Postural effects of different hay-net heights examined in study

The high hay net position used in the study. Photo: Raspa et al.

The long-term effects of unnatural feeding positions for horses deserve more attention, according to researchers.

They set out in their study to explore the effects of hay nets at two different heights on the angles of the back, neck and jaw of horses.

Federica Raspa and her fellow researchers, writing in the journal Animals, noted the frequent use of hay nets.

“However, when hay nets are used, the horse is often forced to keep unnatural feeding positions,” they said.

For their study, six healthy warmblood horses were recorded eating from three different feeding positions: On the ground (the control position); with their neck held about 15 degrees below withers height (the low hay net position); and with their neck held about 15 degrees above withers height (the high hay net position).

Analysis showed that the low hay net position allowed the horses to largely maintain a back shape similar to that of eating off the ground. However, the neck and jaw angle for both hay net positions predictably differed from those employed when eating off the ground.

They said their findings suggest that more attention should be paid when horses keep an unnatural feeding position with hay nets, since the back and neck postures as well as the jaw angle, can be altered.

The low hay-net position adopted in the study. Photo: Raspa et al.

“Since only a few degrees of variation of the feeding position can influence back and neck postures, this aspect should be further investigated,” the study team said.

“The right compromise between horse welfare, horse safety, and management practices need to be further explored and long-term effects should be investigated.”

Raspa and her colleagues stressed that managing horses in a way that reflects natural conditions is important in safeguarding horse welfare.

The use of the hay net in both positions resulted in a jaw angle that was significantly different to that required when horses were fed on the ground. “This is an important result from the welfare point of view,” they said.

They proposed more research to identify the height which allows the most natural overall posture.

Raspa, F.; Roggero, A.; Palestrini, C.; Marten Canavesio, M.; Bergero, D.; Valle, E. Studying the Shape Variations of the Back, the Neck, and the Mandibular Angle of Horses Depending on Specific Feeding Postures Using Geometric Morphometrics. Animals 2021, 11, 763.

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here

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3 thoughts on “Postural effects of different hay-net heights examined in study

  • March 17, 2021 at 8:46 pm

    This is a great subject and I am interested in its results. As a yard owner, we use hay nets extensively for 2 reasons- to slow eating down so that the horses never run out of hay through the night. I want them to keep eating slowly whenever they need to. The other reason is to prevent wastage of this expensive product.
    Low hay nets worry me because of the danger of getting feet or shoes caught in them so they are always as high as the tie point allows. I would never dream of having a low hay net. They naturally lower as the hay is eaten and the net empties of course.
    The effect on posture is something I have always thought about so I am going to take note of the position of each haynet for each horse. None have to reach up apart from one baby

  • March 18, 2021 at 9:17 pm

    Since the horse is both a grass eater and a browser my reflection on this topic is that the problem is the static position of the horse while eating. A horse grazing in the pasture is constantly walking and can cover 30 km a day, constantly moving his whole body while eating around one hoof at the time. In between he will if, if possible, eat leafs and branches out of trees and bushes. Seems to me like the best solution to prevent the disadvantages of feeding spots – nets, feeding hedges etc – is to provide possibilities to eat from different levels of height and encourage as much movement as possible.

    • April 9, 2021 at 3:51 am

      Your observations will govern my haybag set-up as I fulfill the dream of bringing my horses home. I’m preparing a track system, with posts installed at intervals for haybags. Adjacent trees offer browsing opportunities. So Angel and Belle will graze at ground level in the paddock, at mid-level on the track and snack on low-hanging leaves. Thanks for your post!


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