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Are hay nets a pain in the neck? (For the horse, that is)

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  • Are hay nets a pain in the neck? (For the horse, that is)

    Do you think feeding from a hay net can cause neck pain?

    I have often watched the horses eating from their nets and wondered if it might make them sore. At least one other person thinks so:


    One of my horses has a very stiff neck and lately I've been noticing some muscle pain on the upper left side near her poll. She was worked over pretty thoroughly today by a vet/chiropractor. He found her to be sore in the same area, around C2-C3, and also in the TMJ. Her teeth were done two weeks ago, so they are good.

    She is eight years old and because she is a fatty has been eating from small hole hay nets for several years. She usually gets one bag every night in her stall and the rest of the time she eats from the ground or grazes with a muzzle.

    I have stopped hanging hay nets and am back to feeding all hay from the ground, and I am giving the mare anti-inflammatories to see if she improves.

    If I ever get motivated, I may set up a slow-feed system that allows the horses to eat in a natural posture. The pillow net thing might work for her in her stall but I am going to wait and see how things go.

  • #2
    I sometimes wonder about this too and every so often suspect a bit of neck soreness in my horses.

    I try to be mindful and rather than put, say, 10lbs of hay in one net, I put 3lbs in 3 nets and hang them in various places and at various heights. So they're not standing in one position for extended periods. This also slows down their consumption. And frankly trains me to feed less hay as I leave off that last 1lb. and get used to looking at fairly empty looking bags.

    I often abandon net feeding in the summer as there is so much graze anyhow. But inwardly I do suspect I'm giving their necks a break too.
    Being terrible at something is the first step to being truly great at it. Struggle is the evidence of progress.


    • #3
      Always a possibility, I guess. I took the hay rack out of the stall at my barn where my one horse lives after he developed a neck injury. I make sure if we use a hay net (such as at shows) that they're hung as low as I can possibly make them.
      Click here before you buy.


      • #4
        Interesting theory.
        I wonder if race horses have more neck problems than the average horse population? Because they eat out of hay nets, from what I've seen at the track.

        My Ottb makes such a mess / waste of hay in her stall, she's had a hay net hanging just outside her stall, like she did at the track, ever since I bought her. I hang it as low as possible, and she doesn't have to raise her head, just tilt it to the side. But - always the same side. I wish I could hang it on the other side, but I can't.

        She does eat hay / grass from the ground when she's outside, which is most of the time these days as she is turned out at night.
        That said, I don't notice any stiffness in her neck at all. She is very flexible, and relaxed when I ride her on the aids.
        After I took her home from the track, I had her evaluated by a chiro, who adjusted her poll, SI etc. and gave me a bunch of exercises to do with her. I still do the carrot stretches almost every day with her. Maybe that helps!
        Ottbs - The finish line is only the beginning!


        • #5
          Yes, I think it certainly can. I use to use them all the time and then several years ago I had that theory and my vet/chiro agreed so I stopped using them.


          • Original Poster

            Originally posted by horsecatcher View Post
            Yes, I think it certainly can. I use to use them all the time and then several years ago I had that theory and my vet/chiro agreed so I stopped using them.
            Was your horse having neck issues or was this just a preventive measure? Did you notice any difference after the change?


            • #7
              I have heard that eating at an elevated level can cause TMJ issues. It is an unnatural position for a horse.

              I hang my small hole net fairly low, so that my horse can put her head down as she eats... But she is also bare foot, so I do not have to worry about catching a shoe in the net, and the holes are too small to get a hoof in (like you, she gets most of her hay tossed on the ground, but a net with 10 pounds at night).
              APPSOLUTE CHOCKLATE - Photo by Kathy Colman


              • #8
                Originally posted by LarkspurCO View Post
                Was your horse having neck issues or was this just a preventive measure? Did you notice any difference after the change?
                It was just a preventative measure. Horses are prone to arthritis in their necks and I would see my horse eating the same way, with his head tilted then jerking in the same direction. I figured repetitive motion in an unnatural way can't be good for them.


                • #9
                  It is an unnatural way for them to eat. Their bodies were made to way from the ground, not high up.


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by horsecatcher View Post
                    Yes, I think it certainly can. I use to use them all the time and then several years ago I had that theory and my vet/chiro agreed so I stopped using them.
                    "When life gives you scurvy, make lemonade."


                    • #11
                      I use them with no ill effects so far. Mine are also on ample turn out. Round bales start off high and when they reach "normal" grazing position, usually have to be replaced. If your horse is prone to issues, I can see the concern. I listen to suggestions, but ultimately one has to figure out the pros and cons for your situation. Does your horse waste hay? Predisposition to an injury/old injury? Does he have shoes? Paw?

                      In your case, it seems like it is not working for yours. It is most likely exacerbated by whatever issue for which the chiro is already treating your horse.

                      IMO, there isn't a cut and dry answer. Horses do a lot of thing that aren't "natural" so that excuse alone is not enough for me to render any decision.
                      Come to the dark side, we have cookies


                      • #12
                        I would fully expect regular use of nets, in the traditional position, to cause all sorts of issues, even if they are all minor.

                        It's simply not how horses are designed to eat, both from a jaw and teeth perspective, but from a neck and back perspective. One benefit of the head-down position is the nuchal ligament helping support the back. Horses' backs just aren't meant to have the head/neck up all the time.

                        Also, when they eat off nets hung in the normal manner, they don't simply just stretch their head out in a vertical plane - they twist all sorts of ways fairly often, and that cannot be good for them.
                        The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Appsolute View Post
                          I have heard that eating at an elevated level can cause TMJ issues. It is an unnatural position for a horse.
                          But do they eat that way? My horses just rip hay out of the net, and chew it as they would normally. They chew hay out of a hay net in the same position they chew it when eating it off the ground.


                          • #14
                            I hang my small hole hay nets very low (sometimes partially sitting on the ground). I figure having to get their hay out of net is better than ulcers from lack of food or foundering from too much food.


                            • #15
                              I rarely see a horse grab hay out of a net and then lower their head to eat it as if they had just grabbed it off the ground.

                              sure, when eating off the ground, they raise their head a bit to eat, mostly, usually, but IME most horses I see eating hay off the ground hold their head much lower to chew, than horses who grabbed it higher out of a net.

                              IF the horse eating out of a net hung "high" then lowers his head to his knees or so, that takes away a lot of the issues talked about in regards to the TMJ issues.
                              The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET


                              • Original Poster

                                It's not an "excuse" to say that eating from hay net is unnatural. It is simply a recognition of the biomechanics of how a grazing animal has evolved to eat and the problems that can develop when that mechanism is significantly altered.

                                I don't think the problem is so much from eating above ground level (though my vet says it is not good for the teeth) but from the repetitive torque on the neck. That is what I see as a problem when I watch them eat from the nets -- lifting and tilting the head sideways over and over.

                                Certainly horses are individuals and you have to weigh the pros and cons when making horse-keeping decisions. If the hay net makes a significant difference in preventing ulcers and/or founder and does not create neck problems, then it makes sense to use one.

                                My mare is prone to founder and has foundered in the past, but she is so proficient with eating from the small-hole net that it only slows her down a little bit. She will continue pulling out mouthfuls of hay the entire time she is chewing, and she eats as fast as she can, seldom lowering her head to chew, until the net is empty. The net will maybe extend her eating time by about 25% -- not enough of a difference for me to care about.