A Healthy Life For Your Horses

How HayDowns work for your horses, and you:

Your horses eat through holes* in the top. The top sits on the hay and slides down, gravity assisted, as the hay is eaten. The top is kept in place by smooth round polyethylene vertical guides, which also prevent a wide gap opening between top and sides. HayDowns are flexible with no overlapping top, so if a horse did manage to get a foot in the gap, they can pull it out again. I have not heard any reports of horses doing this.

Outside, use more than one slow feeder to encourage movement during grazing, which aids better digestion literally helping forage move through the system. For a herd, having more than one slow feeder will also enable calm.

If you intend to continue feeding meals, with no intension of achieving adlib feeding, then perhaps consider one of our smaller feeders.

*All HayDown feeder tops have 3" (75mm) feeding holes. Tops with different size holes are available if these aren't working for you, first one FOC. Although these holes are large compared to most nets, because the hay is pressed down by the flat top, they just seem to work differently. We tried smaller holes, they made little further difference to grazing speed until a point was reached where the horses couldn't get the hay out, were gnawing the plastic, or gave up trying. Larger 3.5" (90mm) holes are in use by some horses with large muzzles or where short shopped hay wasn't drawing out of the 3" holes. Some horses are not slowed at all by 3.5" holes, this is fine if already feeding adlib. It's all relative to appetite, muzzle size, hay/haylage texture etc.

More advise on using your HayDown further down the page: Getting started, coming in hungry, cold winter days, long term.

Head down grazing :)

Have all the advantages in a stall, stable, or bare paddock, as well as out in the field.

Relaxed skeletal muscles, no repetitive strain problems, or abnormal neck muscle growth due to eating from a raised suspended net or from a side access feeder even if it is low down. Correct lower jaw alignment for better chewing and natural teeth wear. Correct and more saliva flow down to the front of the mouth, improves chewing, eases swallowing, is an important beginning of digestion, and helps neutralise acid in the upper part of the stomach, saliva contains sodium bicarbonate. Correct nasal drainage reducing respiratory problems. No hay dust falling over their face.

Head down is a calming posture for horsesHead up is an alert position, slightly increasing release of stress neurotransmitters and hormones including cortisol. In the natural stress response, one of their functions is to supress salivation, digestion, and urination. Head down returns these to normal and releases serotonin which has a stabilising effect on mood and regulates digestion.

A calm horse chews for longer, and as chewing induces calm, this extends mealtimes.

This is a start towards slow feeding, relaxed horses eat more slowly.

Further reading:
"Floor level feeding” Equus Magazine July 25 2019
Haynets? The Great Debate!” Inbalance Equine Therapy

Slow feeding :)

What's it all about? What's the big idea?

Basically trying to get domesticated horses back to adlib feeding or at least to extend their mealtimes.
How does it work? We could say there are four parts to the method:
First is head down grazing as described above. Particularly with the muzzle down in a natural grazing position, no pulling from the side.
Second is regulating, but not severely restricting, their feeding rate. While severe restriction will slow horses feeding, they may feel frustrated and anxious, and given an opportunity will always eat too much.
Third is the idea of horses always having access to forage, so that over time, in simple terms, they will loose the urge to scoff it all immediately, and may return to adlib* feeding. This is why HayDowns have large capacities.
Fourth: The nutritional content of the forage. You may need to provide forage with a lower nutritional value, and supplements when extra energy is required. Monitor your horses condition and seek professional medical advice.

*This can take several weeks for some horses, and they may gain some weight temporarily in the process. Some horses/owners may never? adjust to adlib. Be observant of your horses condition when increasing the amount available. Seek professional advice before proceeding.

Further reading:
"Slow feeders" Getty Equine Nutrition
"The correct way to use slow feeders" Getty Equine Nutrition
Restricting Forage is Incredibly Stressful” Getty Equine Nutrition

Cob enjoying an early proto Standard Stable feeder

Crissie, Sheffield. HayDown Shetland+ Stable feeder

I have two Shetland ponies who would waste so much hay from their nets. The HayDown has reduced this by at least 75%. The hay is contained very efficiently so very little gets dropped on the floor. The boys would inhale their evening hay within 45 minutes in a haynet but with the lid on the HayDown their evening meal now lasts up to two hours!! Great product, highly recommended!!

Help with chronic Stress

In our manmade world many things can cause stress for horses

Separation from other horses, poor environmental conditions, limited turn out to pasture, a poor diet, frequent sudden changes in diet, routine or exercise, boredom, not having access to water, poor handling or training, the busy life of eventing horses. Add all these up and you could be looking at a prolonged (chronic) state of stress.

This c
an lead to: ulcers, colic, laminitis, weight gain/loss, weakened immune system, high blood pressure, behavioural symptoms, depression, anxiety, EMS may be triggered for those with a genetic predisposition, worsening of PPID symptoms, the list goes on.

Head down slow feeding has proven to be an important part of horse healthcare plans.  Domesticated horses have waited a long time for this.

Make it an important part of your plans by choosing HayDown slow feeders.

Further reading:
"Is your horse stressed?" Anna Haines, Horse and Rider, n.d.
"9 Factors that could be causing your horse stress" Jennie Eilerts. Pro Earth Animal Health
"Chronic stress is behind many illnesses" Niina Venho. Moodmetric 18/03/2018.
"Another Neurochemical to Know: Serotonin" HorseHead.info
"Understanding why your horse may be nervous or spooky" Gurpreet Singh in The Horse Herbalist. April 23 2022
"Essential Guide To Serotonin And The Other Happy Hormones In Your Body" Atlas Biomed. 27 May 2022

 Sam, Sheffield. HayDown Standard Stable feeder.

Once my horse got used to his Pony+ Stable feeder and relaxed it has significantly slowed down his eating hay. I can feed him earlier and not worry so much that he’s stood for several hours overnight with nothing to eat.
I used to feed loose hay from the floor, as he’d pull hard at nets causing a tight neck and poll. The physio says his poll and neck are fine now.
There’s a dramatic reduction of dust in his stable too, as it collects in the feeder and can be easily cleaned out. It is very easy to use and clean.

Help reducing boredom coping habits:

Access to forage over longer periods of time can help reduce wood chewing, kicking, weaving, box walking and cribbing.
Don't forget regular turnout, companions, and maybe some stall toys too.

Further reading:
"Myths and Truths of Equine Cribbing" Dressage Today January 28, 2019
"New Thinking About Cribbing" EQUUS July 20 2021
"Cribbing: Understanding the Science" HorseHead.info

Better weight regulation

For overweight horses, mealtime calorie/insulin spikes, with resultant fat storage and the eternal hungry feeling, will be smoothed out.
For underweight horses their gut health will improve enabling better nutrient uptake.  Remember to consider the nutrition and calorie content of the forage and the amount of exercise they are getting.

There is a hormone that signals to the hypothalamus when you have eaten enough. It's Leptin, a hormone released from body fat. Increased cortisol causes increased insulin leading to insulin resistance and the body holds onto fat. When fat increases leptin hormone is released from the fat to signal the satiety centre in the hypothalamus (yes the pea size control centre again) you have eaten enough. Fat also releases inflammatory molecules known as cytokines, too much of these disrupts insulin action and leptin’s signal to the hypothalamus, leptin resistance. So a horse still feels hungry and continues eating, storing more fat, and round the cycle goes.

A quote from Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D. "The Overweight Horse Who Won't Stop Eating - Leptin Resistance is the Key!"

"By reducing inflammation, the brain will likely become more responsive to leptin, allowing the horse to stop eating when he is full. Stress needs to be eliminated through unlimited grazing on an appropriate forage. Slow-feeders can be useful in reducing intake.[vii] Combine all this with increased movement, and you have a formula for success."

Further reading:

"Obesity. The Real Causes" Getty Equine Nutrition
"Forage Deprivation Keeps Your Horse Fat" Juliet Getty in Holistic Horse
 "The Overweight Horse Who Won't Stop Eating - Leptin Resistance is the Key!" Getty Equine Nutrition
"My Horse is Gaining Weight on Free Choice Forage! Why Isn’t It Working?" Katie Navarra. Stable Management. March 5, 2017

Homeostasis: Get those hormones (and neurotransmitters) in balance: 

Waiting a long time for the next meal causes stress in horses, with an associated increase in stress neurotransmitters and hormones adrenalin, norepinephrine, and cortisol. Being able to graze for longer periods and forget the stressors of the day will help high levels of these stress hormones and neurotransmitters  return to normal levels, and enable the release of more calming chemicals.

When enjoying a pleasurable activity, e.g. grazing, the neurotransmitter group endorphins, the body's own pain relief and relaxant opiates, are released. And the mood stabilizing neurotransmitter for wellbeing and happiness is serotonin, that also helps regulate digestion, sleep, bone health etc. Serotonin is 90% produced in the gut, 'nuff said really. Be sure to provide access to a healthy balanced diet, and ideal conditions for good digestion. Like most things in excess, too much Serotonin can cause health problems. Companionship boosts Oxytocin, another feel good hormone. Give your horse a friend and a hug.

Total homeostasis is for monks! The hypothalamus, and it's teams of hormones and neurotransmitters, also respond to being excited, interested, amused, to enjoyment of activity or food, companionship, feeling cared for, etc.

About the other one: Dopamine the "feel good" neurotransmitter.

When a horse's mealtime is finally approaching (or you're nearly at the shop to buy a chocolate bar, or are nearly ready to jump from a high board into a pool) the increasing anticipation causes the SNS to increase dopamine release, among other stress response chemicals, as a reward neurotransmitter, spiking (phasic level) when the meal is finally received (you finally get/do what you wanted). A horse feels great/relieved and tucks in with gusto!

The increased level of dopamine stays in your body for a while after a spike, the more dopamine spikes you receive the higher your baseline (tonic level) of dopamine, considered as "normal", increases. Thus you need increasingly higher spikes to receive that "feel good feeling". This is how people/animals can become addicts and why "adrenalin junkies" seek more and more crazy things to do, they are actually "dopamine junkies". Cribbing, considered a coping mechanism these days, releases dopamine, among other effects.

Further reading of recent articles on cribbing at the bottom of  "Boredom coping habits" below.

Dopamine, in moderation, has many important functions, including motor control, alertness, memory, motivation, It plays an important part in the immediate stress response, reward, feeling good, oh and addiction in excess. Horses remember they like grazing (memory), they want to graze (anticipation), their meal finally arrives (reward). Can you see a cycle here? Dopamine "feel good" is ok in moderation.

Lengthening mealtimes, or achieving adlib feeding, with a slow feeder reduces the amount of stress a horse experiences in a day and reduces the frequency and size of dopamine spikes. A horse learns that hay will be available for longer, is less excited at mealtimes, so doesn't tuck in so fast, they eat more slowly. This may not work for all horses in all situations.

Delivering meals frequently and punctually helps significantly with mealtime anxiety.

You can learn more about what excesses of these hormones and neurotransmitters do, good and bad, on the page The natural horse.

Why do I know so much about dopamine and its friends? Because I recently found out I have "predominantly inattentive ADHD" so have hyper focused on reading about it. In simple terms people with ADHD have naturally slightly low levels of dopamine and norepinephrine. A high proportion of "adrenalin junkies" (brain seeking dopamine), addicts, people in prison, and highly successful entrepreneurs (like Richard Branson) have ADHD. The inattentive "quiet slow learners"  tend not to be noticed so much. Knowing this explains why all my school reports said things like "Derek can produce good work, if only he could finish it", "Derek would do better if he spent less time gazing out of the window". I was always thinking about something ok! Just maybe not what the teacher wanted. LOL.

Getting started

Some horse may take to their HayDowns straight away and others may take longer. Either way we recommend a gradual change over about one – two weeks. Start by putting some hay (haylage, soaked hay*, forage) in the HayDown and the remainder as normal. Put some under the top, pull some though the holes and maybe put a little loose on top.

If you want to be scientific make notes before and after on their feeding rates, behaviour, and condition, how much hay you are using, and how much time you and your staff are spending related to feeding and cleaning up after.

*Notes on soaked hay: If you are soaking hay for a long time, check it can be pulled continuously through 3” holes in a flat sheet. You may need bigger holes, or it may just not work. In one trial hay that was soaked for 12 hours was too brittle to pull though the holes and became too compacted.

Cold winter days

For really cold days if your horses can’t eat quickly enough, you could either buy a top with larger holes, put some extra loose on top, or drop the top right down and put all the hay in loose. No metal surfaces and tough to -40'C.

Coming in hungry

In this situation it can be worth putting a small amount of hay loose on top to avoid frustration.

Long term

Once your horses have got used to eating from their HayDowns, you can aim to provide hay for longer periods such as when kept in overnight, on box rest, or for continuous provision in a grassless paddock. You may observe changes in your horses’ behaviour and health over time. Calming down, loosing hay net pulling habits and the physical problems they cause, less boredom coping habits, regulating weight better, and generally improving health. 

Horse safety:

FeetI recommend feet must be at least 1” (2.5cm) larger than the feeding holes 3” (7.5cm). The guides for the top keep the gap around the edge narrow. If a foot does get in the gap, or somehow between a guide and the side, then as the whole feeder is flexible, they will be able to pull their foot out again. Tested with my foot and clenched fist, I could only get my foot into the gap if I pulled the top up at the same time, it easily pulled out again.

Eyes. HayDowns are quite wide and not very deep, so the eyes don’t go far in. Inside is all smooth, outside there are edges but they are not sharp, top edges and corners are rounded off. The joining ties* are tucked away in the corners with the heads on the outside tucked away from knocks.

Teeth. The plastic is soft so will not harm teeth.

*HayDowns have been designed for assembly using large nylon cable ties. I consider these to be far safer than any metal fastenings in this situation. They provide flexible joints which add to the general safety, toughness and durability.

Your hooved friends will thank you for choosing HayDown slow feeders.

Some of my early attempts at design:

Early prototypes, after a wooden box quick concept trial, were made from 3mm stainless steel weldmesh and 3mm HDPE plastic. I was never entirely happy with either material for safety, cost, or workability. Plastic coated/painted/galvanised metal mesh can wear teeth horribly, stainless is smooth so may not wear teeth??. The cut edges pieces of the mesh needed wrapping and the thin HDPE had a hard edge, so many attempts were made to cover it. A shod horse did get a foot stuck when a mesh got jammed and the horse put it's foot in to push it down, the wire bent and got caught on back edge of a shoe. I went up to 4mm wire, much stiffer, but was still not happy so began to look for better materials.

So many design criteria overlap. How to fasten to the walls, how to keep the feeding top in place, horse safety again, always. We even tried soft materials. This red Cordura nylon double skin bag with holey sheet plastic grid was quite nice, and a first attempt to get away from using previous materials. But needed a lot of sewing, wouldn't last long and was fiddley to open and close.