September 2020: Central to discussions about overweight horses, equine respiratory illness, neck and back injury as well as general mess and wastage – how best to feed forage to horses has long been debated.

New research suggests we may finally have the answer.

In a recent study performed at Writtle University College, 10 horses were examined over a 28 day period with each horse given hay presented in one of 4 different ways – a slow feeding hay net (Trickle Net), a regular hay net, the floor and a hayball – for 7 days each.

The independent study was supervised by Briony Witherow MSc RNutr. FHEA of Practical Equine Nutrition as part of student Maria Yabsley’s undergraduate dissertation. The study indicates horses and ponies feed far more slowly from Trickle Nets and that this, along with the feeding action used, most closely mimics the horse when grazing. View summary of findings here.

With the use of Acoustic myography, two major muscles were studied – the Splenius (top of the neck) and the Longissimus Dorsi et Lumborum (back – neck to 

sacrum) – The study found the Trickle Net presentation most closely resembles the muscle activation seen in horses when grazing naturally. It is thought that in the long term, this may serve to reduce the risk of accumulated tension in these muscles, however further research is required.

These findings seem to contradict the previously held belief that small hole nets can have a deleterious effect on neck muscles.

Horses also took on average an additional 47 minutes to consume one kilo of hay from the Trickle Net as opposed to the same amount from the floor, reducing waste and also greatly aiding in weight management and providing much more ‘nibble’ time in the stable.

Founder of Trickle Net, Ellen Chapman, whose slow feeding nets were used in the study says, “We were delighted to be included in this research and welcome the findings. It gives further strength to our belief that when feeding forage, using our products in line with recommendations provides the best alternative to grazing. The natural act of grazing brings a host of health benefits to the horse, both physical and psychological. We urge horse owners to consider this when keeping horses off grass and to look for alternative enrichment. Trickle Net is all about your horse’s wellbeing.”

The findings are due for publication and peer review this Autumn, with further research into the effects of net placement and fill level to be undertaken before the end of the year.

View summary of findings here.