Why Slow Feeders Are Good for Horses

How can we feed our domesticated horses the way nature intended? First, we need to recognize that our human schedule (3 meals a day, 8 hours of continuous sleep) is not a horse’s natural schedule.

Horses evolved to graze for 16-20 hours per 24 hour period while traveling long distances in search of foraging areas and shelter. They constantly consume small amounts of forage, and then periodically move and rest. As herd animals, they’re most comfortable grazing together safely with other horses. 

Their digestive system adapted for this lifestyle. Horses are hind gut fermenters, with simple stomachs and a hindgut that contains millions of microbes that can break down (or ferment) fibre.

Mouth and Teeth

Horses only produce saliva when they chew. Saliva is important to lubricate feed and is alkaline, which provides a buffering effect to stomach acid.

Chew time is needed for welfare too. Horses chew more when eating forage compared to pelleted diets.

A foraging horse will chew over 30,000 times in 24 hours.


Horses cannot vomit. There is an increased risk of choke when horses bolt feed (eat fast with little chewing). Providing forage means more chewing and more saliva.


The horse’s relatively small stomach is continuously producing acid. Forage floats and helps protect the upper areas of the stomach from acid splashing up.

Small Intestine

Most of the breakdown and absorption of feed occurs here. Factors like meal size and feed type can influence how quickly food passes through. Pelleted concentrate feeds tend to move more quickly than forage. The fibre in forages helps to slow the rate of passage and provide more time for the proper digestion of nutrients.


This is the main fermentation vat where microbes turn fibre into fatty acids that the horse can use for energy. The beneficial fibre-loving microbes like a steady, consistent forage-based diet. Make feed changes slowly and be aware of how many non-structural carbohydrates (sugars, fructans, starch) the horse is receiving.


The large colon is the main water reservoir and is responsible for fluid absorption. It also contains microbes and absorbs volatile fatty acids the microbes make.

In the small colon, the remaining water is extracted and fecal balls are formed. 

The domestication of horses has drastically transformed their lifestyle. Horses may be kept in stables or smaller turnout areas with limited room to move. They may have limited contact with other horses and be fed large amounts of concentrated feeds at one time. This is a huge change from their natural movement and feeding patterns and increases the risk of health and behavioural issues.

By providing forage and maintaining their environment to fulfill their instinct to chew and to move, we can have happier, healthier horses.

When grazing is not available or sufficient, the most common source of forage is hay. Hay is grass, legumes, or other herbaceous plants that have been cut and dried to be used for food. The quality and quantity of hay needs to be assessed to optimize your horses’ diet.  

Factors like the types of plants, growing conditions, harvest stage, and baling and storage practices will have significant impacts on the nutritional content of the hay. A handy resource for assessing your hay is available here: Equine Guelph’s Hay Scorecard 

Horses need to consume approximately 2–2.5% of their body weight in forage on a dry matter basis. This is the recommended amount for most domestic horses as it helps the digestive tract operate normally. Calculate your horse’s forage requirement with Equine Guelph’s Forage Calculator. A horse will require more hay to maintain their body condition for every degree that drops below their lower critical temperature. This temperature can vary based on the region and factors related to horse, such as their haircoat. A horse in Ontario, Canada with a decent winter coat usually has a lower critical temperature of around –15°C. Outdoors, adult horses being fed at maintenance will need an additional 2% more feed per degree below the lower critical temperature (-15°C). At –40°C, the horse will need 4.5–5 kg (10–12lbs) more than it ate at temperatures above –15°C. You can learn more about management and feeding of horses in cold weather here: Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

Optimized Hay Feeding: The Background

The ideal daily ration of hay will depend on many factors, including the nutritional quality of your hay, the size and activity of your horse, and living conditions including weather or temperature fluctuations. 

Horses are trickle eaters, and giving unlimited, palatable free-choice hay can lead to overeating. Horses can also be very picky eaters and will root through hay to find the tastiest bits. On top of that, they like eating clean hay, so hay that’s on the ground and is soiled is often wasted. In fact, research from the University of Minnesota has shown that up to 50% of hay fed on the ground will be wasted.

Slow feed netting is proven to manage the consumption of hay and some reduction in waste. But filling hay bags every day takes a lot of time. And horses often hold their heads in unnatural positions while they’re eating from a bag. 

The OptiMizer combines the best of slow feed netting with the convenience of a multi-bale feeder. Our research shows that the OptiMizer results in natural forage behaviours. Hay consumption is regulated and horses are content. With an OptiMizer, you can rest assured that you always have hay available for your horses.

How Much Could You Save with an OptiMizer?

If you pay $7 per bale and feed two bales per day, that’s $14 per day.

Per Month

Per Year

Reduce waste by up to 25%

Save up to

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Save up to

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What Our Customers Say

So nice, we bought it twice! The Optimizer slow feeder.  With the money that we saved on our first purchase, we purchased a second feeder a year later, we monitored the wasted hay from ground feeding, hay huts and the Optimizer. Hands down the Optimizer saved us money compared to the other two hay feed methods.

If you are looking for a safe and reliable hay feeding solution, that will save you money, the Optimizer is the one for you.

- Tracy G, Serenity Stables

The health of my horse has improved, which has made me so happy laughing!!!

- Kaitlyn M

My horse is a 17 year old, off-the-track thoroughbred who lives outside all year. She's a hard keeper, but by getting her the right amount of hay, whenever she wanted it, it was the first winter she didn't need an extra blanket.

- Laura T

Absolute game changer for my very messy Clydesdale. Zero waste, quick filling, and best of all slow feeding all night long.

- Taylor S

I've always had slow feed bags. I needed five or six a day to feed three horses. Last winter with the OptiMizer I could slow feed two bales in one place. This saved me a ton of time not hvaing to refill bags everday, plus I noticed it was way cleaner in the spring.

- Amanda M