The Best Slow Feeders for Horses

by | Dec 17, 2019

All horses love food. Mother Nature designed them to spend their days wandering from grassy spot to grassy spot, having a constant intake of grasses and plants, and domestication has not taken that drive away from them. In fact, the first indicator that something is not right with a horse is a loss of appetite. That said, some horses can handle their food better than others.

Just like humans, some horses have a very high metabolism and need nonstop access to food if they are to maintain a healthy weight. Other horses can look at a green, grassy lawn and another inch of fat blossoms around their bellies. In addition to the strain on joints, bones, and tendons, overweight horses are prone to metabolic diseases, founder, and laminitis. This prosperous type of horse needs to have its diet managed with a variety of strategies.

Why Does My Horse Need A Slow Feeder? Can’t I Just Measure Out His Feed In The Morning And Evening

This is a solution that some people take, but for many reasons this is not best for your horse’s physical or mental wellbeing. Horses that eat a lot all at once and then go multiple hours without eating are at a greater risk of developing ulcers, hind gut acidosis, and even colic. Furthermore, many stable vices such as weaving, cribbing, pacing, and even aggression can be linked to a shortage of roughage in the diet, or limited access to roughage. Equine behaviorists have shown that the more a horse grazes during the day, the calmer he is overall and the less likely he is to develop undesirable behaviors. Horses that are not kept on pastures 24/7 are often in a state of desperation, looking for food all the time. Slow feeders can help a horse to not bolt his food when he gets it, because it stimulates grazing behavior for horses that live on dry lots or in stalls.

What Do I Look For With Slow Feeders?

There are slow feeder bags, and slow feeder mangers. The specifications for each are similar: your horse will need something that is difficult to destroy and/or take apart, with holes for the hay that are small enough to release only a small amount of hay at a time. The holes should not be so small that your horse gets stressed or frustrated, which can contribute to the same health problems as bolting food. If you are looking for a hay net, look for holes that are 1 ½ inches in diameter. Some horses get frustrated with holes this small though, and prefer a hay net with holes that are 2-3 inches in diameter. This is probably the maximum size that can work and still be counted as a slow-feeder hay net. Check that the material is a sturdy nylon that cannot be easily torn by horse teeth or ripped at by hooves. Also, make sure that the size is large enough to hold an appropriate amount of hay for your horse.

If you have several horses out together in a pasture, a giant hay net cover or one from Freedom Feeder is an economical way to protect a large amount of hay at once.

The benefit to haynets from this brand is that they are available in three different sizes of holes. For use in a stall or trailer, another option is slow feeder haybags. The ripstop panels minimize hay wastage and minimize the horse’s ability to rip the bag apart to get at the hay. Kensington makes a bag that combines the best of a slow-feed haynet and a bag. It features a wide panel going around the sides, and a 1 ½ x 1 ½ inch holes in the mesh front of the bag. The canvas panels minimize hay waste, while the mesh front allows the horse to get more hay out during the course of the meal.

Another option for the horse kept in a stall or dry lot is this treat ball for grain or pelleted feed. The horse has to work to move the ball around in order to get the pellets out. It is not ideal for horses that need powdered, liquid, or oily supplements, due to the risk of these substances getting stuck in the ball. For dry, pelleted feeds however, this is a great way to engage your horse’s brain and feed him slowly.

For horses living outdoors, there are various ways to slow down the horse’s hay consumption. Some companies will make the mangers and ship them to you, some will send you the kits to assemble yourself. The concept is that you can make a large wooden box and add a mesh cover. The company High Quality Plastics also makes a slow feeder manger. These feeders include a sliding grate that holds fast over the hay and slips down as the hay quantity is reduced.

For the do-it-yourselfers reading, a slow feeder manger can be constricted from five wooden pallets and a giant-sized slow feeder net. The pallets can be nailed together: one on the bottom to keep the hay off the ground, and four sides. This makes the manger itself, which can be filled with hay, and then the haynet can be stretched over the top of the manger. The haynet must be securely hooked over the edges of the pallet to keep it in place. 

For all mangers, care must be taken that the manger sides are sufficiently high that horses can’t paw at the hay and get their hooves stuck. Furthermore, the material should be sturdy enough to withstand the elements and possible antics around the food. When feeding groups of horses with slow feeders of any type, it is recommended to provide one more feeder than there are horses in the herd. It is best to have the feed as close to the ground as possible, but don’t feed from a hay net on the ground if your horse has shoes. Finally, check your horse’s teeth periodically to ensure that they are not being artificially ground down from trying to tear at the haynets or manger.

Conclusion

Slow feeders are a great way to support your horse’s natural feeding habits and needs. Care must be taken to ensure that the material is strong enough to stand up to horse teeth and hooves, and that your horse’s teeth are in good shape as his food needs are managed.

About The Author

<a href="https://www.equiniction.com/author/ani-petrak/" target="_self">Ani Petrak</a>

Ani Petrak

Ani Petrak is a freelance linguist and writer based in the Czech Republic. A lifelong English rider and groom, she has experience showing in dressage, hunter-jumpers, trail, and young horse in-hand competitions. She is currently working with a Grand Prix showjumping and dressage trainer while raising and training her young warmblood gelding for a career in dressage, working equitation, and cross-country hacking.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This