I have always fed Billy with a slow feeder, making sure he had hay at all times.  When he was being boarded at the barn I had a big slow feeder that would hold up to 75 pounds of hay and I would fill that thing, every 24 hours, to bursting!  I did not want him standing around on an empty stomach… ever.  Did that  make him fat?  YES!  He was absolutely fat when stalled at the barn, with me only being able to exercise him for 2-4 hours a day.

My home made slow feeder.
Billy all fat and happy!
Billy all fat and happy!

Of course horses are meant to eat all the time because they are also meant to move all the time.  We have taken them from 100’s of miles of mountain, meadow and range lands and locked them onto tiny stalls, runs, and pens.  We don’t ride them enough and they don’t move enough. There are wonderful pasture options out there that can cause the horse to want to move more.  My favorite is the Pasture Paradise.  If you can, I highly recommend setting one of these up!  I will in the future, when we can afford it.  It’s definitely on my list of “Must Haves”.

There is a trade off to keeping and feeding a horse like a horse.  It’s not cheap and it’s definitely not easy.

Horses are constantly producing stomach acid.  They don’t wait for food to hit the tummy for these acids to be produced.  They are constantly producing them.  And when fed two large meals a day the horse will digest them faster than several smaller meals throughout the day.  So if you take a horse that had it’s morning feed, oh about 4 hours ago, saddle it up and canter circle after circle after circle, you are literally sloshing around stomach acids in an empty tummy.  What happens when stomach acids are churned up without something to absorb them?  ULCERS.

A good rule of thumb, do not work a horse on an empty stomach.

Grain is not a substitute for hay.  Do not work a horse on a stomach full of grain.  Grain aka starch, does not digest the same way that hay does.  Most horses should not have more than 2 pounds of grain a day.  And did you know that grain can cause ulcers as well?

Horses are not made to digest and utilize starches. Horses are made to ferment their food.  When food does not stay in their system long enough to ferment, they will not get the nutrients that they need.  Starches digest very quickly and don’t stay in the small intestine long enough for them to get everything they need.  That is why forage, hay and grass, is so important in a horse’s diet.  If you are feeding large amounts of grain, you are literally throwing your money away.

Having a system in place that allows your horse to slowly eat forage 24/7 is very important for the physical and emotional health of your horse.  I highly recommend a slow feed net or feeder of some type.  I wanted to share these big slow feed nets that hold an entire 70 pound bale of hay.  I bought mine through Hay Chix.  They are easy to put the bale in and the horses love them.

Billy and his hay net from Hay Chix.
Photo on the Left was taken last week Photo on the Right was taken last May.

I have watched them stand and work at a bale, then walk away and nibble at the little bit of grass that grows in the playground, then wander off to take a nap.  They are not cranky with each other and will even eat off the same bale.  I have two nets, full, at all times.  We have been going through 2 bales every 2 days, but I have noticed that they are slowing down and leveling off.  The 2 bales lasted 3 and a 1/2 days this week!  I know as they get used to having the hay around all the time it will level off even more and Chloe’s weight will also level off.

In the mean time we are all on an exercise program to help balance the extra hay in take.  (And I am on one to lose the excess weight I’ve been packing!)  I am so happy that I don’t have to fill the smaller slow feed nets two to three times a day and the horses are happy they they never run out of food.  It’s a win-win!