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.
“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. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11030763