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However long you’ve looked after horses, there are some things that we’d all love to improve. Small holed hay nets are one of those little bugbears we all live with, but we’d like to be a little more cooperative at times. Whether it’s because our horses are ripping at the nets, potentially causing muscle, teeth and lip damage, or the fact they can be decidedly awkward to fill, we’re sure you’ll agree that what we’ve been using leaves a lot to be desired. A study by a Writtle College student (Lily Crockett) in 2013 found that small holed hay nets don’t even significantly slow down a horse’s eating time, so what could be a better solution?

The HayGrazer Play offers an alternative to those of us who are looking for another solution. Rather than the small holes being comprised of string, the Play’s holes are made with webbing. This clever idea means that horses are left with a mouth full of webbing if they try to aggressively snatch at the Play, encouraging them to use their lips instead to find the holes which, in turn, slows their feeding down. The cylindrical shape of the HayGrazer Play is specifically designed to allow the horse to turn it around to navigate the holes, which is thought to mimic natural grazing patterns. After all, have you ever seen your horse snatching at grass the way they do with a hay net?

Another handy feature of the HayGrazer Play is that the material is designed to keep any dust from the forage within the bag, where it can drop through the mesh at the bottom, instead of flying outward during feeding times.

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Initial studies by students from University Centre Hartpury have shown that feeding hay using a HayGrazer Play can significantly increase the time spent eating compared to feeding hay on the ground or in a small holed haynet, which therefore has the potential to stimulate trickle feeding behaviour. Recent studies are showing reducing hole size may not be the most effective way of slow feeding and maybe causing stress and other unrelated behaviours.

Whittle College student Lily Crockett’s study in 2013 found that small holed hay nets don’t significantly slow down a horse’s eating time, but suggested that increasing movement within the stable could be the solution to slow feeding. The HayGrazer Play is designed to increase movement and if you have a large enough stable you could combine it with the HayGrazer Bag to improve mental stimulation.

Writtle College increased movement by using two hay nets, one either side of the stable and away from the door. It was also thought that using two different types of haynets helps to keep the horse mentally stimulated. From these initial studies the best option for slow feeding while reducing stress and improving muscle development appears to be to hang a HayGrazer Play. If you have a larger stable you could encourage more movement with two HayGrazer Plays hung in different locations.

Recent research by University Centre Hartpury found that while a small holed hay net reduced feeding time, increasing movement by using a HayGrazer Play hay feeder slowed the horse down significantly more. So both studies show increasing movement within the stable could be the way forward to slow the consumption of forage.

University Centre Hartpury’s initial studies also measured the stress and feeding motivations of the horse at meal times. Eating from the floor and the HayGrazer Play had far lower levels of stress than eating from small holed hay nets. Higher stress levels are directly related to unwanted behaviours such as pawing, crib-biting, etc.

Much more research is needed, but these initial findings are very interesting and show we need more development in this area.  From visually watching the horse’s behaviour it is thought that the cylinder shape of the HayGrazer Play and the use of webbing, which encourages the horse to eat in-between the holes, stimulates natural behaviour of searching for the tasty bits of grass when grazing, the horses have to navigate their way around the bag using their lips in a very similar way.

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To learn more about the HayGrazer Play please visit www.haygrazer.co.uk/hg-play.html

The HayGrazer Play is recommended to be hung lower than your typical haynet, meaning the horse reaches lower and flexes left and right in their search for the holes. This, in turn, creates good low flexion movement, helping maintain a more natural top line in the stable. The HayGrazer Play can be used with dry hay, haylage, or to soak hay in and is easy to fill and hang.