AskHQ: Haynet

Q: Can eating from a haynet be detrimental to my horse?

A: Horses have evolved over millennia, and so their diets and eating habits have had to change too. As horses evolved from shrub-browsers to trickle feeding herbivores, they needed large flat teeth for grinding forage. Horse’s teeth are therefore designed to cope with the continual grinding of tough leaves and stems and, to assist the grinding process the upper jaw is wider than the lower jaw. The horse chews in a side to side action – meaning that the upper and lower teeth glide across one another, and in wild horses the wear on either side of the mouth is relatively even.

When out grazing, a horse’s natural feeding posture would be with a low head and neck, moving slowly and constantly, and remaining relatively straight throughout the spine. This posture allows the molars of the upper and lower jaw to meet evenly and in this position, little to no strain is placed on the body.

When eating from a haynet, even a net on the floor, a horse can quickly settle into a habitual pattern of pulling hay from the net. His back will drop as he draws back with a mouthful of hay and the head and neck will often twist in the same way each time. This can lead to uneven wear of the teeth, which leads to less-than optimal digestion and absorption of nutrients.

A horse fed from a haynet, especially one that is above shoulder height, will also tend to chew each mouthful holding his head and neck high, and with his back hollowed. The nuchal ligament is responsible for supporting and holding the head and neck in position, and is particularly prone to strain. The funicular part of the nuchal ligament is a continuation of the supraspinous ligament which runs along the back, and helps to keep the lumbar vertebra in line. This posture can exacerbate or cause uneven wear of the molars as well as uneven muscle development. Combined with restriction of the nuchal ligament this can cause extensive restriction throughout the jaw, poll and shoulders; which could mean a decreased range of motion, and possible pain and discomfort for your horse.

As far as possible, I suggest allowing your horse to eat their grass and concentrates at ground level. This is the most natural and comfortable posture for any horse or pony, allowing for optimal digestion and minimal discomfort.

Answered by Farryn Day