Feeding Elevation

Willowtrail Farm Fell PoniesWhen I feed the ponies right now, I’m putting their hay up on snowbanks to keep it out of the muck that is a sign of spring here.  This has me thinking about elevated feeding – not the 9,000-feet-above-sea-level type of elevated feeding but the above-ground-level variety.  A friend, for instance, shared that their pony develops diarrhea when fed from a tied-up hay net, so the pony is now always fed from the floor of its stall when it’s not on pasture.

A number of years ago I read the following about elevated feeding:  “As a grazer, the horse is designed to both eat and drink with its head down and is subject to choke, poor thyroid function and even strain on the front hooves and legs if they must eat from a head-raised position.” (1)  While I have no argument with the idea that equines evolved to eat at ground level rather than elevated, I’ve always felt these assertions about adverse health implications were very serious without any scientific support offered.  After all, there are a lot of equines who eat out of feeders or hay bags on a regular basis and that likely wouldn’t be the case if these sorts of health effects were prevalent.

Given these ponderings about feeding elevation, I was interested to read an article recently that did indeed mention health effects related to feeding elevation.  More specifically, the article discussed the effect on mucocillary transport when a horse is tied, as when being shipped.  “[Cilia are] the tiny finger-like projections  lining the airway that help carry dust and other particles toward the nostrils or pharynx, where they are expelled via sneezing or coughing.  ‘The cilia act as an elevator, carrying foreign material out of the lungs where they can cause infection…’” (2)  I realized after reading this that indeed whenever my ponies cough or sneeze, it is when their heads are down, so it makes sense that standing tied would interfere with this natural expelling function.

Researchers simulated shipping by putting horses in stalls for an extended period in a way that prevented them from lowering their heads.  They then measured mucocillary transport time, the time it takes for the cilia to move a particle up and out of the trachea.  They found that mucocillary transport time slowed in the simulated-shipping/head-elevated conditions.  This is obviously a very narrow consideration of the effect of feeding elevation on health.  I don’t think feeding my ponies their hay on snow banks, for instance, is likely to have adverse effects on mucocillary transport since they aren’t being forced to keep their heads up.  It is, though, interesting, to learn more about the nature of one of their elimination mechanisms.

If stewarding your equine’s health consistent with their nature is of interest, you’ll also find of interest the stories and testimonials on the Natural Health page at willowtrailfarm.com (click here).

  1. Emrys, Rowan.  HorseSense:  A Practical & Natural Handbook of Horse Management Featuring DYNAMITE® Specialty Products, Tarryall Farm, Fort Collins, Colorado, 2005, p. 7
  2. Barakat, Christine and Mick McCluskey, “Bronchodilator May Help Prevent Shipping Fever,” Equus, March 2014, Volume 438, p. 10.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2014


About workponies

Breeder of Fell Ponies, teamster of work ponies, and author of Feather Notes, Fell Pony News, and A Humbling Experience: My First Few Years with Fell Ponies. Distributor of Dynamite Specialty Products for the health of our planet and the beings I share it with.
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