Horses are naturally programmed to spend the majority of their time consuming forage, such as hay and grass. In a wild environment, horses will graze for hours and cover several miles each day while doing so. Domesticated horses still have the natural instinct to spend their days wandering and grazing, but rarely have the ability to do so. Slow feeders are designed to encourage slower consumption of hays and prevent waste.
Good quality hay provides solid nutritional value for your horse, delivering plenty of calories and fiber when it is consumed. The bad news is that horses are not known for being neat eaters and good hay does not come cheap. Horses are notorious for taking big bites out of hay bales, only to drop half the mouthful on the ground. Those living in a confined area also will step on the hay, trample it into the ground or into the shavings in his stall, and even eliminate on top of it. Hay that is dropped onto the ground and then damaged is highly unlikely to be consumed by the horse, leading to significant wastage. Wasted hay essentially is money that is thrown in the trash can, so it makes sense to do as much as you can to prevent your horse from wasting hay. Slow feeders limit the amount of hay a horse can get out of the feeder, cutting down on dropped hay and limiting waste.
The Fast Eater
Some horses, usually those who are "easy-keepers," gain weight quickly and maintain a healthy weight even when fed very small quantities of feed. While these horses are easy on your feed bill, they can become bored quickly after they gobble down their small meals. A bored horse is inclined to develop vices, including cribbing, wood chewing, pacing and weaving. A slow feeder can help your fast-eating horse consume his daily forage ration more slowly, and prevent the boredom that often sets in when an animal who is biologically inclined to graze all day consumes an entire meal in under 5 minutes.
Slow Feeder Design
The most commonly seen type of slow feeder uses a net with small openings to hold the hay. The horse must use his lips to pull the hay through the net. As a result of the small openings, the net only releases relatively small amounts of hay during each attempt to get a bite. The smaller bites result in a longer eating time for the horse, meaning that the horse gets the same amount of forage but takes significantly longer to consume it.
Do It Yourself Slow Feeder Design
If you want to make your own slow feeder using netting, make sure that the netting itself is sturdy in design and has openings that are less than 1 inch. Your net should be made of sturdy rope or cord, with no flimsy threads or easily torn fabrics. Fill the net with the amount of hay that you want to feed to your horse and then fasten the net closed around the hay using a cord or clamp. Tie the net up in a high location that allows your horse to pull hay comfortably from the net without risk of tripping on the net or getting tangled in it.
Jen Davis has been writing since 2004. She has served as a newspaper reporter and her freelance articles have appeared in magazines such as "Horses Incorporated," "The Paisley Pony" and "Alabama Living." Davis earned her Bachelor of Arts in communication with a concentration in journalism from Berry College in Rome, Ga.