From Endurance to Dressage
Hay nets are ubiquitous. We use them in our trailers, show stalls, and regular stall. Anywhere there's a horse, a hay net of some type is bound to be nearby. I used Freedom Feeder hay nets for quite a while, for both horses. When I moved to the ranch, I tossed the nets I had left - they were pretty worn out anyway, and went with the feeding containers at the ranch.
I am thinking of going back to a Freedom Feeder for Izzy, if it's okay with the ranch owner since she's the one who feeds. Izzy eats primarily grass hay which would be easy to load. My hope would be that less would get shoved out of his feeder onto the ground. He scatters the grass hay as he looks for the tiny bit of alfalfa that he gets. He's also bit of a pig so he poops practically in his feeder which means the whole area gets a bit nasty.
I've had a hay net tied to the little trailer where I tack up, and both boys really enjoy grazing from it while they wait. I load the hay net with a flake of alfalfa for Izzy and grass hay for Speedy. Both horses have learned how to push the net around until the "flavor" they like is in front of them. This net is a little big though so it stretches nearly to the ground. The hay also gets wedge in so tightly that it makes eating a slower process than is ideal.
In an effort to make eating a bit easier, I untied the hay net and tossed it on the ground. Both horses took to it immediately. Speedy seems to appreciate munching while spending time with me - sometimes that much adoration can get annoying, but whatever. I've also found that Izzy is WAY more relaxed eating this way than when the net is hanging. I am sure it has something to do with the whole head down equals relaxation thing. And no worries about entanglement; I'm puttering close by so neither horse is actually unattended. I also hang the net back up when I am done.
And of course, nothing gets done without first getting Speedy's approval. Given his recent attitude - more on that in another post, he may be getting a Freedom Feeder, too. They keep us thinking all the time, don't they?
I just replaced my Freedom Feeder. Again. This is the fourth one I've bought in the last two and a half years, and it might even be the fifth one. I am not disappointed with the product; it works just fine. I just have a very "energetic" hay burner.
Speedy is still using a refurbished Freedom Feeder net. I took one that had a Really Big Hole and stitched it closed with baling twine. Speedy has been using it for over a year. Sydney's nets don't last very long. Here is his latest net sporting yet another Really Big Hole.
Sydney is just a bit … aggressive when he grazes. He like to grab a mouthful of net and SHAKE IT REALLY HARD. This causes the yummy alfalfa leaves to fall through the net's holes, but it's also hard on the net's fibers. This has required some clever McGyvering on my part.
In order to keep things more or less where they are designed to go, the top corners of the net are secured to the pipe fence with heavy duty nylon cord. The net is hung with eight, lightweight carabiners which will break if enough force is used. And lastly, the middle of the net is anchored to the pipe fence to keep Sydney from flipping the net over the top pipe.
Sydney's hay is fed through the opening like a piece of bread in a toaster. This net is bigger than the past one so the flakes drop fairly deeply into the feeder. As he grabs and shakes the net, stems and leaves fall into the black feeder and green cart. Whenever I am out at the barn, I reclaim whatever is in the cart (and on the ground) and shove it back into the feeder.
I use this system for several reasons. Sydney doesn't like to eat his hay from the ground, so when he used to push the stems out of his way, they would invariably tumble over the side of the feeder to the ground where they were stomped into the dirt and wasted. The net also slows Sydney down so he has to work throughout the day to get his hay.
So while I might be buying a new net every nine months, it's okay since I know I am saving my barn owner a lot of wasted hay, and my horse gets to munch happily all day long. That's a win-win.
By the way, the Riding Warehouse is having a great sale on this net right now; check it out!
Very big sigh. If your arena doesn't have lights, you know what I am talking about. JL has lights so lessons will continue, but my after work rides at my barn are going to be really short for the next couple of months. After last night's lesson, I walked home and untacked in the dark
In anticipation of the end of daylight savings time, I have been practicing streamlining my afternoon barn visit. It looks something like this:
I never go anywhere in the barn now without carrying something, rinsing something, grooming something, or leading something. I've also cut back on some of the barn chores in an effort to save time. I sweep and rake and groom a whole lot less. Right now, I simply sweep the brush over tack areas and knock loose anything that appears stuck on. Who cares about being shiny when there's no sun to reflect?
Here's to efficiency in the dark!
It's been quite a while since I've done an update on the Freedom Feeder. Since I just replaced Sydney's old one with a new model, I thought I'd bring everyone up to speed.
If you'll remember, or if you're new here, I bought the Freedom Feeder this past February in an effort to curtail Sydney's hay waste. When alfalfa hit $22 a bale, keeping the feed off the ground became a big priority. Sand colic is not an issue with Sydney; he won't eat hay that has hit the dirt.
For the most part, the Freedom Feeder has saved the barn at least the price of the net. Some hay still makes it to the ground, but since it's usually clean and still tasty, I rake the spilled hay each afternoon and split it between the barn's two older dudes as an afternoon snack. They're happy to munch away, and I feel less guilty about my own horse wasting money.
The Freedom Feeder is not indestructible. I am sure that there are other horses far more aggressive than mine, but Sydney gives that net a pretty good workout each day. He doesn't nibble through the holes like he's supposed to. Instead, he grabs the netting between his front teeth and SHAKES the bag until the leaves fall through.
We discovered his system very early on and tied a large feed tub underneath the net in order to catch what he shakes out. He loves this as the feed falls into the feeder rather than onto the ground. It's quite an efficient system. We also added a flat bottomed cart in front of his stall to catch the leaves and stems that want to fall out of reach. When I arrive in the afternoon, I scoop up the hay in the cart and add it to his feed bin - yet another way we prevent hay waste.
Here is his old Freedom Feeder. Do you see the gigantic hole in the center that he created? Horse teeth can be quite destructive.
Last month, I used baling twine and "stitched" the hole closed. That lasted less than a week. Last weekend, I finally admitted that the Freedom Feeder was no longer doing it's primary job, preventing hay loss, so I headed on over to Smartpak and ordered a new one.
Kind of a side note here: with Barn Saver Shipping (free!) and the USEF 5% discount that I get, this Freedom Feeder cost less than when I bought the first one directly from the maker at Horse Expo. Yah for Smartpak! (I ❤ you Smartpak.)
Our barn strives to be very green. We don't like to throw things away, so the question was what to do with the old Freedom Feeder. Yes, it had a big hole in the center, but the rest of it was still intact.
Speedy G has been put on morning alfalfa cubes. He seems to really like the cubes so it's fine with me. The reason he got demoted to cubes, which are actually more expensive than baled alfalfa, is because he started to waste a lot of his hay. One of the very best things about RM's barn is that the horses get fed PLENTY. There's no scrimping on hay. HOWEVER. Waste is not appreciated so everything is done to minimize the amount of hay that gets trod into the bedding. So Speedy now gets cubes at night and flaked hay in the morning. It's been a good compromise as he is now eating everything and less hay is being wasted.
I decided that the old Freedom Feeder might be salvaged and used as a test version for Speedy G. If it worked for him, a new one could be ordered. With some scissors and a length of twine, I was able to sew up the hole that Sydney created and rehang the bag for Speedy G.
When I introduced Speedy to the freedom Feeder, he spent quite a bit of time looking for the opening. He is quite familiar with hay bags so this apparatus took some thinking. It was actually quite comical. I left him to examine the new set-up while I rode Sydney. When I came back an hour later, I was delighted to find the net half empty. Some hay had fallen into the feeder below, but there was hardly any on the ground and Speedy seemed quite happy.
Hopefully the "recycled" net will last a month or two as I am watching my pennies right now. Be kind to the Freedom Feeder, Speedy G, be kind!
The Freedom Feeder is still working well, although Sydney has started to outsmart us a bit. He's learned how to avoid using his remarkable prehensile lips by instead wildly shaking the FF to dispense his hay. Yes, that's right. He grabs the bag and shakes it violently until hay rains down into the feeder. He then nibbles and eats until it's gone. Once he has shaken most of the hay loose, and I have no idea how long that takes, he then proceeds to shimmy and scoot the feed tub around his stall until it too is empty.
In an effort to foil his shake and rain routine, we have made some modifications to how the Freedom Feeder hangs. I looped the top edge of the net around the top rail so that it clips back onto itself. This eliminated the gaps. RM also tied the opening to the next rail to make an open slot for sliding in flakes of hay. It also makes the net slightly harder to shake. And finally, the bottom of the net is tied to the fourth rail. Here's a photo.
Nikki, a reader who has used the Freedom Feeder, shared this experience with me, "The other mare, who has historically not been a huge food hound, got a good-sized sore on her upper lip from reaching thru and pulling at the hay.... it took a couple of days for it to show up, but was about quarter-size when I noticed it, and obviously quite tender." Hmmm ... something to keep in mind. So far I haven't noticed anything, but I will certainly keep an eye open. Thanks for sharing, Nikki.
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2023 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2023 Show Schedule
2023 Completed …
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%: