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When horses gets to choose feeding position

When horses gets to choose feeding position

In many stables horses are offered forage in hay nets hanging above the ground. This implies that the horse has to eat with the head higher than in its natural feed intake position. Physiologically this leads to the horse using different muscles in the neck and back and the higher head position can impair the ability to clear particles by mucociliary cleaning. But which feeding position do horses prefer when they get to choose?

In this pilot study 10 horses aged 7-17 years were used, and they were previously accustomed to eating from hay nets. For two weeks the horses were acclimatised to eating their forage from the floor below the hay net. Then the horses were offered 2 kg forage in the hay net (1.5 m high, 16 cm2 holes) and 2 kg forage on the floor below the hay net in the morning and evening. The horses eating behaviour was observed and recorded for four days, one hour every morning and evening from the start of feeding.

To eat from the floor was first choice for all the horses and all horses ate from the floor the first 20 minutes. After a while most horses looked up and around and then chose to eat from the hay net for a few minutes before they returned to eating from the floor for short periods. The authors conclude that it is possible that horses’ peripheral vision is compromised when they are eating with the head down in an enclosed box and this can affect which feeding position they choose, so more studies are needed to establish horses’ preference.

Sara Muhonen, AgrD

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.

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