How is a horse’s posture impacted by at which angle it eats? 

A study came out earlier this year that looked at the different eating positions for horses and how that affects their posture. An Italian research team specifically looked at different heights and angles while eating and how that impacted the horse’s back, neck, and jaw. They studied six healthy warmblood horses all around 14 years of age, and we’re observing them eating from three different positions. The first position was feeding on the ground, called the control position, the more natural way to eat. The second was at about 15 degrees below the whither height. And then the third one was with their neck held about 15 degrees above the whither. 

They started by looking at the different shapes variations of the horse’s back and neck as they ate and using the geometric morphometrics technique. And they found that the low hay net position resulted in a very similar position as the control group of eating off the ground. This was good for the elongated dorsi muscles in the back, that run along each side of the horse’s back and under the saddle. While eating at the higher position, they noticed that the horse’s back positions changed significantly. And the shortening of the muscles was very noticeable in the back. The angle between the horse’s jawline and the neckline is critical as well. So as the horse’s neck raised, the angle closed more and led to a highly unnatural eating angle, especially at the highest level.  

The researchers concluded that it’s imperative to be aware of these unnatural body positions created by hanging hay nets at an unnatural position. However, they still caution from the horse safety perspective about low-hanging hay nets, especially with large holes. When feeding hay in a hay net low to the ground, some people have a concern that the horse is more likely to get a hoof caught. This concern can be reduced by putting the hay in a slow-feeder hay net that has smaller holes than your typical hay net. 
More research is needed to see the long-term effects when horses are eating at this higher position and how this changes the horse’s ability to carry themselves with impulsion, engagement, and collection. They predict that this affects the digestive system and their muscular-skeletal system. But there are no concrete answers yet as to how much this impacts the horse. As always enjoy the journey.
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Study Reference:

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.