It isn’t always easy to have keep horses very naturally without large acreage. About 1000 acres of hills, sparsely vegetated with all native grasses would do nicely! Sadly those types of properties don’t generally fall within the boundaries of anywhere we could reasonably live. So, we do what we can for our ponies on this 1/2 acre of Oakland dirt. One of the most important pieces of this effort is using slow feeders.
I got on this kick when I learned about how common ulcers are in horses. About 60% of horses have ulcers. One way to help prevent them is to allow constant access to forage. A horse’s gut continually produces stomach acid, so breaking feedings into the usual 2 or 3 meals a day means longs stretches of time where that stomach acid has nothing to do but eat into the lining of the stomach and make ulcers. Lots of other things I do with my horses (trailer places, compete, ride long distances, separate them from their herd mate, etc.) increase their stress level and make ulcers especially likely. Slow feeding is the least I can do!
We started the journey with the gateway slow feeder: small mesh hay nets.
They’re inexpensive and definitely work, but stuffing them daily is a pain.
After years of trial and error and many iterations of larger capacity feeders, I think we have finally made my dream slow feeder. It may not look like much, but to she who has stuffed a zillion nets and cursed many a lacking feeder design it is a thing of great beauty.
It is made from a galvanized steel trough (roughly 6′ x 3′), a trucker’s ratcheting tie down with “endless loop” webbing, and hockey goal nets. You can fit 3 90# bales into it at one go and double or even triple (for super professional eaters like Sebastian, and even he needed supplemental hay at this level of difficulty) the nets depending on how much you need to restrict your horses’ intake. I only have to feed hay about twice a month and there is very little waste. Our hockey nets have been going strong for 2 years of hard use without need for repair. The horses also seem to like the project. They will often chose to nibble through the nets even when loose hay is around. Always having something tasty to munch has also cut down our horse related property damage to almost nothing. No more 900 pound beavers to contend with.
A few warnings before you dive in to the slow food world for ponies: these small mesh type feeders are not safe for shod horses without extra precautions taken, and my equine dentist has found that feeders with metal grates cause unusual wear on the horses’ teeth.
Happy feeding, happy ponies!