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Should I feed my horse on the ground?
Horses grazing naturally

Since many horse owners are un-able to put their horses on properly sized fields, it becomes necessary and convenient for most horse owners to feed their horses in a stall. In this article, we at WW Training & Instruction will try to lay out a useful albeit general comparison of some of the important facts about how horses eat in their natural God given environment and how they should therefore eat in a stall. Below are a few of the important facts necessary to make a good comparison between the two.

In their natural environment

Alydar (Firecrest Santa Fe) a 9 year old Morgan horse grazing in tall grass at Emerald Glen Farm
While in their natural environment, grazing horses are able to wander, thereby encouraging the horse to eat just the grass tops and stalks not all the way down to the roots. By eating just the top of the grass, it is not only much easier for the grass to grow back, but it is also much more hygienic for the horses because it is much more difficult for the horse to ingest dirt, sand, feces and parasites which tend to be located closer to the ground. Also, when in a large open field, those same feces and parasites are exposed to the rain, wind and sun where it is easy for them to be broken down and changed into fertilizer which helps keep the field and thereby the horse healthy. Another important fact to point out is that while in their natural environment, horses graze the grass from near ground level with their heads lowered. When a horse's head is lowered, it's lower jaw is placed in a different position then when it's head is raised which makes it's teeth meet properly (as God designed them to) for chewing. Also, when the horse's head is lowered, the muscles and ligaments across the neck and back are allowed to relax and stretch, and mucous can flow downhill with gravity against the flow of dust and mold spores to help keep the horse's airway clean and healthy.

In a stall

Onyx, a 7 year old Apendix Quarter Horse/Arab mare eating in a stall at Rustic Pines Farm
A stalled horse is not allowed to wander but must eat from a fixed location. This may pose a problem because of higher concentrations of dirt, sand, feces and parasites which can be detrimental to the horse's health. In a stall, the sand and dirt is not held together by moisture and grass roots like they are in a field and the parasites and fecal matter are not exposed to the rain, wind and sun and therefore are not easily broken down. Therefore, it is important to use hygienic feeding routines to compensate for the tighter and more un-natural quarters. Stalls should be cleaned minimally once per day to eliminate buildup of parasites and fecal matter. It is useful to place a smooth rubber mat or other easily cleaned material on the ground in order to make the floor easier to clean and also to cover the dry dirt and sand so that the horse does not ingest dirt and sand while eating. When feeding the horse, hay should be placed in a clean area on the mat and if grain is fed, a rubber tub or other suitable feeding bowl on top of the mat works well to help prevent the feed from spreading off of the mat while the horse eats. The mat should be swept and feed tub should be cleaned prior to each feeding.

In conclusion:

Triton stall fronts at Rustic Pines Farm
While in a stall, it is usually best to try to provide as natural of a feeding environment as possible. A stalled horse as a rule of thumb should be able to eat from the same level that it was designed to eat from if at all possible. That is, ground level. Again, a clean smooth surface as described above to feed the horse on makes it much easier to keep clean of dirt, sand, feces and parasites. However, it is our opinion based on many years experience with feeding, training and caring for horses that there are differences between individual horses and therefore, horses must be managed on an individual basis. For example, it is true that it is more natural for horses to eat from ground level, but if you have a horse that is nervous and paces back and forth in the stall, the hay and grain would be trampled. Therefore, the beneficial effects of having that particular horse eat from ground level are outweighed by the detrimental effect of the horse trampling the hay and grain into the ground or bedding material. In this case, it may be necessary to give these horses a hay manger and/or feed bin to prevent the horse from mixing it's feed into the bedding. If a hay manger or feed bin is necessary, then it is important to mount it at a height that is comfortable for the horse to reach into.

Just remember that anytime that a horse's natural environment or habits are modified, there will be a reaction. This reaction may or may not be detrimental to the horse's health or well being but must be taken into consideration.

The Wiggins
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This article titled "Should I feed my horse on the ground?" was written by WW Training for Triton Barns in regards to whether or not horses should be fed from ground level.

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