The Original NibbleNet:
A Safer Sanctuary Choice for Donkeys and Hybrids
Port Saint Lucie, FL (February 8, 2021) In 2015, the National Equine Welfare Council (NEWC) published Grazing Muzzle Guidance on when and when not to use grazing muzzles as part of an equine weight management strategy.
While generally supportive of their use with horses, NEWC included three points emphasized by The Donkey Sanctuary, which stressed that grazing muzzles should not be used as a method of restricting grass intake for donkeys and their hybrids due to:
1. Potential problems associated with donkeys on restricted diets such as hyperlipaemia. When a donkey stops eating, The Donkey Sanctuary explains, it can go into a ‘negative energy balance’ (more energy used than taken in). Since the essential organs still requires an energy supply, the body tries to tap into energy stored as fat deposits. The result is that free fatty acids circulate to the liver to be converted to glucose for use by the body. As the liver produces glucose (energy) for the body, the fat released from storage should cease. Donkeys and ponies are less able to turn off this fat release and consequently, their blood fills up with excess fat (this circulating fat can be measured in the blood as triglycerides). Large amounts of fat cause the liver and kidneys to degenerate and lead to irreversible organ damage and death.
2. Challenges of fitting and retaining a muzzle in place with animals often unaccustomed to wearing tack.
3. Their tendency to browse hedgerow vegetation, bushes and trees increases the risk of entanglement.
Two safe slow-feeding options for donkeys and hybrids are The Original NibbleNet® Nibble-N-Go or NibbleNet® Double Nibble Slow-N-Slower.
“The Slow-N-Slower is our most versatile hay bag,” says NibbleNet creator, Deb Rusden. “By having different size holes on each side, you have more options. Hay changes all the time, from coarse with stems, to fine and grassy. Sometimes needs change depending on age, teeth or the situation. For example, I like larger openings in the trailer as I don’t want them working too hard to get hay while on the road. This bag is wonderful for graduating an animal from larger to smaller holes. We have three different combinations of sizes from two inches to an inch.”
The Nibble-N-Go bag is a new product with lots of bonuses.
“Stuff it with hay, throw it out in the pasture and it becomes not only a slow-feeding hay bag but a toy,” Deb said. “Some run around with it, some stand on it and pull hay out, some grab a mouthful and shake it!
‘We’ve discovered hay (two to three pounds fits this bag) lasts longer because they don’t have anything to pull against, so they get less hay per mouthful. We also learned, when we went to a clinic where the barn manager would not let us hang anything in our stalls, that we could fill our Nibble-N-Go and leave it on the floor. Everyone else had their hay mixed in their bedding but not us.”
The NibbleNet® Slow Feeding System:
For Small Muzzles with Big Appetites
Port Saint Lucie, FL (November 19, 2019) The only thing that has been in Dianne Boomhower’s Stuart, Florida barn longer than NibbleNet® hay bags are Arabian horses. “I was among the first to try the NibbleNet,” says Dianne, who has owned and ridden Arabian horses for more than four decades. “That was the summer of 2007. I had two Arabians, Maji and Tor, who were wicked about wasting hay. They basically used it for a litter box.”
She rescued Maji (Majid Barakat) as a yearling and in 2020, the bay gelding (sired by Egyptian Arabian grand champion stallion, Thee Desperado) will turn 18. “My baby. Smartest horse I’ve ever known.” His partner in hay-wasting crime, the “fabulous” and beloved Tor (Aladdinn’s Victor), was laminitic and on a restricted diet.
Her good care included orchard grass hay fed twice daily. Watching it go to waste under their delicate but destructive hooves was frustrating. When another Florida horse owner, Deb Rusden, asked if Dianne would try out her new idea for a hay bag, she thought, why not?
“They took to the NibbleNet instantly! My first impression after using it was, there was no wasted hay. None! Instead of ‘hoovering’ it in half an hour, both horses were still nibbling two or more hours later! Eventually, when they started to realize they almost always had hay, they stopped trying to finish it all at once. They’d eat, meander out to graze or nap, then come back to snack a little more.”
Dianne lost Tor in November 2012 to EPM. She got Maji, in need of a companion, a palomino Miniature Horse named Dandy.
“Maji is an Egyptian Arabian, and has a tiny muzzle. He has received his hay exclusively from a NibbleNet for over twelve years now. His teeth are in perfect condition. He is consistently at a very healthy weight.
“Tor did have a weight issue, so NibbleNet was super beneficial for him. Maji has never had a weight issue. He is extremely active and I sometimes struggle keeping weight on him. I think NibbleNet helps with that as well. I can hang one higher so Dandy can’t reach it, to ensure Maji gets his fair share.”
Because that other tiny muzzle comes with a big appetite: “Dandy is an absolute pig! If he could, he would eat until he exploded. NibbleNet helps me keep his weight under control. Maji likes his NibbleNet so much that I can fill his bag, hang it, then throw a flake on the ground, and he will still go to his NibbleNet instead of the loose hay. He also loves the NibbleGoRound I use daily to gather spilled hay. When it’s full, I hang it up and he enjoys the challenge. Dandy? Not so much. He’d prefer I just hand him the whole bale.”
With over 20 styles and three sizes of squares among its custom webbing choices, horse owners like Dianne can find a bag to fit every situation (and muzzle): “I like that different size holes are available. As an owner, there are times when it’s necessary to adjust the amount of hay I’m feeding, and it’s easy to change to a different bag. I think I have every model. I have bags with large holes, and small holes, for different times of year depending on pasture growth. I’ve used them for over a decade and still have some of those first NibbleNets, still in usable condition! Maji can destroy a Jolly Ball in minutes flat but has never damaged a NibbleNet.”
“This is the best way to feed hay. Very little waste, mimics grazing behavior, easy to control how much hay your horse gets, keeps them busy longer. I recommend NibbleNets not only for Arabian horses but all types of animals. I’ve fed goats from NibbleNets, too!”
Honoring Destiny: Slow Feeding the NibbleNet Way
with L.A. Sokolowski
What do octopus brains and slow feeding horses have in common? More than you might think, if you ask equine veterinarian, USDF-certified instructor and trainer, FEI competitor, artist and non-duality healing specialist, Candace K. Platz, DVM, of Maine Equine Associates.
Last October, Dr. Platz posted to The Original NibbleNet® Facebook page about creating feeding stations throughout her paddocks to encourage both equine health and harmony. It spurred a flurry of inquiries from owners wanting to know more.
"As an equine veterinarian, stable owner, and FEI competitor,” she said, “I can't say enough good about NibbleNets. The benefits include saving on hay (no more peeing or walking on hay), convenience (slower intake means fewer feedings; fill two NibbleNets per horse and night checks don’t become night feedings because hay lasts until morning), and healthier horses (not eating dirt or dust).
“Constant grazing is physiologically more appropriate for horses' GI tracts. So we create feeding stations that keep horses moving around to find the ‘best’ NibbleNet and this adds interest to my horses' pasture life.”
Quality of life is a promise Platz has kept, especially to her Grand Prix partner, a 15.3hh American Warmblood draft-cross called Fynn. Fynn was purchased for $550 just minutes before the five-month-old byproduct of a PMU farm became one of 100 foals about to be trucked away for slaughter. After spending his first few years as a camp horse, at age five he was given to Kari McFadden, who introduced Fynn to dressage and brought the bright new student up through the levels. Three years later, Platz bought him and the pair have been Grand Prix partners ever since.
In 2014, they gained national attention with a third place finish in the Grand Prix Adult Amateur Freestyle at the US Dressage Finals; in 2015 they were USDF Region 8 Grand Prix Adult Amateur reserve champions; 2017 Adequan Global Dressage Festival Piaffe Performance Adult Amateur Award winners; and they closed 2019 seeded first in the nation on the Grand Prix Small Horse rankings and sixth among USDF Adult Amateur (50+) Riders, and -- in recognition of Fynn’s heroic recovery at the start of the show season from a ruptured tertius muscle -- he was named an official AWSSR (American Warmblood Society & Sporthorse Registry) ambassador.
“He’s my miracle horse,” Dr. Platz says. But there’s nothing miraculous about the interrelationship she sees between gut and emotional health. She says the Kabbalah-based, dialectical behavioral modality known as non-duality teaches that there are no opposites, just facets of the same subject, and that everything is connected.
Including the equine mind/body and its relationship to digestion. In a reference to Peter Godfrey-Smith’s 2016 scientific bestseller, Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness, which reflects on the nature of intelligence, Dr. Platz explains how the origins of consciousness begin at a molecular level, so what happens in the gut affects what happens in the brain (also citing research on the impact of gut bacteria on neurotransmitters).
The right feeding program should honor horse behavior and allow horses to manifest what they need to be: constant grazers: “Feeding horses should be an ethical expression of helping them meet their destiny as grazers. We honor their bodies and enrich their minds when we offer slow feeding that is convenient, accessible and safe.”
Citing social disruption and stress with impacting up to 80% of show horses, “We’re always worried about ulcers. It’s one of the problems in our high performance horse world that we can’t always avoid confining horses and confined horses can’t self-regulate their eating.”
Feeding Stations 101
Back home, NibbleNets have proven “invaluable” in restoring free choice options inside stalls and during turnout. Incorporating them into a series of feeding stations has resulted in versatile and easy ways to encourage her horses to eat and move naturally, and the design seems to improve not only the mental health of individual animals but ‘herd politics’ too.
Dr. Platz estimates four nets for every three horses, and/or NibbleNets in all corners of a paddock. To further enhance the enrichment experience, she also sets up sturdy scratching posts (and recommends heavy duty Scratch-N-All pads).
“We attach the bigger nets on 4x4 or 6x6 plywood boards, raised to a height where the horses can comfortably lift their heads and pull at the hay. The more nets you set up, the less chance there is for any of them to establish dominance. There are enough choices that lower-ranked horses can find a space to eat in peace.”
In a pavilion-style feeding area, she likes to add the “equivalent of bubble wrap for horses,” i.e. stall mat padding, to cushion fences or walls and, when hanging a hay bag inside a stall, she advises alternating sides to avoid the effects of repetitive motion, and also to avoid hanging hay bags near where horses leave their manure.
“Access to hay is vitally important to horses. The mechanical act of chewing is essential to gut health,” Dr. Platz concludes. Horses produce saliva during chewing and saliva is rich in bicarbonate, which helps buffer acid secretions produced in the stomach. When horses graze or nibble on hay for much of the day it offsets the gastric acid being produced in the stomach that may otherwise lead to ulcers.
Healthy horse digestion begins one nibble at a time.