Q&A with Monique Warren, President of The Hay Pillow, Inc.
The following is an interview with Monique Warren, president of Hay Pillow, Inc. Aside from manufacturing these durable hay nets (which I personally own), she’s also a wealth of information when it comes to slow feeding and equine nutrition.
Can you tell us a little about your background with horses and nutrition?
I was always open minded even though I’ve been a horse guardian for over 40 years. The biggest changes started when I had a horse that wasn’t “right” and I needed to investigate alternatives on my own. After all, I was ultimately responsible for her wellbeing. It started with transitioning my horses to barefoot which then prompted me to study diet and lifestyle extensively. I enrolled in Dr. Kellon’s NRC plus course and started testing and balancing their diet to fill in the nutritional gaps. I then realized that all of my horses benefited from the more natural lifestyle and balanced diet, not just the one that wasn’t “right.”
What led you do develop the Hay Pillow™?
Hay Pillow™ Inc. was born when I had attempted several variations of homemade slow feeders over a 2 year period and finally designed one that worked. After learning the importance of slow feeding and eating from ground level I could not purchase one that both slowed down my horse’s consumption rate enough and encouraged movement.
I had no intentions of starting a business when I started making slow feeders. I had a need that wasn’t met by products available on the market. I desperately wanted my horses to eat and live together full time offering hay 24/7 without consuming more calories than necessary to maintain a healthy weight.
I initially started with numerous hard-sided feeders. Some with metal grates or holes drilled in the bottom. Either the feeders fed too fast or they could not eat at all. In addition, some voracious individuals can wear grooves in their teeth or the enamel wears off with stiffer webbing or metal grates. None of the bags, nets or feeders on the market was slow enough to allow for limited hay 24/7. The only solution was netting, this allowed a smaller size opening and enables them to eat from it, because it conformed to the hay. It also encouraged them to use their lips as well as their teeth to extract hay which is more natural and they seemed to enjoy it. The initial Hay Pillow prototypes were designed to be clipped in a tub. After trying a wide variety of closures and fabrics, I ended up with a bag that could be used on the ground.
What have you learned about feeding horses since developing the Hay Pillow™?
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are meals consumed by humans but are not natural for a horse. Equines are grazing herbivores with a digestive system designed for constant uptake. If your equine does not have forage available 24/7, consider implementing a slow-feeding program. Mentally and physically, horses require free-choice forage. This can be accomplished by using a grazing muzzle when on pasture or a slow feeder for hay. Extending meals does not produce the mental and physical health benefits of free-choice forage.
Horses are very stoic and will suppress outward signs of stress (i.e. pain, lack of forage etc.). This is a survival technique developed to avoid the appearance of weakness making them more vulnerable to predators. Hearing a desperate whinny at feeding time is a sign your horse is stressed! The stress associated with meals may induce ulcers and causes an increase in cortisol. If cortisol is elevated, insulin rises, which leads to fat storage. This can cause or worsen obesity, which is why some horses seem to be able to “live on air.” If appropriate forage (tested low NSC hay) is available at all times, they can typically eat more and maintain or lose weight.
What would you say is the biggest mistake people make when it comes to feeding horses?
Feeding forage high in NSC’s lacking optimum nutritional levels to enable their immune system and thyroid to function properly (no forage is balanced to itself), meals and confinement. Slow feeding with multiple locations enables your entire herd to eat and live together full time. Equines are herd animals; they benefit physically and psychologically from direct physical interaction. Dominant members will keep the others moving as they claim various locations. The less dominant individuals will have alternate sources to eat from; this encourages movement and can decrease cortisol levels associated with stress from being physically separated from herd members.
Can you tell us about the different slow feeders you make and what each is best for?
The Standard and Mini Hay Pillow are our most popular bags because they are designed to be used on the ground and have a solid back. These allow multiple locations even in a small area and are available in 5 mesh sizes. Great for any outdoor location.
The Hanging Hay Pillow is perfect for stalls and horse trailers and available in 4 mesh sizes.
The Manger Hay Pillow® was designed to contain hay in a horse trailer manger alleviating waste.
We also offer small and large whole bale nets and will be expanding our products to offer grazing muzzles and toys to enrich and enhance the life of our beloved companions.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Yes! What a relief for myself and horses to no longer be stressed about feeding time! I can be gone all day and “feed” late in the morning or early in the afternoon and have the peace of mind that they will not be without forage. “Feeding” entails giving supplements and refilling bags although they are never empty.
EXERCISE is often overlooked in the equines daily routine. Exercise has several metabolic benefits for obese horses. Several research studies have found a direct increase in insulin sensitivity through physical conditioning (Pratt et al., 2006; Stewart-Hunt et al., 2006).