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Raised vs Ground Feeding for Horses: What’s the Best Option?

Last updated: March 19, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

A friend came to our barn and didn’t like that I fed my horses grain in buckets hung in the stalls. He said horses should always eat hay from the ground. I understand that there are benefits to ground feeding, but there are also good reasons to feed raised. So, which one is the best option?

The best option for feeding horses, whether on the ground or raised, depends on the horse and its environment. Both methods have benefits. Ground feeding allows horses to eat naturally, aiding comfort and digestion. Raised feeding helps control waste and portions. Try each to see what’s best for you and your horse.

Horse-feeding methods spark a lot of debates among owners. Some advocate for only feeding horses on the ground, while others say feeding horses raised is acceptable. This blog post will examine the pros and cons of both methods to assist you in making an informed decision.

Ground Feeding for Horses

Ground feeding refers to the practice of placing feed on the ground for horses to eat. This method mimics the natural eating behavior of horses, who are grazers and spend most of their day eating small amounts of food.

Picture of ground feeding a pony.
Ground feeding from a small rubber tub

Benefits of ground feeding horses

The primary reason provided by proponents of feeding horses on the ground is digestive health. When you feed a horse on the ground, it helps digestion because it encourages the horse to eat in a more natural way.

When a horse is grazing, they take their time to chew their food thoroughly, which helps break down the food more effectively and support the digestive process.

When horses eat on the ground, they also tend to produce more saliva, which contains digestive enzymes that help to break down food. Additionally, horses are able to position themselves in a more natural stance, which can also promote proper digestion.

In addition, feeding a horse on the ground improves its muscles and joints. Eating the way a horse was designed to eat helps support the muscles and topline, reduces strain, and encourages stretching, which can improve overall muscle and joint health.

Picture of a container used in a stall for feeding horses on the ground.
Corner ground feeder

The natural grazing position also allows the horse to move around more freely while eating, promoting circulation and supporting joint mobility. Additionally, when a horse eats at ground level, they stretch its neck to reach the food, which can help improve muscle tone and flexibility in the neck and back.

Another benefit of feeding a horse on the ground is that it promotes respiratory health. When horses are fed on the ground, respiratory drainage is encouraged, reducing the risk of breathing issues.

This also helps prevent the inhalation of dust and debris that may be present in hay fed from raised feeders. So, as you can see, ground feeding has several benefits that support the health and well-being of horses. However, ground feeding also has some drawbacks.

It can be messy and unhygienic, and there is a risk of contamination from dirt, manure, or urine. Keeping the feeding area clean and hygienic is essential to prevent any health problems.

Overall, feeding your horse on the ground can offer several benefits for horses. Still, it is important to consider each horse’s individual needs and circumstances when deciding whether ground feeding is the best option.

Picture of a horse eating hay.

Raised Feeding for Horses

Raised feeding refers to the practice of placing feed in a raised container or feeder. This method is most often used for horses in stalls or paddocks. However, I know some owners hang buckets on their fences.

Benefits of raised feeding

Raised feeding horses has some good benefits. One of them is that it helps to keep the hay from getting wasted. When horses eat from a raised feeder, the hay stays off the ground and doesn’t get mixed with dirt or manure. This means that horses can eat all the food given to them.

Another benefit of raised feeding is that it can help to keep the feeding area clean. Horses can make a mess when they eat, especially if the food is on the ground. Feed in a bucket or hay in a net stays in one place and doesn’t spread all over the stall or pasture. This makes it easier to clean up and keeps the area more hygienic.

Raised feeding can also help to slow down the horse’s eating. Some raised feeders are made to only give out a little bit of food at a time. This makes horses eat slower and chew their food better, which can help to prevent digestive problems like colic.

Finally, raised feeding can also be more convenient. Hay nets can be hung up in the stall or placed in the pasture, so horses can eat whenever they want. This is especially helpful for horse owners who can’t be there all the time to feed their horses.

However, raised feeding can be unnatural for horses, and it can lead to digestive problems. It’s crucial to ensure that the raised feeder is the right height and size for your horse to reduce the risk of colic and other digestive problems.

Overall, raised feeding has many benefits for horses. It helps to reduce waste, keep the area clean, and slow down the horse’s eating.

Picture of a horse eating from a hay bag.

Best practices for feeding horses hay.

The best way to feed your horse hay depends on several factors, such as the horse’s size, age, health, and activity level. As a general guideline, most horses need at least 1% to 2% of their body weight in hay daily.

It is recommended to spread out feeding hay throughout the day for horses kept in stalls. This mimics their natural foraging behavior and helps prevent digestive problems like colic and ulcers.

Additionally, spreading out hay also provides horses with a more consistent source of food and can help to reduce boredom and stall-related behavior problems.

It’s important to monitor your horse’s hay intake to ensure they receive the proper amount. Consult with your veterinarian to determine the exact amount of hay that’s right for your horse, as they can consider your horse’s individual needs and requirements.

Picture of a round hay bale used for ground feeding in a pasture.

Feeding hay in a pasture

Feeding hay to horses in a pasture requires careful consideration of various factors, including the size of the pasture, the number of horses, and their eating habits. Ideally, feed your horses in a sheltered area protected from wind, rain, and snow.

Round bales can be cost-efficient but may lead to over-consumption and moldy hay. Using a hay rack can minimize waste. Square bales and slow feeders are other popular options, as they help control the amount of hay a horse consumes at once.

Slow feeders like hay nets can help regulate a horse’s hay intake, reducing overeating and waste. Observing your horse’s eating habits and trying different methods can help determine the best solution for your individual needs.

Feeding hay to horses kept in stalls.

When feeding hay to horses in a stall, it’s generally recommended to use a hay bag or hay feeder rather than placing the hay directly on the ground. This helps to keep the hay clean, reduces waste, and prevents the horse from stepping on and soiling the hay.

In addition, this helps prevent the horse from consuming too much hay at once and prevents boredom. It’s also important to keep the stall clean and free of hay debris, as this can improve air quality and reduce the risk of respiratory issues.

Picture of a horse eating hay from the stall floor.

Feeding hay to a horse on the stall floor can be viable, but it is important to consider the potential downsides, such as increased waste, dirt, and urine contamination.

If you elect to feed hay on the stall floor, it is best to clean the floor regularly and spread feedings throughout the day to minimize waste and ensure that the horse has access to a clean, dry source of forage.


In conclusion, ground and raised feeding each have their benefits and drawbacks. Ground feeding offers a more natural eating experience and reduced stress and anxiety, while raised feeding offers improved hygiene and reduced risk of injury.

It’s important to consider your horse’s size, breed, age, and health, as well as your budget and availability of space when choosing between ground and raised feeding.

Ultimately, the best option for feeding your horse will depend on your circumstances. Consult with a veterinarian for personalized advice and to ensure that your horse receives the best care possible.

How high should a horse feed bucket be hung in a stall?

Feed and water buckets should be at a height where your horse won’t be able to step in them. This is usually about the same height as the horse’s chest. This way, the horse can easily get to its food and drink without reaching too far. And the horse won’t accidentally get its foot hung up if it paws at the bucket.