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Slowfeeders - have a new page here.

Find out what Slowfeeding is, and all about slowfeeder haynets, how to use them and how to make a portable cover for a round bale slowfeeder net.

Putting horses on hay paddocks can cause problems.

With the hay season in full swing in most areas, some of you will be lucky enough to cut your own paddocks. Once the hay is baled and stored, it’s a great opportunity to put your horses on the pasture to clean up left over grass around the edges.
But beware! If you have a horse that is prone to being overweight, or has foundered previously, giving them access to the uncut hay is a recipe for disaster.
Feeding you horse/pony mature grass with seed heads is like letting a diabetic person into a lolly shop and saying ‘eat all you like’!

Freshly cut grass needs to recover a little and start growing again before it’s suitable for grazing. The remaining stems after cutting hay will be high in sugars (stored in the stem base) but once the plant puts some energy into growing it is safer.
Even though there is more grass there will be less sugar per mouthful, but you must watch the horse and limit their access if they are over eating.
It will vary according to the amount of rain you have after cutting as to how soon your regrowth will able to be grazed.

As for the tall grass left around the edges, it’s best to let cattle or horses that can handle a more feed eat that first before letting your laminitic prone horse onto the paddock. It might even be safer to slash it down and let it dry off if you can’t graze it. Or otherwise, fence it off so the ‘fatties’ can’t access the edges.
If you would like more information of how grass affects horses, or laminitis, go to www.safergrass.org where there are a lots of helpful articles (many new) by Kathryn Watts – ‘the grass guru!’.

Hay Feeders = less gorging and waste

While doing a spot of web surfing, I found the site of Swedish hoof trimmer, Ove Lind who has put together an interesting selection of hay feeding options to enable 24/7 hay and to reduce gorging and wastage.
He says “I have found that as long as there is a limited supply of hay the horses tend to eat faster.
We will have to start feeding our horses again tomorrow even though we are in the middle of the grazing season and there is tons of grass out in the pasture. The heat has increased the number of mosquitos so much that our horses hardly leave their shelter during the whole day and when they come out they eat much to fast. So I filled one of their feeders and put it inside their shelter for them to eat while they are hiding in the darkness from the mosquitos

This is just one of many times throughout the year when horses need to have hay provided in a small area. For me, the motivation was to make the job of putting hay out daily for 10 horses much quicker and have less waste when it was wet and muddy.
For the first part of winter I was feeding our 5 times a day – in meal sized portions so the horses ate it all and didn’t tread the hay into the mud or mess in it.
Then it got hard to find areas where there was no manure or mud, so I had to come up with some other options.

The first idea came when I decided I had to reduce the number of times I fed them and this resulted in these hay baskets made from plastic fence trellis.
I could fit two meals in each one, they were safe, allowed the seeds to drop on the ground to regrow grass, and the horses didn’t scatter or waste any hay. Most importantly, the small 50 x 50mm holes slowed down their intake to match a more natural grazing pattern. It took them twice as long to eat their hay and they all adapted well, learning to stand on the basket with one foot so the hay came out easier without lifting up the basket.

But when the mud and manure took over the pasture, I decided to change back to my hay feeder boxes which I’d previously used but had abandoned due to the arguments and lack of sharing it caused.
The two horses lowest in the hierarchy always seemed to miss out so I had to find another solution.
Large barriers worked out to solve the issue perfectly. I drove two steel posts in, slid some large diameter PVC pipe I had over them to protect the horses and discourage them from rubbing on them (they have plenty of trees for that), and then tied a portable fence panel across to make two sides to the feeder.
I’ve since swapped the portable panels for shade cloth so I can use them elsewhere and that works just as well.

Inside the hay feeders, I have heavy duty mesh (the kind they use for making gates) clipped to the base with old rug clips on some baling string, so they can be easily removed for filling the hay, and to stop the horses tossing them out. The holes could be smaller but it works ok at the moment, keeping most of the hay in the feeders rather than being tossed out as they search for the tastiest morsels (which always seem to be at the bottom!).

Before next winter, I’ll add some gravel around the feeders to help with the mud/slipping when it’s really wet and this will also give them a dry standing space.
While researching hay feeders, I came across some interesting examples where feeding systems have been automated – some are very sophisticated and would definitely save time, giving you more opportunity to ride and maintain your horses. Have look at this site for some interesting ideas.
This site also has good thermographs of hooves/legs and Turf King hoofboots.

Paddock Pillows a real success!

‘Paddock Pillows’ are simply made from the plastic garden trellis you can buy from your local hardware/gardeing store.
They are quick and easy to make – just fold a 2m length in half and ‘sew’ the sides together with baling twine or use cable ties. You can also lace the top closed with twine when you have stuffed it full of hay.
They allow the hay seeds to drop on the ground for re-seeding pasture and you can spread them around the paddock or track to keep your horse moving more.

But most importantly, they slow down the hay consumption and stop the horses from treading it into the ground, or soiling it.

Here’s what Victoria in the Bega Valley, NSW says:
“We are making layers of different types of hay to keep our horses happily occupied for hours eating what normally would have been eaten in under an hour.
A great bonus is that when its windy the paddock pillows don't blow away unlike the hay!”

Here is Beau enjoying his paddock pillow.

More happy horses enjoying their 'Hay Pillow' - Tracey's boys in QLD tuck in together.

For many more great ideas on slow feeders and nets visit here: http://paddockparadise.wetpaint.com/page/Small-Mesh+Hay+Nets

Hoofcare Ultd also has some good advice on slowfeeding here.

'Ask Cynthia' – Aggressive Feeding Behaviour

"I’ve had my new mare at home now for just over a week and she is terribly aggressive at feeding times. I have been walking into the paddock with either a lead rope or stick/string and swinging it at her as she approaches so that she doesn’t rush forward at you. In response to this, she rears, bucks, snakes her neck and double barrels at me, which is getting to be quite aggressive and scary.
She then runs in again to try and get the feed and I will send her out again. I have to do this 3-4 times and then she will stand, drop her head and start licking.
She then walks in calmly and I give her a pat and let her eat her tea.
I’ve been told I’m doing the right thing by sending her out and waiting for the dropping of the head, licking etc, but do you have any other ideas?
She has been like this every night for over a week and is actually getting worse. Last night she was particularly aggressive and I thought she was going to try and jump the fence to attack my dogs who were sitting outside it.
I don’t want to get into the situation where I’m starting to get scared of her and I want to nip this in the butt before it gets any worse.

Do you think it has become a game with her, or is she still the Alpha mare and testing me each time I go in? I have been  standing my ground and being quite forceful with her, but it doesn’t seem to have made a difference with her at all.
She was quite thin when we got her, as she came from Melbourne as a bag of bones. I don’t know whether the fact she was possibly quite hungry and is now she being fed and has put on weight has made her so excited over her feed.
She starts pacing the fence line as soon as she knows its tea time and then its ears back and very aggressive the minute I walk in the gate.
Any advice you can give me to try and stop this behaviour
would be greatly appreciated. "

I think you are basically doing the right thing but maybe with too much energy which is why she is reacting with energy!
Perhaps you can try a slightly softer (but no less firmer) approach by keeping the feed out of the paddock - even out of sight if you have to.
In fact the first time you do this, feed at a different time to her regular feed time.
Go in and catch her - teach her to back up using rhythmic pressure until she is nice and responsive to this, then get her to come to you.
Once she does this reliably, lead her towards the feed which you could leave outside the gate.
Keeping hold of the lead, go out the gate and close it so you have a solid barrier between you then pick up the feed bucket.
Back her up and don't invite her forward to the feed until she has her ears up.
It may take a few minutes - don't let her move forward - just keep her backed up away from the gate using rhythmic pressure with a stick tapping on the rope if necessary.
When she puts her ears up, go through the gate and put her feed down. If she comes forward, back her up again - have your stick handy in case she doesn't listen to the rhythm in the rope.
Then, invite her forward to eat and go on the other side of the gate while she is eating, still holding the rope, and rub the stick all over her while she eats.
Ignore her if she gets aggressive, keep rubbing and then stop when she is happy.
I'd say she's become fearful of not getting enough food so being pushy then showing aggression has been how she's learned to respond to that.
If you go a step further and give her lots of small feeds during the day while you are re-training her it will happen faster.
Another thing you can do to alleviate her need to feel hungry is give her free choice hay all day - it will help her not be so focused on feed time too.
It will also help her put on weight without having lots of energy food to burn so you could even reduce her grain.

Let me know how this goes - if you don't have a lot of time to spend a day working on this, then just give her free choice hay and cut out the grain feed until you have an opportunity to reintroduce it when she is responding better to you.

Thanks for your question, Cynthia.

Making the Feed Go Further By Cynthia Cooper ©

With many parts of the world affected by weather exremes, feed for horses is getting more expensive and less readily available, so it makes sense to stretch what you can get as far as possible.

So how do we do that without compromising our horse's health and well being?

It's a question I've been thinking on a lot lately as my horses have challeged me to balance the quantity they need for healthy gut function (and not eating weeds), with keeping them down to healthy weight, most being mature riding horses verging on the fat side!

One of the big discoveries I made is that hay fed loose on the ground can be gobbled up quickly leaving the herd hungry for more even after eating their entire ration which is based on their combined body weight.

It's easy to work out - I have seven horses in one herd - there are four that weigh close to 400kg and 3 that weigh around 500kg so thats a total of 3100kg. As they have no pasture to speak of, I'm feeding them 2.5% of their body weight in food a day - that's 10kg per 400kg horse and 12.5kg per 500kg horse - a combined total of 77.5kg.

As they get a small feed of chaff and minerals which weighs less than a kilo each, I'm left with providing 77kg of hay so I weighed my bales and they average 17kg each resulting in 4.5 bales per day for the herd. Phew - I knew I did maths at school for a reason!

So to combat the guzzling nature of horses that have no pasture, I made hay feeders that have a mesh screen they have to pull the hay through and it stops them tossing it all over the place to get to the seeds.
These are old apple bins and fit a bale on each side.
I had to put a screen on one so that the 'feeder hog' (2nd in command) allowed someone to share with him!

The biggest issue with this is that they just stand around in one place for a large part of the day - at least they have to walk down the hill to get to water. Some days they go out to graze a strip of track I'm eating out so the amount of hay is halved then, and they get to walk a further back to the water.

So I started looking for ideas on how to make some way of containing hay that made them work to get it, and could be easily put up in several places around the 10 acres they occupy.

I found the solution on a wonderful web site (see the end of this story for the link) which I'm in the process of adapting to suit the materials I have on hand. I'll include a photo in the next newsletter of the result.

My breeding herd have also presented a challenge in that some of them can cope with grass and need it, while others couldn't. My old broodmare who is generally a good doer, had developed greasy heel from being allowed too much rich grass in spring because I mistakenly assumed she would need extra to make all that milk for her foal.

I've discovered through trial and error in the process of clearing up the greasy heal, that the tall stemmy grass with seeds (usually cocksfoot and ryegrass) will cause her leg to flare up right away. I could actually see more swelling and weeping of toxins at the end of the day when she was allowed out on the seedy grass. My solution was to set up a track around the paddock to stimulate more movement, and slash the seeded grass on the track, leaving it for a couple of weeks to dry out - it was even rained on so that washed more sugars out. Freshly slashed grass can have more toxins that affect horses as the grass tries to recover, so its a good idea to leave it at least a week or two before allowing horses back on.

Now, as the track gets eaten down, I can let the youngsters in the middle for a few hours a day to eat a bit extra, and the mare can stay out on feed she can tolerate, supplemented with a bit of hay and her regular minerals and chaff. The beauty of this is that the mare can move around with the herd so no-one feels left out or in need of running through a fence. It's also a great way to wean a foal as they are only stopped from drinking and not from being near their mum.

The more I look for information on using tracks, commonly called Paddock Paradise, the more I see it as the ultimate way to keep horses and stretch the grass consumption over a longer period of time too.
During the drought, the track can be the sacrifice area and the majority of the pasture can survive with reduced or minimal grazing.

In spring, the track is the safest place for equines prone to laminitis, tender hooves, and behavioural problems associated with rye grass consumption - or even with weed consumption such as flatweed (false dandelion) that causes stringhalt. In this case you would need to scrape the track back to bare dirt and feed hay.

To counteract the problem of manure and not having the ability to pick it all up (most of our pastures are on steep land so impossible to use a 'poo sucker' as I call them), I'm setting up a track in every paddock so the horses can be rotated around them, allowing some to rest.

Click here to visit this informative and very helpful web site for more great ideas.




Have you ever been annoyed at how much hay your horses waste when you throw it out on the ground for them? After all, it is the most natural way for them to eat but some horses don’t have the best of manners and will poo and wee in it after taking their fill. Or on wet days it gets trampled into the mud and good hay is wasted.

With the cost of hay these days chasing gold, I wanted to minimize waste so I came up with a cost effective solution to providing a constant source of hay for your horse to help himself to throughout the day.

All you need is a poly chaff bag, 2 pieces of bale twine and a few minutes on the sewing machine. Haybag

The eating hole at the bottom (cut the hole just above the bottom seam) should be no larger than 25cm square (for ponies it could be 20cm) and this needs to have the edge turned over and stitched so it doesn’t fray.  Then all you do is loop a piece of twine through the weave on each top corner of the bag to tie it to the fence or a tree.

This size bag holds about 5-6 sections of hay (1/3rd of a bale) so is ideal for smaller horses and ponies for a days supply.

For bigger horses or those who rely on hay totally and for those people who want to refill the bag less often, you can make a bag that holds a whole bale by buying a cheap poly tarp that measures approx. 6’ x 4’. Fold it in half, stitch the top and side closed then make a drawstring on the bottom so the bale goes in easily. You cut the feeding hole a little above the drawstring and bind the edge so it doesn’t fray. You can then attach twine to the eyelets at the top to tie it off to a fence or a tree.

Its best to tie the bags so they stand upright and that way the hay falls down to the bottom as the horse eats it. The hay is kept dry and unless your horse pulls out hay and drops it, there is very little waste and as a bonus the hay is easy and clean to transport.

The only downside is if the horse gets to a patch of not so tasty hay, they will leave it and forgo the rest as they can’t nose around to find the better stuff when the bad hay blocks the hole, so make sure you only use good quality, dry hay with no mold or weeds.

If you don’t have time to mess around with making a big hay bag, most saddlers or rug makers would be happy to oblige for $35-$40 depending on the material used.

Feeding Frenzy
With winter approaching and the drought conditions we’ve recently experienced in some areas, hand feeding our horses becomes necessary.
Here’s a few tips and tricks that can make it safe for you and fun for your horse during this daily interaction.
In fact playing games at feeding time is vital to maintaining or gaining ‘alpha’ status with your horses/s.
Firstly, remember that the alpha horse always gets to the food first and guards it with purpose – all the time!

So, if you are to be the alpha horse, don’t allow your horse to come into your personal space (about the length of a training stick or swinging string) while you are carrying the feed into the paddock or placing it in the feed bin.
It doesn’t take them long to get greedy and dive for the feed bucket as you try to get through the gate.
Even if you feed over the fence (the easy or safe way out with a very dominant horse or a whole herd) use your stick to keep them back until the food is in position.

When feeding more than one horse, try to place the feed in the same place and feed bin so the horses know who goes where in the pecking order – this is particularly important when there’s more than a couple in the herd.
Keeping the order teaches the horses to wait near their bin rather than feeling like they have to fight for their food every time.
Its amazing how soon they catch onto where they need to be which reduces the anxiety around feed time.

If you have a large group of 5 or more horses, you may even need to put out an extra bucket as the alpha horse will probably finish first and the extra means the others don’t miss out.
Same with the hay, make sure there are a few more piles than horses and that they are well spread out – some horses learn they can ‘guard’ 2 or 3 piles within ‘charging’ distance.

Sometimes people ask me if its OK to do things with their horse while they’re eating? My answer is ‘yes’ but you may need to start by just being friendly first until your horse sees you as no threat to their dinner.
If they do, use a stick to keep a safe distance and don’t back off if they threaten you – remember you are the alpha horse!
I use feeding time to clean and check hooves and even trim them or to treat wounds, groom or just be friendly.

I think its an important part of the relationship – that they can trust you to be close while they are feeding – watch close friends feeding in the paddock, they often eat side by side or out of the same bucket.

Here’s how I feed my herds;
At times, I’ve had to feed from round bales of hay and discovered that it doesn’t take them long to demolish it - five horses consumed a big bale in six days when given free access – they also drank a lot more to go with it!
When I checked out the round bale feeders commercially available, I decided they are not ideal for horses – being designed for cattle to eat through or in between the bars doesn’t mean they are safe for horses who panic a whole lot quicker – I could just see them getting their heads stuck and panicking – sure to result in some nasty injury.

So I improvised and have found a simple and cost saving way to keep the hay in one place that seems to be reasonably safe. By wrapping a 6 metre piece of 900mm tall sheep yard mesh around the bale and tying it securely to 2 capped steel posts, I’ve made an easily moved feeder which the horses can’t put their feet or heads through but can reach over (providing they are at least 14hh) to get the last bit of hay.
They can still
toss some out as they root around for the seeds as mine do, but its not too much work to pick up around the area each day and set it aside for the lowest in the pecking order.

Aside from making hay available constantly when there’s little grass, I also feed a small amount of grain once daily to those on maintenance rations which includes their added minerals. They also have free access to a Himalayan salt lick.
The horses that need extra feed to maintain weight get the same minerals etc but more lucerne and Speedibeet plus Coolfuel Copra and linseed.
For more information on Nutrition click here.

Here is another article on Feeding Your Horse Naturally written by Lisa Ross-Williams and published in Equine Wellness Magazine.

FABULOUS ONLINE VIDEOS ALL HORSE OWNERS NEED TO SEE – learn more about the dangers of over-feeding your horse and how to tell if they are overweight. Click this link to Fran Jurga’s Hoofblog to read more about how we inadvertently overfeed our horses and cases of laminitis are rising as a consequence – the videos are each about 7-9 minutes long and well worth taking the time to view.

You are training when feeding

You may not have ever thought of it this way, but every time you feed your horses, you are either training them or reinforcing that training.
It's also a great way to train new behaviours and leaves your horse respectful around feed and keen to offer you something to get their feed.
Or, you can solve bad behavoiour problems around feeding simply by being aware of when and how you deliver the feed.

Animal trainers using positive reinforcement generally use food as the reward - think dolphins, whales, seals, birds of prey and other 'wild' unharnessed animals that are trained to perform for the public. They are all rewarded with food for their performances which have been carefully built in a progressive and positive way.

The same type of training used with horses and dogs is referred to as 'Clicker Training' - small food treats follow an auditory signal (the click or similar) every time the animal does what is asked. Then when it performs really well it is often given a much bigger or more yummy food treat called a 'jackpot'.
The bucket feed we give our horses each day is like a big jackpot but unless we ask for a particular behaviour, the reward is for whatever they do just prior to getting the food.

If that is pulling a nasty face, pushing into our space, or turning around and kicking out then we are basically rewarding bad behaviour by putting the feed out as quickly as we can.
If something is not done to nip it in the bud, then the behaviour will get worse.
If your horse is polite around feed, but you'd like to teach them a new behaviour like backing away, or lowering their head, or lifting a leg - then asking for this before giving the feed will enhance their learning.

You just need to be aware of being clear in the way you're asking, being patient enough to wait for the behaviour you want and delivering the food at the right time.
If you're feeding horses in a group, its best to practice with each horse in an individual area first, or pecking order scuffles might be a problem and those waiting will get frustrated and perhaps miss out when the first horse finishes.

Photo: I teach all my youngsters to turn their head away to wait for a treat or their feed to be delivered. Fiera on the left is doing this nicely and waiting, while little Aria is being rewarded for a step in the right direction.

When dealing with bad behaviour its probably safer to stay on the other side of the fence at first and wait for a 'pretty face' or standing quietly away from you before you give them the bucket.

If you want to develop the good behaviour faster while in this individual space, then deliver the food one handful at a time into another feed tub, then wait for the good behaviour to occur again.
If you haven't got the patience to wait for the horse to offer the behaviour (free shaping), then you can do something to instigate it such as waving a flag on a stick to indicate mving away, or put your ears up etc. This will mean you need to carry the flag with you whenever you feed, but that's a good idea if you're dealing with an agressive horse anyway.

When the behaviour becomes established you can change the cue (flag) to something more subtle such as your fingers clicking. by adding the new cue in just prior to the old one.

For well behaved horses learning something new the process is the same, although you will probably need to have some sort of cue to tell them what you want.
For backing you might wave your finger flap your arm up and down. Once the horse understands, you can add in a voice cue as well and gradually drop the visual cue.

If your horse gets 'grabby' and rushes in to take the food when it is delivered, just remove the food and wait for patient behaviour again. The same goes for feeding by hand - if your horse is too enthusiastic in the way they take the food, close and even remove your hand, and offer it again when the horse shows gentle behaviour.

Feeding your horse can be a fun and rewarding experience for both of you if you take the time to establish some boundaries and be patient enough to stick with them consistently.

 All articles are authored by Cynthia Cooper (unless otherwise stated) and may be reprinted with permission, aknowledgement and a link to my web site please.



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Cynthia Cooper - 
Natural Horse World Pty Ltd.

80 Dam Rd, Saltwater River. 
Tasmania, 7186, Australia.

Ph. 0419 372279

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