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Bay horse eating from ground slow feed hay bag in large paddock.

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Why Most Horses Prefer To Eat Outside If Given The Choice

Is a horse mentally comfortable in a cozy stall with shavings or a shelter with sides? Probably not.

Horses are prey animals; their main form of defense is flight which requires sight and sound to detect predators in conjunction with other herd members standing guard and alerting each other. A horse may experience psychological tension if by themselves and/or sight and sound are impaired.

Read on to learn more about why a horse's mental comfort often times takes priority over perceived physical comfort!
Horses eating outside in snow flurries from slow feeders
When eating from ground level in an unobstructed area with herd members, they feel more secure and safe. Horses typically prefer to eat outside in the open if given the choice - despite most weather conditions. Mother nature provides them with a very effective thermoregulation system.

​Horses are stoic by nature and don’t always exhibit outward signs of stress because that would make them more vulnerable to prey appearing as a weak individual in the herd. Providing multiple locations to eat from encourages movement and allows them to choose where they are most mentally comfortable. An enclosed confining area (stall or shed with sides) would be most human’s choice for physical and mental comfort in the elements, but we are not prey!

My very vocal mare taught me this concept and it all made sense. She had a stall that included a 2 acre turnout. When it rained I provided multiple hanging bags in her stall, no hay outside. Even though she had slow fed free choice hay she would nicker to me when I refilled the bags that were getting low. It finally occurred to me she might want to eat outside. I hung additional Hanging Hay Pillows in her turnout and she immediately walked outside and started eating in the rain. Her mental comfort took priority over any physical comfort she experienced in the stall. She will choose to eat in the stall only if the elements are extreme. Interesting feedback from customers duplicates my experience - if they provide hay outside and in a stall or shelter with an adjacent turnout, the horses will often choose to go outside in the elements to eat.

Providing your herd with appropriate shelter from the elements with free choice forage available in multiple locations (see our slow feed solutions for any environment) gives them the opportunity to be as mentally comfortable as possible and encourages a more natural lifestyle.

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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