Grazing vs. Browsing
Updated: Apr 15
Sharon May-Davis is an Australian scientist and equine therapist who has worked for over three decades in the equine field. In a recent virtual horse dissection, May-Davis discussed the horses’ natural feeding habits, called “variable feeding positions.” May-Davis explained, “Small amounts of food should be placed at variable heights to promote mobility (and not promote rigidity).” This “variable feeding position” fits right into Equine Pilates core beliefs. Remember, Equine Pilates helps stabilize the skeletal system and encourage straightness-- not crookedness.
May-Davis explained, “In the wild horses spend on average 80% of their feeding time in a grazing position (head below carpus level) and 20% of their feeding time ‘browsing’ (eating bushes, berries and/or tree limbs – eating above carpus level).”
Grazing is defined as eating below knee height. Wild horses will graze around 80% of the time that they are feeding. Grazing also requires constant movement (unlike standing at a hay net or hay feeder while stalled for hours).
Apex of cornu will point to ear in grazers.
Browsing is defined as eating from above knee height. Wild horses would do this around 20% of the time that they are feeding.
Apex of cornu will point to eye in browsers.
Should we emulate this natural feeding behavior in our modern domesticated horses?
By trying to emulate this natural feeding behavior, we can actively encourage our domesticated horses to use the muscles in the neck and back passively. This passive muscle activation will help strengthen smaller neck and back muscles over time (these muscles are rarely addressed in any training modality). Remember, Equine Pilates is not a training modality but rather a healing modality.
The key to passive muscle activation is VARIETY. Wild horses will graze pasture in a unique combination of feeding positions throughout one day. We can easily replicate this behavior with our domesticated horses...even in a boarding barn! While paddock time in a boarding barn is limited, you can still achieve lots of neck movement while stabilizing the back while eating by trying to:
use a port-a-grazer
use a small hay net at a higher position than normal
use a small hay net in their doorway so they cannot push it against the wall, and
use a few small hay nets at differing heights within the stall:
feeding up or down a slope,
feeding over a small wall,
feeding with them standing on a small step,
The end result: you may passively address any asymmetries in your horse simply by challenging and changing the way you feed (this also includes water and feed buckets).
To learn more about Horse Speak®, Equine Pilates and/or Reformer Pilates for Humans here in Aiken, head to Pilates Mastery. If you’re looking for Pilates near me, Pilates Mastery also offers virtual Pilates sessions if you are not local to Aiken, SC. You may book an Equine Pilates or a Horse Speak® session at: pilatesmastery.org