Proper nutrition and management practices can prevent many problems associated with caring for horses.  You can learn how to provide your horse with a better life-style by taking the online course "How to Feed for Maximum Performance" taught by Eleanor Richards.  Go to for more information.  Contact Eleanor at or (440) 554-3714.  Be sure to visit Eleanor's web site at
Feeding Hay Naturally
By Eleanor Richards


      Before jumping on the natural horsemanship hay wagon, examine methods used to care for horses!!  One of the most neglected areas is how horses are fed.

      Horse owners should know how the equine digestive system works.  Briefly, horses need a constant flow of fiber to keep things healthy and working well.  Feeding two flakes of hay and a can of grain twice a day is not natural horsemanship.

       The methods used to provide hay also need to be examined.

       Visit most stables and a person will notice hay racks in every corner of every stall.  Are these racks provided for the health and well-being of the horse or the convenience of the care-giver?

        Offering hay in an overhead hay rack creates health problems, and is most definitely not natural.

        Dust and hay seeds falling into the eyes causes irritation.  The debris is detrimental to the lungs and can lead to respiratory problems…or exacerbate an existing condition, such as heaves or COPD.

        Horses in their natural environment eat with their heads down.  This position allows nasal passages to drain and permits them to see almost 360 degrees. 

        Horses are prey animals and they must stay alert to avoid being eaten.  Even while in the "safety" of a stall the instinct is to survive.

         If the hay is placed at the back of the stall, so the horse's hindquarters face the door, a stressful situation is created.  A horse may spend a lot of time grabbing a mouthful of hay and turning toward the front in order to face perceived danger.  Relaxation is not achieved - possibly leading to a horse that cribs and weaves.

         Scattering the hay around the stall simulates grazing.

         Instead of placing the flakes in one corner, break the flakes apart and scatter them. Burying the material under bedding can create the atmosphere of grazing.  This method of providing hay can slow a cribber or a weaver's vice.  Looking for the hay takes some time and keeps the lips working.  Watch a horse eat and notice how the lips work to sort and gather.  Creating as close to a natural environment as possible can eliminate vices.

        Try this experiment.  Put hay in the hay feeder and put hay on the ground.  Notice which offering the horse chooses. 

        Do not place hay under the grain feeder.  Hay under the feed box will not allow the horse to use his eyes and puts the horse in a situation where he can bang his head.

        Observe a horse eating hay out of an overhead hay feeder.  Once hay is on the ground he will switch from the feeder to the hay on the ground.  Some horses will throw the hay out of the feeder…they know what's natural.

        Horses fed hay in a dry lot or pasture should have their hay scattered.  This method of providing hay gives several benefits to the horses.

        Scattering the hay allows horses on the lower end of the pecking order to get their share.  Scattered hay also simulates grazing as the horses move around looking for choice leaves.  Distributing the hay over a large area avoids creating the mud holes that appear around hay feeders.

        Outside hay feeders can be dangerous to horses.  In addition to dust and debris falling in the eyes (if the hay is overhead) horses can become entangled in the legs or framework of the feeder. 

        Placing hay in old tire casings can create a dangerous situation.  Overtime the steel belts and metal reinforcement fibers become exposed leading to sharp ends.  Horses have also been known to catch a fetlock on the edge and drag the tire.

        Horses, especially foals, can fall into low bin feeders.  These feeders are also hard to keep clean.

        Hay nets or bags are popular, but the high position allows debris to fall in the eyes and can create respiratory problems.  Horses often get feet entangled in hay nets.

        Hay bags are best for providing hay in a trailer; avoid the nets.  I recommend on long trips that you allow the horse to lower his head during rest stops so nasal passages can drain.

         Nothing humans do with horses is natural.  But trying to keep things as close to natural as possible avoids many health problems. 

Eleanor Richards