Slow Feeders for Horses

The following article is written by equine nutritionist, Dr. Juliet Getty.  To see more articles by Dr. Getty or for help with your horse’s nutritional needs, please visit her website

Make sure to read all the way to the end to find details on entering a giveaway for a Hay Pillow slow feeder!


The Correct Way to Use Slow Feeders

Forage is the foundation of every equine’s diet and needs to flow steadily through the digestive tract. Gaps without forage can lead to ulcers, colic, behavioral issues, stall vices, gorging, choke, cribbing, and even laminitis. Truly, the only way to avoid these problems is to allow your horse steady access to forage, free-choice, all day and all night.

Responding to this inherent need is the slow-feeder industry. The purpose of this article is to provide a clear understanding of slow-feeders and how they can be used safely and effectively. There are many styles and types from which to choose. . The best approach is to contact several manufacturers to see which product best meets your horses’ needs.

The purpose of a slow-feeding system is to simulate grazing. Horses in a natural setting eat small amounts of forage as they wander in search of the next tasty morsel. They eat virtually all day and night, taking time to socialize and rest every so often for a few minutes at a time. When they know that they always have access to forage, they become calm and relaxed, rest more often, and walk away from their hay, knowing that it will still be there when they return. In other words, they “self-regulate” and eat only what they need to maintain a healthy body condition.

Forage restriction is incredibly stressful. Why should this matter? Because stress causes the release of the hormone cortisol, which in turn leads to elevated insulin. When insulin is high, it tells the body to store fat. Your goal? Get rid of the stress. Feed an appropriate forage (low in sugar and starch) free-choice and allow the horse to tell you how much he needs.

There are some horses, however, who gain weight very quickly when given forage free-choice. The reason has to do with the sluggish metabolic rate they’ve developed over time. When forage is parceled out only a few times a day, the horse responds by going into “survival mode,” where his metabolic rate significantly slows down in an attempt to conserve body fat. A cycle of ever-increasing obesity is created that can be reversed only through exercise and removing the hormonal fat-storing response that forage restriction creates.

Slow-feeders, when used properly, are an excellent way to do reduce stress. As their name suggests, they slow down the rate of consumption by providing hay through small openings. When slow feeders are kept full, they allow the horse to graze whenever he wants, thereby encouraging the horse to eat less and still have free access to forage.

The best approach is feeding off the ground.

Chewing with the head low is more in line with the horse’s natural physiology, creating even pressure on the teeth and allowing the jaw bone to move freely in all directions. Furthermore, the muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments and bone structure are not stressed when horses can grab hay in a straight downward motion. Eating with their heads down also protects their eyes and respiratory tract against mold spores and dust and provides for better nasal drainage.

How to start

Use at least two feeders per horse and place them as far apart as possible. Even if your horse is in a stall or small paddock, place one on either end of the area. Many slow-feeders made of hard material can accommodate two or possibly three horses at a time, but it is preferable to have more feeders to encourage movement, satisfy the horse’s natural curiosity, and minimize squabbles among herd members.

Gradually allow your horse to become accustomed to this method of feeding by placing some hay in the feeder as well as loose on the ground next to it. After a few days, most horses will get the hang of the slow-feeder. Some take longer, so don’t force the issue; let your horse get used to it at his own pace.

If your feeder contains a grate, leave it off for a few days as your horse becomes familiar with lowering his head inside the feeder. Once you add the grate, pull hay through the openings to help get him started.

Supervise your horse during this period, watching for signs of frustration. Frustration is a form of stress and needs to be avoided.

Types of slow-feeders


Hay nets are not the same as slow-feeder nets. Hay nets typically have very large openings, in which your horse can easily become tangled. Slow-feeder nets provide openings that are much smaller. I recommend 1.5 to 1.75 inches for a full-sized horse; anything smaller may cause undo frustration; fatigue can also set in, causing the horse to stop eating.
On the other hand, if the hole is too large, the horse will typically eat as much as if the hay were loose on the ground. Researchers at the University of Minnesota demonstrated that horses took longer to consume their hay as the hole size was decreased. Therefore, it is best to choose a hole size that will slow down feeding but not so small that it induces exasperation.

It is best to purchase one from a reputable manufacturer rather than try to make your own. Cheaper fabrics can unravel and break, potentially damaging teeth and worse, tragically leading to colic if your horse swallows fibers. Commercial products are made from heavy duty fabrics that resist tearing and fraying, and provide safety features as well as customer support.

Advantages of slow-feeder nets:

· They come in a variety of sizes that can hold a few flakes, a whole bale, or even an entire round bale.

· There is flexibility in mounting them. Many can be attached to a wall, tree, or sturdy post at a low level. Some are designed to be on the ground, allowing the horse to eat in a more natural position.

Potential problems:

· If there is room behind the bag, the horse could potentially get his head caught. If the fabric tears, a foot could get tangled in the net.

· If the horse is shod, the net must be secured within a bin; you can also hang them high enough to prevent a shoe or nail from snagging on to the netting but this will create an awkward eating position.

· If laid on the ground, they must either be totally loose (expect them to get dirty) or be securely mounted so the horse cannot get a foot or his head caught below the feeder.

· If dangled from a tree or post, it can quickly become a source of frustration as it sways with every attempt to get a bite of hay. This can defeat your purpose in regulating consumption. Furthermore, if the horse were to rear near a feeder hanging from a tree or placed high in a stall, he could trap a hoof.

· They need to be refilled frequently (unless a whole bale size is chosen). Horses who run out of hay (even for 10 minutes) will never get the message that hay is always there and will not self-regulate.

Hard slow-feeders

The best ones are made of sturdy plastic or hard rubber that will not crack in very hot or cold temperatures and can withstand the abuse of being kicked or stepped on. Avoid wooden feeders. You might be tempted to build your own by placing a steel grid on top or on open sides of a container. This can create several hazards:

· There is high potential for sharp edges.

· Clips can get caught on halters or catch an ear or eyelid.

· Grids can tilt.

· Shod horses can trap a foot on the metal openings.

· Metal grates can damage teeth; horses can even get a tooth caught in this type of grid.

· Grated vertical sides force the horse to turn his head sideways, which leads to neck strain.

Here again, choose a reputable manufacturer. Common styles include:

· The hay basket — consists of a round metal frame which holds a removable plastic basket with large slats to allow for drainage. Since the basket does not sit on the ground, the hay stays dryer.

· Barrel or box type feeders — these are well received by many horses; however, some horses find lowering their head inside a container to be mentally uncomfortable. Nevertheless, it is better to choose one that sits on the ground rather than forcing your horse to pull hay out from the bottom of a barrel that is hung. Make sure the openings are large enough and preferably rounded to prevent damage to the horse’s mouth and teeth.

Quality hard slow-feeders offer several advantages:

· They allow the horse to eat with their heads in a natural position.

· They are easy to fill with hay.

· Feeding can be shared with more than one horse.

· Dust and dirt tends to flow to the bottom.


Bottom line

When given the chance, horses will self-regulate their intake of forage. We can encourage this grazing behavior through the use of slow-feeders. Using them correctly, respecting the horse’s need to graze at ground level, will help give your horse the opportunity to enjoy a healthy life and be more of what he was meant to be – a horse.


Giveaway From The Hay Pillow, Inc.

hay pillows

Hay Pillow: The ultimate slow feed hay bag.

The giveaway is sponsored by Hay Pillow, Inc., owned by Monique Warren of Ramona, California. Here is some information about her products:

The Standard® and Mini Hay Pillow® Original and Version II are the only slow feed hay bags designed for use on the ground; allowing your horse to eat in a natural grazing position and encourage movement! The best choice for voracious eaters; when used on the ground it is not attached to anything so they can’t tug or pull on it. Mini Hay Pillow is designed specifically for miniature horses. Available in a variety of mesh sizes; ½”, ¾”, 1”, 1 ¼” and 1 ¾”.

Included in their product line is the Hanging Hay Pillow® and Manger Hay Pillow® designed to contain hay in horse trailer mangers.

The giveaway is for one Standard or Mini Hay Pillow®.  

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment below telling why you believe your horse could benefit from a slow feeder. The deadline to enter is Tuesday, September 9th. A random drawing from the comments will determine the winner. The contest is open to both U.S. and international readers.

(Please, only 1 comment per person.)

Good luck!


Hi! My name is Casie Bazay. I'm a mom, a freelance writer, and a certified equine acupressure practitioner.

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45 Responses

  1. Diane says:

    These would be awesome for our drill team as we travel to competitions. Our horses get nervous and this would decrease the waste we see in stalls and trailers.

  2. Lynn Reiter says:

    I use slow-feeder hay bags and swear by them. But I have never used one that is ‘ground-based’ and would love to try it…I understand that it is better for the horses’ head to be down, and that really appeals to me. Thank you. Lynn

  3. Vicki L Ciepiela says:

    Hi, Casie.. I have a hay net that I used to use for my mare, but I think she got frustrated with it like your article says. She is a really fast eater and won’t lift her head out of her manger until every last morsel is gone. And it doesn’t take very long trust me! I would love to win a hay pillow and try it out on her. I know I would like it but I don’t know about her 🙂 Thank you Vicki

  4. Tamara says:

    My horse is considered an easy keeper and has insulin issues. She has foundered due to too much grass and was told she may not make it. A fabulous farrier (Pete Ramey), being put on dry lot, added minerals, and a year later she has some of the best hooves at the barn. I need a slow feed pillow so I can put her hay on the ground instead of hanging the net.

  5. Natalie says:

    Eating from the normal ground level position seems so much healthier for their bodies. So many of the feeders cause the horse to repeatedly twist with their heads at odd heights for what their bodies were designed. I would love to try these!

  6. With the drought here in California our AG water is limited at best and our turn out times have been reduced drastically, so we have to bring them in to feed, we are paying $19 a bale for premium alfalfa, they are chow hounds and need to slow down. We have the basic net slow feeder but still they can speed eat it seems. This “HayPillow” is an amazing idea and I really think they would be a benefit to our barn.

  7. Jennifer McCaherty says:

    I would love this for my mare with laminitis,

  8. Mindy fancher says:

    I have three very easy keepers. A hay pillow would help them eat less so in turn they would loose some weight. I want to avoid insulin resistance. The hay nets just aren’t sturdy. I would love to win a hay pillow and try it out. So I can buy more.

  9. Dianne C says:

    My girls gain weight quickly, definite air ferns. When the pasture dried out and we switched to feeding hay twice a day. They gulped their hay down and were starving the rest of the time. They ballooned out like sausages. Definitely need a way for them to feed slowly to get their weight back down, IR supplements and calorie reduction has not worked.

  10. julie elkins says:

    My horse is overweight, and vet says he needs to loose 70 more pounds. He is a Draft cross, and I already feed him like a pony. I think maybe this could help! I do not want to starve him!

  11. my horses definitely benefit from the slow feeders! now that we have added one more horse to our little family, we are short a slow feeder. and this new horse would most definitely benefit as she is a very easy keeper, but gets bored easily. having access to hay 24/7 would really help her mentally and physically 🙂

  12. Angela Dodson says:

    I have been looking at the hay pillows for a while. I just haven’t had the money to buy them. I have 2 that would benefit greatly from them. The biggest reason they would benefit is because I like for them to eat all day long to keep their digestive system working. To do that now, I go thru a lot of hay. My horse would benefit because he is an easy keeper and it would give some control to how much he eats. My shetland pony would benefit because he couldn’t waste so much hay by spreading it around and urinating on it. Thank you for creating a great product.

  13. Dawn Pellatt says:

    What a great idea! If I don’t win I want to know where to buy in Kelowna Canada!

  14. Erika wright says:

    I have been curious of the benefits of a slow feeder for sometime now, but been afraid to dig into my pocket incase it wouldn’t help. The stables where I board does not offer unlimited excess to hay, but instead measures 3 flakes twice a day. My lovely 16’3 OTTB rescue will goble his forage and then be without for 12 or so hours. We have been through 3 colics and stomach ulcers. I spend a fortune in smartpak’s! I really believe if he had constant hay availability it would help! I can’t imagine the empty tummy ache he gets without forage in between meals!

  15. Tammie says:

    I’m just starting out and need all the help I can get. I have looked at many different hay net/bag options and most of what I feel would be good ones are outside my budget at this time. This is the first time I’ve seen these but aside from the benefits of ground feeding, I also think it could be a way to keep the horse busy and not as bored. It could also help with hay loss and overheating. What a great idea for a hay feeder.

  16. Tracey Reed says:

    Currently I feed hay in deep tubs but I find the horses shove it all out on the ground in search of who knows what that might be underneath it all! Then they eat what they have shoved out on the ground, negating my effort to provide dirt free hay. A hay pillow will prevent this waste of hay and still provide a clean meal. Thanks.

  17. Jan Grippo says:

    We moved to a new location with a very different climate. Will be supplementing our pastures with hay. I want the horses to eat the hay but not scarf it down quickly. A slow feeder sure seems like the way to go.

    Thanks, Jan

  18. Lindsy Christensen says:

    I use the hanging slow feeder nets now, but since my horses are on a dry lot, i worry about all the sand they might be picking up from eating the hay that falls out of the net onto the ground. I would like to see if the hay pillow would help with that problem.

  19. Stacy says:

    My dear sweet draft babe is nearly 32 and she needs her own special feeder so as to not have to compete with the herd.she deserves a nice healthy meal sourcer,and I’m happy to learn about your hay pillow and she will be even happier eating from one!

  20. Jessica Lynn says:

    My sweet little mini “Diamond Rose” would benefit from a hay pillow as she had been starved before I got her, then fed only a small amount of pellets 2x’s per day so she has issues with food for sure, and now has a problem self regulating, hay pillows slow her down and will help to get her weight down too!

  21. Theresa says:

    what a great idea. kinda like natural grazing. no ulcers! no wind blowing hay all over. keeps em occupied….so many great reasons to have one of these!

  22. Westi Douglas says:

    I would love to add a hay pillow. I use nets currently but they last about 4 hours and then my horses go without. I didn’t know only 10 minutes without would cause my horses stress!

  23. Mickie Perini says:

    I have one slow feeder hay net that worked ok when I had 2 horses, but now I have 3 and they don’t like to share. I’ve been wanting to get a slow feeder that goes on the ground so they are eating more naturally. The hay pillow would be awesome!

  24. Tamra Burleson says:

    My gelding has a propensity toward ulcers. He has hay nets, but they have to hang higher than I’d like and he tugs at them so much that he goes through his hay quickly even though they are supposed to be “slow feed”. I would love for him to have to stretch down and eat more slowly!

  25. Nancy Golec says:

    I would love to try slow hay feeders with my horses. The natural head down position with slow eating seems to be very positive for my babies!

  26. Kathy says:

    Slow feeders are a great way to extend feed time and keep a horse busy, and a busy horse is less likely to develop boredom behaviors like chewing down the barn or stripping bark from my trees. Like the solid back on The Hay Pillow – less dirt picked up.

  27. Holli Bacchini says:

    A slow feeder is great for almost any horse and being able to use it on the ground is much more beneficial for my horse’s neck and back. He can continue to eat for a much longer time while giving a beneficial stretch to his top-line!

  28. Jan Grippo says:

    I moves my 4 horses to a new climate with better but smaller pastures. I have been looking into slow feeders as a way to feed them during the winter. I like the idea of the smaller easier to manage pillow option.

  29. Kensee Davis says:

    I’d love to try these! ✌️

  30. Marie says:

    My mare would benefit from this – I already like and use a hanging slow feeder occasionally, but I find hanging nets will make her poll sore from having to jerk the hay out at an awkward angle. The “pillow” would correct that!

  31. elizabeth says:

    My horse is a very fast eater and very hard on nets, I’d love to try a hay pillow. He is part arab and can have ulcers, I’m battling them and the best thing is slow eating.

  32. Heather Tower says:

    I think my horse would benefit from a ground slow feed bag because he has back issues so for him to lower his head and stretch out his back would really help and slow feed would help him as he’s on a dry lot so it would give him longer grazing time on hay. Hoofs crossed for my guy to win one as I really think it would help him!!!

  33. Alyssa says:

    We’d love these for those days when our horses are stalled – They eat their hay so fast this would really help them slow down.

  34. Casie says:

    Thanks for entering, everyone! drew #11–Mindy Schroder. Make sure to like my Facebook page and/or sign up for the e-mail list so you can receive info. on future giveaways. 🙂

  35. Joy says:

    I love my slow feeder net for my young horse. I like to just toss it in his paddock so not only does he have continuous access to hay, but he is entertained by the net. When I put out hay for him to free feed on, her sometimes still chooses to use the net since he can toss it around and play. I would Love to have more sizes and styles!

    • Kathy says:

      Joy, try – they have trailer size, half bale, full bale, West Coast bale (3-wire size), and big bale (round or square). All but trailer size come in 1″, 1-1/4″, and 1-3/4″. The big bale sizes also come in 2-1/2″. Or click on any of the options in bar at top of page and look for the “dealer” option to see if there is a dealer near you. (I’m in Ogden, UT.) Good luck! My horses also go for the net versus loose hay or other slow feeders I’ve tried. LOVE my Hay Chix nets!

  36. This is a great article and epitomises why we developed our award-winning hay feeder – the Harmony Equine Hay Feeder. We designed Harmony – a trickle feeder that ticks all the right boxes in this article. Harmony allows the horse to eat at ground level all day long but “little and often” – with the head in a natural position.
    I work as a Veterinary Physiotherapist and see so many problems with how horses are fed from a height, twisting their head/neck to get at hay mangers or eat from haynets, on top of being routinely treated for gastric ulcers. Horses naturally need forage in their stomachs all day long and the most natural eating position is at ground level. And, we have had feedback from our customers that Harmony has stopped horses box-walking. Feeding as close to what is natural for the horse is the best.

  37. Wendy says:

    I so WISH free feeding worked for my easy keeper, always overweight mare. she’s a healthy vibrant, still ridable 26 years young and yet I’ve always battled with her weight. She loved free feeding…but ballooned up to the point of almost foundering. I see her every day and didn’t think the weight gain was that significant until my farrier warned me. She was on free feed for 3 months and did regulate but it was still too much food. As an easy keeper she really only need 1.5% of her body weight but she was eating about 2%. I’m not sure I really buy into the theory that is proposed about developing a sluggish metabolic rate as she was in pasture most of her life (overweight) and never had restricted access to food but was still obese. I wish I had an answer beside restricting and weighing her food to put in a net (near the ground) :-/ This unfortunately doesn’t work for everyone.

  38. Wendy says:

    As a quick follow up – I worked directly with Dr. Getty to help resolve a constipation problem. Free feeding did cure it – but it almost made her founder from the weight gain too. Still searching for an answer…

    • Casie says:

      Hi Wendy–have you tried a good probiotic? Also what do you feed her as far as concentrates if you don’t mind my asking?

      • Wendy says:

        Thanks for asking…yes I’ve tried several probiotics and yeast. By concentrates if you mean…pellets/food? None. Per Dr. Getty’s advice she get 2 cups soaked and rinsed beet pulp as a carrier for the recommended vitamins in a flax base, probiotics, natural vit E, other joint supps and daily psyllium. Without the psyllium she starts having reduced manure. Free feeding allowed me to almost remove the psyllium altogether. I’ve also tried chia seed – which I’ll be restarting but honestly it didn’t have an effect either. Her vet is stumped because he says usually switching to an all grass diet and probiotic does the trick – not for her 🙁 I am so sad about restricting her food, although honestly her energy level and mood are fine. I weigh and provide her food in hay nets to extend her feeding time, which has helped loosen her manure – I cannot feed more than twice a day as I have to rely on a boarding facility to feed her.

        • Wendy says:

          Any advice you could suggest would be greatly appreciated! I especially am trying to find a better solution to the hay nets and a way to at least slow feed her meals. Presently she is eating from 1.5 inch hole hay nets and I weigh the tested orchard grass that she eats. Dr. Getty suggested the porta grazer – but the holes look large to me. Unfortunately, she is not on my property so I have to rely on others feeding her and therefore I have to make the feeding method convenient for them. :/ The problem with the nets I’m doing now is…when I hang them (not good for teeth, neck etc) she finds a way to break the latch because she’s highly irritated. So I started latching them to the pipe corral in a lower position, which she likes but she also throws them over the side and doesn’t get her dinner – ugh LOL 🙂 Do you think it’s safe to tie one to a string (like baling twine) and throw in her stall on the ground. If they’re not tied she pushes them into the other horses stall who ends up getting them stuck to his shoes. Haha…are you sensing how crazy this can become? My next thought was to build my own slow feeder from a 50 gal drum with a hay net at the bottom. Other than that…I’m out of ideas. All I want to do is help her. Thanks in advance to anyone who has ideas!

          • Casie says:

            I’ve seen some neat homemade slow feeders and there are some good ones on the market too. I have the Hay Pillows which are great, but if there’s a possibility she can push it under the corral, then that wouldn’t work (unless you could somehow secure it).

            Could she be ingesting sand? Is that why Dr. Getty suggested the psyllium? Also what about adding something like flaxseed oil instead of just flaxseed? That might help to keep things looser. Maybe others will share ideas too.

  39. Vicki L Ciepiela says:

    I have two horses that “never miss a meal” if you know what I mean. 🙂 My gelding takes his time and really enjoys his food and when he is full he’s full. But my mare acts like this meal will be her last!! They are both easy keepers and would like to keep food in front of them all the time, but it’s just not practical for me. The hay pillow sounds like a wonderful idea, especially for my mare. Would love to try it! 🙂

  40. Dennis Raley says:

    We have mini donks and I think this would be great for them.It seems so much more natural.We have fed them twice a day,and I never thought much about the boredom factor in between feedings.I bet they would be happier.

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