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Should You Feed Your Horse at Ground Level? Why Equines Should Eat Off the Ground

Should You Feed Your Horse at Ground Level? Why Equines Should Eat Off the Ground

Should You Feed Your Horse at Ground Level? Why Equines Should Eat Off the Ground 

Horse owners often spend countless hours pondering the best care possible for their equine companions. From the type of feed your horse should consume to the methods of feeding, every decision impacts their health and well-being. One such critical decision is the feeding position, which plays a significant role in supporting the horse's natural behavior, health, and digestion.

Understanding Natural Equine Behavior and Grazing Position

Horses in the wild graze for the majority of the day, consuming small amounts of food almost continuously. This behavior can be traced back to their evolution, which has designed them to eat small mouthfuls of forage, primarily grass, in a head-down position. When a horse is able to graze naturally, this encourages the necessary salivation that aids the digestive process and reduces the risk of colic. The natural grazing position also allows horses to remain in an alert and tense mental state, ready to move their head and neck forward and back without restriction.

Horses graze with their heads down because this body position allows for easy breathing while minimizing the inhalation of dust and particles that can lead to respiratory issues. Feeding from the ground also mimics the natural horse eating behavior, helping to maintain a healthy and regular wear pattern on a horse's teeth, further reducing the risk of choke and colic.

Reasons to Feed Your Horse on the Ground

Given their evolution, horses are naturally designed to eat from the ground. While it might seem convenient to use high hay racks or feeders that keep feed off the ground, doing so can potentially alter a horse's posture, increase a horse's risk of developing respiratory issues due to the inhalation of dust, and can also lead to digestive health concerns such as colic.

Feeding at ground level mimics the horse's natural body position while grazing. It allows horses to eat with their head and neck at a lower, more comfortable position which prevents particles from being inhaled into the nostril and respiratory system. Feeding can also keep the horse alert and reduce the risk of choke, a condition where food becomes lodged in the horse's esophagus.

Benefits of Ground Level Feeders and Hay Nets

Ground level feeding does not mean simply scattering your horse's ration of hay and grain directly on the ground. While this practice can simulate the horse's natural grazing behavior, it can also increase the risk of sand colic, a condition where the horse consumes too much dirt or sand along with their food, leading to digestive blockages. It can also lead to ingestion of intestinal parasites or consumption of moldy hay.

Instead, consider using ground level feeders or hay nets, designed to keep hay clean and minimize waste. These feeders and nets can keep the horse’s hay off the ground, reducing the ingestion of dust and particles while still allowing the horse to eat from a ground level position.

Number of Horses, Paddock Size, and Feeding Habits

Ground level feeding can also foster healthy equine behavior when a number of horses are fed together. By spreading out piles of hay at various points in a paddock or pasture, you can mimic the horse's natural behavior of moving around to various patches of grass. This can prevent squabbles over food and allow for more movement, mimicking their natural behavior in the wild.

Adapting Ground Feeding for the Older Horse

While ground level feeding has its benefits, it's important to adapt these principles to each individual horse. Older horses may find it challenging to maintain a low head position due to arthritis in the neck and back. For these horses, a feeder placed at chest level may be more comfortable, while still promoting the forward, elongated neck position that aids in salivation and digestion.

By understanding and catering to the inherent behaviors of horses, owners can provide the best possible care. As we've learned, something as simple as the position in which a horse consumes its feed can have significant impacts on their overall health. Feeding at ground level, when done correctly, can improve a horse’s digestive health, respiratory health, and overall well-being.

How to Feed at Ground Level in Sandy Pastures & Preventing Sand Colic

Feeding for horses involves consideration of their natural behaviors as well as their health and well-being. When horses are fed from ground level, it allows them to eat in a manner that mimics their natural grazing posture with their head elevated. However, ground feeding can also pose certain risks, one of which is sand colic. This condition can occur when horses eat sand along with their feed, which can accumulate in the digestive tract and potentially cause severe discomfort or health issues.

To mitigate this risk while still providing a natural feeding environment, horse owners can use large rubber bins or mats for ground feeding. This way, horses can still feed at floor level, reducing the risk of respiratory issues due to inhalation of dust and particles from raised feeders or hay racks. By placing the appropriate amount of hay in these containers rather than directly on the ground, the risk of sand ingestion is significantly reduced. This practice is particularly useful in sandy paddock environments or when feeding large items like round bales, which a horse can easily consume from.

Remember, the key is to meet the needs that horses naturally have while ensuring their health and safety. By utilizing ground level feeding practices carefully and thoughtfully, we can support their instinctual behaviors and contribute to their overall well-being.


Understanding the natural behaviors and needs of horses can greatly impact their overall health and well-being. Horses naturally need to chew for significant periods, which produces saliva, an essential component for proper digestion. When we feed horses, it's important to consider these inherent traits.

Feeding hay at ground level, or using a ground-based hay feeder, allows horses to eat in a position that closely mimics their natural grazing posture. This encourages slower eating, which increases chew time and salivation, beneficial for digestion and reducing the risk of colic. Horses are also able to eat with their heads in a lowered position, which aligns with their natural behavior and contributes to better respiratory health.

However, this doesn't mean that horses should always be fed directly on the ground. Risks such as ingestion of sand or potential parasites must be considered. Therefore, slow feeders, hay nets, or elevated floor-level feeders can offer a practical solution, keeping the feed clean while still promoting a natural feeding posture.

Lastly, it's important to remember that feeding also involves monitoring your horse's health and adjusting feeding practices as needed. Some horses, especially older ones, may need adaptations to their feeding routines due to health issues.

In essence, we, as horse owners, need to replicate their natural feeding habits as closely as possible while ensuring their safety and comfort. Providing a feeding environment that allows for natural equine behavior isn't just about their physical health—it's also a significant aspect of their overall well-being and happiness.

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