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Weigh Hay Rations? No Way! What You Need To Know...

The vicious cycle of meal fed, hungry hoovers can be remedied. We feed meals due to convenience or concerns about a horse's weight - and rightfully so. Obesity promotes inflammation and a host of other health challenges. However, meals restrict access to forage, which presents its own adverse effects - both mentally and physically. In this post, we'll discuss alternative approaches to feeding that can lead to happier, healthier horses and less stress at feeding time.
Weighing hay rations for horses

Causes of Stress

Stress can be associated with a wide range of causes including, but not limited to:
  • Lack of forage
  • Confinement
  • Lack of  movement
  • Lack of direct physical interaction with other herd members/isolation
  • Pain
  • Lack of nutrients, vitamins and minerals necessary for proper thyroid, hormone and neurological function
  • Rigorous training
  • Travel

Why Meals Cause Stress

Each time your equine consumes a long-awaited meal, the psychological cycle repeats itself. I must eat all of my hay as quickly as possible to "self-medicate." Their stomach does not feel well due to the build-up of acid or ulcers - and they know as soon as they start chewing and eating it will start feeling better. Chewing activates saliva production (an alkaline substance), which buffers gastric acid. Learn more in our Preventing Equine Gastric Ulcers - How Forage Buffers Acid post. 

Providing a slow feeder for meals certainly helps, but will not relieve the stress of being without forage for periods of time - which perpetuates the viscous cycle. Either your horse has forage available 24/7 or they don’t. This can be a difficult concept for some! It's equivalent to being sort of pregnant - either you are or you aren't.
Multiple Standard Hay Pillow slow feeders encourages movement

Lack of Forage = Stress = Cortisol Production = Fat Storage

Horses are stoic by nature. Because they are prey animals, they may not show outward signs of stress.

Lack of forage is stressful for your horse - and stress produces the hormone cortisol - and cortisol production results in fat storage by ignoring insulin’s attempts to uptake glucose into the tissues. This can be the cause for easy keepers and air ferns. If appropriate forage is available at all times, they can typically eat more and maintain or lose weight.

Chronic stress and release of cortisol may also be responsible for conditions including:
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Decreased growth and reproductive capability
  • Inhibition of the immune system
  • Increased risks of gastric ulceration, colic, and diarrhea

Action Plan to Reduce Stress

Helpful How To Resources for Slow Feeding


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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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