Ground level feeding, my lightbulb moment

So, I’ve blogged about natural lifestyle, and now I’d like to say a little about natural feeding. I feel that this is a two pronged subject, the obvious point being what food goes in, but firstly I want to talk about how the horse takes in the aforementioned food.

We all know that horses are designed to graze for 17 or so hours out of every 24. They are designed to mainly eat with their heads down, with occasional browsing higher up on trees and bushes. I am always perplexed by the use of haynets (and I was a user of them in the ‘traditional’ way myself – more on that in a minute), and wonder how the inventor of them thought they were a suitable method of providing hay. It’s a classic human convenience instead of it being for the horses benefit. I cringe when I think back at my use of a wall mounted hay rack for Misty, a pony who we would later discover has COPD (or RAO as it is now known). It wasn’t even at head height, but above, so the poor girl had to reach up and most likely suffer the dust etc. dropping down. Thankfully they seem to have mostly fallen out of fashion.

In dressage, and riding in general, we strive to have the horse muscled correctly over it’s topline. A muscled underneck is not ideal, yet this is the muscle the horse is working when pulling hay upwards from a net. Apart from that, I can’t imagine it’s terribly comfortable doing that hour after hour.


Before our ‘light bulb’ moment

Eating at ground level stretches the topline, a relaxing action. It ensures correct alignment on the top and bottom jaws, which in turn, aligns the teeth for correct wear. Lastly it allows the sinus and guttural pouch to drain effectively.

However the haynet isn’t necessarily the bad guy. An idea shamelessly stolen from a barefoot Facebook group, last year we started feeding our a haynets on the ground. Now don’t panic, I know we’re breaking all the BHS rules but hear me out. I cannot stress enough that this is only really suitable for barefoot horses, otherwise there is a risk of getting the net caught between the shoe and hoof. It is also important to use haynets with as small holes as possible, we use 2″ as anything larger isn’t going to be safe. We fill the net, pull it tightly closed, then daisy chain the rope and tuck it back in the net. The horses love it, I’m happy seeing them eating with their heads down, we’re wasting less hay than we would if we placed the hay directly on the ground, it’s slowing them down, and they’re enjoying working a little harder for their hay rather than just eating it like spaghetti.


‘Hooves up’ from the girls!



Would love to know your thoughts on our unusual use of haynets! Have you come up with any different uses for horse items?


7 thoughts on “Ground level feeding, my lightbulb moment

  1. needforsteed

    Great idea putting the small hole hay nets on the ground to save hay! It’s certainly much cheaper than a big slow feeder. My barefoot boys are horribly wasteful. I’ve never liked the idea of feeding from hung hay nets, but I didn’t even think about the possibility of actually developing an under neck from habitually eating with their head and neck upright.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dragon Dressage Post author

      Oh I love that, I bet she really has to work for her hay 🙂 Certainly looks nice and safe. Is she shod or barefoot? I definitely would only use normal haynets with barefoot ones because of the likelyhood of the net getting caught between shoe and hoof. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. nat412014

        She does! And she chooses it over a haynet tied to the wall. Abbey is barefoot. I tried your haynet on the floor yesterday and she hadn’t tied herself up in knots this morning so she’s having her net on the floor again tonight! There’s another livery watching our progress with interest…we might be starting a trend!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. digitalharlot

    Great Idea – i stopped using haynets when i first got my old man and my physio said to not sue them as he was all upside muscle wise. I now use a big wooden box to put the hay in and my boys love it ….though i would be tempted to try these especially in summer to make my lazy boys work for it!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ahuckleberryfriend

    This is a fab idea. My Friesian X Cob has incorrect muscling from underneath her neck. I’m contemplating stopping the use of haynets but she is a total hoover and would be done in 0.1 seconds if left with loose floor hay. I don’t quite understand how you attach the haynet to the ground in a stable though?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dragon Dressage Post author

      Ours are like that, little hoovers, plus it can get quite windy so putting hay straight on the ground is so wasteful. They al live out so the haynets go on the ground. I have put a haynet on the floor of the stable for our shetland who needs to come in sometimes during the day (laminitis watch), but I just leave it loose on the floor and she manages fine. She’s pretty sensible though. I’m sure I’ve heard of people tying haynets into large buckets in stables so that might be worth a google.



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