Articles,  feeding

Variable Feeding Positions

Following on from the EPA Conference, I would like to share a few things after listening to Australian biomechanics expert Sharon May-Davis.

I found her talk on variable feeding positions incredibly interesting – some of you probably already have some of these arrangements and options in place, but I thought you still might find interesting what it does to the horse’s body from a biomechanical perspective.

Sharon recommends feeding in variable positions, like horses do in the wild: on the ground, in hedgerows, up trees. In the process of this, horses square up and stand straighter; the unevenness that most domesticated adult horses have from birth and that can often be seen when they favour one leg over the other and always put that one in front when grazing, gets evened out very quickly with feral foals – due to their browsing habits that involves browsing above knee height.
Feeding up high engages both stomach and back muscles as the horses reaches up high for branches. The dip in the back that occurs during grazing is not present in such browsing habits.

Especially for horses in rehab higher feeding positions can be very helpful. Weight shifts onto the hind legs, and with the slight swaying motion when picking from higher sources of food the injured (front) limb can be lightly loaded and unloaded as the horse browses.

Feeding with front feet elevated (either by a pedestal or being fed uphill- with laminitic horses, weight is taken off the fronts; the DDFT, that is responsible for pulling on the pedal bone and creating the dreaded rotation, is stretched lightly. SI suffering horses assume a less challenging overall stance when fed uphill (in general, she encourages feeding both up- and downhill; e.g. swapping from uphill in the morning to downhill in the evening. Not so much for SI horses though).

Feeding behind and over a fence encourages a horse to square up and lift its neck and shoulder, promoting a healthy stance.

She spoke about a case where she encouraged one foal with very little coordination and awareness of where her feet where by walking her through knee high grass. The legs get lifted up higher and the stomach muscles engaged. If I had the videos I would show them to you, but I can tell you the difference was mind blowing!

Ideally, horses should browse roughly 20% of the time and graze 80% of the time. How are you making your browsing more interesting? Feel free to share your pictures and inspire us!


Feeding up high engages both stomach and back muscles as the horses reaches up high for branches. The dip in the back that occurs during grazing is not present in such browsing habits.
Image by Greenhill Equicentral
Sharon recommends feeding both up- and downhill; e.g. swapping from uphill in the morning to downhill in the evening. If you can achieve these stances naturally, you’re one lucky horse owner!
Anything below the knee is considered grazing, anything above browsing. Ideal ratio is 80:20 grazing:browsing; walking through knee high grass also encourages more body awareness as feet are lifted higher and the stomach muscles are engaged.
Especially for horses in rehab higher feeding positions can be very helpful. Weight shifts onto the hind legs, and with the slight swaying motion when picking from higher sources of food the injured (front) limb can be lightly loaded and unloaded as the horse browses. Feeding with front feet elevated (either by a pedestal or being fed uphill- with laminitic horses, weight is taken off the fronts; the DDFT, that is responsible for pulling on the pedal bone and creating the dreaded rotation, is stretched lightly. SI suffering horses assume a less challenging overall stance when fed uphill (in general, she encourages feeding both up- and downhill; e.g. swapping from uphill in the morning to downhill in the evening. Not so much for SI horses though). Slide from Sharon May-Davis talk on Variable Feeding Positions
Feeding behind and over a fence encourages a horse to square up and lift its neck and shoulder, promoting a healthy stance. The picture at the top shows the squaring up at the front, though to achieve ideal posture the fence line and what is being fed on would need to be higher, The second picture shows a feeding station: the horses eat over a barrier; some of the hay is also positioned up in the trees (which is a great solution if you don’t have anything to tie up haynets high). Coincidentally, the horses move a lot on this station as they move each other on like in a carousel! A video of this feeding station can be seen below.
Sydne Pruonto

Studying for my Diploma as an Equine Podiatrist with EP Training Ltd, I am a sympathetic barefoot hoof care professional covering Central Scotland and adjoining areas. sydne@barefoothooves.co.uk

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *