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How I Chose the Best Slow Feeder for My Horse

My quest to offer slow fed free choice forage began in 2008 because I had an insulin-resistant mare, Lily, that I was determined to keep happy and healthy. While researching and learning the importance of slow feeding and eating from ground level, I could not find a slow feeder to purchase that was 1) safe, and 2) slowed down my horse’s consumption rate enough. In addition, ease of “loading” and the weight of the feeder became key challenges. And so began my four year experimental journey of creating a slow feeder that met my needs.

During that time I bought, designed, built and prototyped a variety of slow feeders and slow feed hay bags for my and Lily's use. Following are the pros and cons I discovered while experimenting with my own version of each slow feeder type: hard-sided, webbing mesh, and netting.
Horse slow feeder options presented side by side: hard-sided with different grate types, webbing, and netting.

Why I'm Sharing My Experience

If you've read any of my blog posts, you know I am a proponent of slow fed free choice forage and providing a natural lifestyle for our horses - and that I ultimately designed my own slow feeder - the Hay Pillow®.

I know what it's like to want the best for your equine partner, to embark on an exploratory journey, and to be overwhelmed in the process. For those of you who are new to slow feeding free choice forage - or are still experimenting with finding the best slow feeders to accommodate a 24/7 feeding protocol - I offer my findings and lessons learned in hopes the information may help you in your journey.

My Evaluation Criteria

My criteria included:
  • How effective the feeders were.
  • Ease of loading/transport - I wanted the ability to offer numerous feeding stations to encourage movement that were quick to load and not burdensome to distribute.
  • Potential harm to the horse. Harm can occur from pilot error regardless of the slow feeder device. For example: 1) An opening size that is too small causing frustration, which is counter-productive to lowering stress;  2) Over loading/packing hay too tight making it difficult to access; and 3) Anxious meal fed individuals with little to no patience who can damage a feeder and/or injure themselves. 

Full Disclosure - While we ultimately determined netting was the most effective for slow feeding, both hard-sided and webbing mesh devices are successful for many.  We are not discouraging their use as long as they are effective, encourage movement and cause no harm!

Hard Sided Slow Feeders

Pictured are feeders I made in 2009 with hard rubber tubs.  Here's what I learned based on these designs:
  • Effectiveness - My experience was that both of these either fed too fast or the horses could not eat at all with smaller openings because the ends of the hay were flattened. There was no in between in regards to rate of consumption.
  • Ease of loading and transporting - Loading with hay was fairly quick, although I needed to use a wheel barrow to cart them around due to the weight and size. Ability to offer numerous locations was expensive and time consuming. 
  • Potential harm - The feeder on the left with holes has the ability to wear enamel off teeth and metal grates on the right can cause grooves in teeth. 

Webbing Mesh

Pictured is webbing commonly used in slow feed hay bags. 
  • Effectiveness - My experience was that it fed too fast or the horses could not eat at all with smaller openings because the ends of the hay were flattened. There was no in between in regards to rate of consumption. The majority of these bags have the opening at the top, which may allow access to large mouthfuls of hay! This may also require the bag to be hung higher, which requires the horse to eat in a very awkward posture
  • Ease of loading and transporting - Loading the hay was easy.  Ability to offer numerous locations can be challenging if you don't have appropriate fence or trees to hang them from. 
  • Potential harm - This material has the ability to wear enamel off teeth if the horse is required to scrape his teeth across the webbing to extract hay. If the mesh size is large enough to pull hay out with the lips, it may feed too fast for some but this does preserve the enamel.


Pictured is netting - our preferred mesh type. 
  • Effectiveness - Enables the horse to use his lips and teeth -  experiencing the most natural way to gather and consume forage. Netting allows a smaller opening while enabling the individual to extract hay without frustration. If loaded properly (not too full), your horse can manipulate the hay with his lips allowing the ends to protrude. Foolproof closure in the form of drawstring or zipper, no cheating!  Standard Hay Pillows, Mini Hay Pillows and slow feed hay nets are appropriate for use on the ground for barefoot individuals. Hanging nets/bags can be hung as low as possible to allow a more natural grazing position for barefoot individuals
    Tip: to avoid the possibility of entanglement if the eye hook, fence or bar is higher than you would like to hang the bag from, attach a rope to it, slide a piece of PVC pipe over the rope and attach a swivel clip at the bottom to hang the bag from.
  • Ease of loading and transporting - Quick to load and transport. Ability to offer numerous locations - the Standard and Mini Hay Pillows require no mounting. Simply toss on the ground anywhere! 
  • Potential harm - Has the ability to wear enamel off teeth only if the bag or net is filled too tight. Loose fill allows for extraction with lips. Not recommended for use on the ground with shod livestock due to the dangers involved in using any mesh material that can potentially get caught in a horseshoe. See our Slow Feed Solutions By Enclosure Type & Weather Condition page to explore a variety of options for shod and barefoot horses.

Why Netting Was Most Effective

We ultimately determined netting was the most effective for slow feeding because:
  • It conforms to the hay enabling ends to protrude - allowing a smaller opening without frustration or requiring the individual to scrape his teeth across an abrasive surface to extract hay.
  • Easy to load.
  • Lightweight.
  • Requires little to no preparation to provide multiple feeding stations.
  • ​Foolproof closures, no cheating!

There You Have It - 4 Years of Prototyping and 10+ Years of Slow Feeding!

Do I have any regrets? Yes, I do regret not taking pictures of the progression of the Hay Pillow after giving up on my hard sided feeders and webbing bags. It was quite a journey! There were so many variations in fabric, closures, size, design and mesh/netting types.

The icing on the cake? I'm no longer a prisoner of feeding because I devised a methodical healthy way to offer slow fed free choice forage and have a career I'm super passionate about.  Here's to happier, healthier horses!

Horse and pony eating hay from Standard Hay Pillow ground slow feed hay bag
Standard & Mini Hay Pillows
3 horses eating hay from a slow feed bale net.

​More Helpful Slow Feed Resources

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Monique Warren, Hay Pillow Founder with the Hay Pillow Slow Feeder product line - standard ground hay pillow, mini hay pillow, hanging hay pillow & horse trailer manger hay pillow

About the Author

Monique Warren invented the Hay Pillow® slow feeder and is the owner of Hay Pillow Inc. ​Warren has been an equine guardian for over forty years and slow-feed advocate for over 10 years. She contributes equine nutrition, digestive and hoof health articles to publications such as Equine Wellness, The Journal, The Naturally Healthy Horse, Natural Horse Magazine, Nicker News, The Horse's Hoof and Miniature Horse World Magazine. Equine nutrition and horses feet are her passions. She resides in Southern California.

Monique's Story

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