Variable feeding positions

education feeding Sep 02, 2020

October 2019. 

Sometimes I am able to gain valuable knowledge from highly respected professionals in my industry and I just think “Wow! This is absolutely spot on, and I need to share this with my clients”

I recently wrote about variable feeding positions and how this can affect our horses. But following on from what I learnt from the amazing Sharon May-Davis at the recent Centaur Biomechanics seminar, I would like to share some more insight with you, which I am sure you will find as fascinating as I do.

Sharon May-Davis is an Australian scientist and therapist with a wealth of knowledge in equine anatomy, biomechanics, musculoskeletal systems and dissections. She has worked for 35 years in this field and during this time has developed a number of unique treatment techniques that set her aside from many of her peers.  Specifically she focusses on the horses’ natural feeding habits, albeit horses in the wild.

Her teachings aim to mimic these natural habits and translate them as closely as possible to our domestic horses.  Sharon May-Davis has been dissecting horse for decades, taking domestic, modern breeds and contrasting them against wild breeds that have had little or no human intervention.

Over many years research, she has made a hugely important discovery. Modern domesticated horses have lost the ligamentous connections from the top of the neck to the 2 lower neck vertebrae.  There is a depth of information relating to these finding of decades of research and effort.   The explanation offered by Sharon was fascinating, but I did however feel quite saddening to learn that human intervention has had a direct influence to this change with modern horses.

So what does this mean for our horses…?

Unfortunately it’s quite a negative picture, and this research might go some way to explain why some horses suffer with lower neck osteoarthritis.

But the good news is….. YES! We can do something to help our horses that now may have weakness in their lower necks.

By trying to mimic natural feeding habits, we can actively encourage our modern horses to use the muscles in the neck in different ways. This will strengthen these muscles over time, helping to combat the lack of ligaments.

FACT!

In the wild horses spend on average 80% of their feeding time in a grazing position and 20% of their feeding time ‘browsing’ (eating bushes and trees – eating above knee height).  This is the natural behavior that we should aim to mimic with our modern domesticated horses.

Practical tips: try putting a small haynet at a higher position than normal and watch how your horse tackles it.  You will see his neck moving in different ways to normal, and over a period of time you will see their posture change to standing more squarely. Then, maybe a small haynet in their doorway so they can’t push it against the wall.  Maybe 3 small haynets at differing heights within the stable.  This thought process can develop into feeding up or down a slope, feeding over a small wall, feeding with them standing on a small step, it all depends on what you are trying to achieve.

The key is VARIETY.  Wild horses will graze pasture in a unique combination of feeding positions in any one day. In its simplest terms we need to try and replicate this with our domestic horses, to achieve lots of neck movement whilst eating.

It’s a very simple concept, but genius.  And what’s more, very achievable and extremely effective!

I would love to hear how you get on with this if you try it out – and do contact me if you would like to discuss this in any more detail!

And finally a huge thanks again to Centaur Biomechanics and Sharon May-Davis for the information that will for sure help all of our lovely horses!

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