Written by Ashly Snell:
It is no secret that horses are grazing herbivores. Their digestive system is designed to slowly absorb forage. In fact, horses have very small stomachs, only 8 to 15 liters in capacity — built for small, regular meals throughout a 24-hour period. Horses that live on pasture automatically partake in a slow feeding process by continuously grazing. However, stabled horses can use the help of a net or grid to encourage them to eat consistently.
What is Slow Feeding?
Simply put, slow feeding requires the use of a hay net, or grid system, placed over your horse's hay. These slow feeding devices feature small holes that allow only minimal amounts of hay to be pulled while eating. Slow feeding hay nets help horses leisurely munch on hay throughout the entire day.
The beauty of a slow feeding net is that the horse will consume the same amount of hay during the day as it would if it received flakes of hay on the ground.
How to Slow Feed Your Equine Partner
To set up a slow feeder, first determine how much hay your horse should consume during the day. A veterinary or barn manager can help decide this. Hay consumption can be based on a variety of factors, including: weight, exercise level, time of year, grain consumption and access to pasture grasses. Once the daily amount of hay is determined follow these simple steps for stabled horses:
- Add the hay to a slow-feeding hay net.
- Hang the net in a corner of the stall at a safe height — the bottom of the net should be at eye level to your horse. In other words, you don't want your horse to have to constantly reach above its head for hay. It should be able to pull the hay from the slow feeder, and then lower its head while munching.
- Be careful of hanging the net too low, in case your horse tries to roll and hooks a leg in the netting.
- Make sure your horse has daily water access.
- Monitor consumption. Ideally your horse should finish the hay in a 24-hour period.
Benefits of Slow Feeding Horses
From health to economic benefits, slow feeding devices can be a great investment. Here are several potential benefits of slow feeding a horse:
- Reduces hay waste from trampling or manure.
- Slows down consumption so that hay can replicate natural grazing conditions.
- Slow feeders may help prevent gut ulcers and colic incidents (slow feeders do not guarantee the prevention of gut ulcers and colic incidents).
- Save time on feeding by only setting hay in the stall once per day.
- Encourage your horse to move within the paddocks by spreading the slow feeders around the grazing area.
- Reduce the clean time for each stall, since slow feeders help keep hay to one corner of the stall.
It's clear that slow feeding your horse can have a number of benefits. If you are considering switching your horse to a slow feeding method, be sure to give it time to adjust. Closely monitor its hay intake. Some horses master the art of slow feeding in a few short hours, while others can take several days. Finally, be sure to do your research — there are hundreds of different slow feeder hay nets available for purchase, all with their own pros or cons. Knowing your horse and their dietary needs can help you choose the most effective slow feeder.
Ashly Snell works in digital marketing for Dover Saddlery. Although known for selling high-quality tack and other equestrian products through their website and catalog they also have Dover Saddlery Retail Stores.