Slowing Down the Hungry Hippos
Horses are grazing animals, which means their systems are designed to be contently intaking food. "It is estimated that a horse spends about 10 to 17 hours each day grazing, and this is broken up into about 15 to 20 grazing periods." (Kentucky Equine Research) The rule of thumb is for horses to eat 2% of their body weight. One of the best ways to feed horses is little and often and most of their intake being forage, this helps to keep their guts happy and running smoothly.
Feeding two or less meals a day can create health issues with your horse such as ulcers. Some horses can self regulate and do well on having access to hay 24/7, while others such as my horse Pi, are more of hungry hippos. With a combination of being an easy keeper and a problem solver he will eat his hay quickly leaving longer periods between feeding.
I am a huge fan of slow feeders, hay nets and other resources to help make hay last longer. This is easier to manage in the summer as in his turnout he has a forest that he can go and forage in, however during the winter month the time between feedings leads to boredom leading down the slippery slope of creating other vices.
Type of slow feeding systems that I have used and recommend
- Hay nets, depending on your horse you can have different hole sizes. Standard is 2", but you can also find 1-1/2", 1" or 1/2".
- Multiple hay nets in different areas
- Hay Ball or moving slow feeder
- Track system, putting piles in turnout with distance
Remember slow feeders should not frustrate the horse. If they are causing stress try a different method. Some horses slow down enough on a standard hay net.
To help manage Pi's speed eating skills, my barn owner and I have created a different system for his feeding compared to the other horses in the barn. Pi gets hay in two different hay nets, one 1/2" and one 1". Then plus some in a hay ball as well. The goal is to make him work a bit hard to get the hay and have to move in between feed stations. We do have to be careful to not go over the daily 17-20lbs as it is split between 3/4 meals.
Easier keeps can truly be a harder keeper on management as it is difficult to not let them get obese. If you have slow feeding tips, I would love to hear your ideas!