feeding from raised haynets (which most racehorses do) or waist high feeders, puts strain on a horse’s skeletal system and soft tissue because of the unnatural position. Research has also shown that elevated head and neck positions can cause induce extension, or hollowing of the back.
Feeding at ground level is not only more natural, but it helps reduce the risk of choke and colic by slowing the rate of consumption (now Curly would argue with that, I’ve seen her gulp down her food at a tremendous rate, even from the ground!). However, when eating with their heads down, horses must chew their hay and grain more thoroughly and what they are eating is mixed more thoroughly with saliva. By increasing the amount of chewing per mouthful, this allows horses to extract more nutritional benefit from each bite.
Ground level feeding also reduces the chance of respiratory issues as when a horse’s head is lowered, it encourages their airways to drain.
While the above benefits were easy for me to see, one of the ones that surprized me is that a head down grazing position promotes natural wear of a horse’s teeth. This is because the posture allows the jaw bone (mandible) to come down and forward in the atlantoaxial and temporomandibular joints. In plain English, this means that the mandible can move up and down, side toside, and forward and back without restriction. There are several benefits to this: teeth wear in a more natural pattern and horses are able to optimize the particle size of their food.