“The more you treat your horse like a horse in the wild, the calmer and more cooperative he will be.” Stabled horses have been forced to live on a feed schedule that works for a barn operation. In the wild, they graze up to 20 hours a day, stopping only for naps. Mark Meddleton DVM says that natural feeders are one solution to providing a more natural grazing cycle optimal for gut health. Borrowing from a popular quote, “A Happy Horse is a Happy Riding Life.”
It’s been almost 4 years since natural or slow feeders were introduced into our barns turnout paddocks. The results were noticeable within days. The first change was strikingly increased horse contentment. Horses that previously had come out of box stalls pulling, jumping and jigging to get to the turnouts now walk calmly with the handler. Most importantly, there is no sign of food anxiety.
Horses remain relaxed assured food is not far away. The book, “Feed your Horse like a Horse” by Juliet
M. Getty, Ph.D., Horse Nutritionist says, “The more you treat your horse like a horse in the wild, the calmer and more cooperative he will be.” The book goes on, “Horses are capable of self-regulating their intake when given the chance. If they are only offered a set amount of hay at a time, they will likely eat it very quickly and will be anxious for more. But if given all they want, they will overeat at first (for a week or less) and then, once they see that they can walk away and relax and the hay will still be there when they return, they will calm down and eat only what they need to maintain a healthy weight.” Mark Meddleton DVM based in Corrales says that most horses adjust to the feeders within 2 weeks, but that some horses may take longer or may not adjust. Dr. Meddleton said, “Initially, most horse will eat more than normal, but very quickly adapt and level out to eat what they need to maintain a healthy weight. You may have to gradually work a small percentage of horses up to full access. There is also a good likelihood that you will see less colic with the trickle feeders.” Every horse in our barn has made the transition without issue. Probably more than 40 horses have been tested over 4 years with 100% success rate.
To recap from the post 3 years ago: We have been using trickle feeders with 24 horses in turnout paddocks with excellent results. Horses drink more water, and move around more; all more natural activities for horses. Nap time remains part of the day’s activities. The feeder reduces allergies, hay waste, potential for ulcers, boredom and bad habits that develop with scheduled feeding. Horses that are hypersensitive to feeding times became more relaxed and happier. Grasses of timothy, brome, orchard or mixes of these are ideal for feeders.
Natural feeder boxes are probably not the best solution for a horse that spends most of his day in a box stall with his feeder. For these situations, the nibble nets might provide a safer solution because room to move around is not compromised by the feeder. One downside in stalls might be that horses that are inclined to play with everything (social personalities), nibble nets could prove problematic should the horse manage to get hung up or hang up a shoe in the net.
For horses that are inclined to get into everything, we found that a small hole had to be drilled in the sliding bottom and side of the Natural Feeder to wire it shut and prevent the horse from rolling the feeder over, sliding back the bottom, and gorging. Our horse like that also has to have his water tub secured to the corral fence – everything gets rolled. For him, and others like him, there are just not enough toys in the world.
There are several manufacturers and styles of trickle feeders. Here are additional slow feeding options:
To reach Dr. Mark Meddleton in Corrales, call 505-344-2680 or visit the website: https://www.meddletonequine.com/
More Feeding Information: