Mustang Gentler Stefanie Skidmore Takes It Slow
When Feeding or Working with Wild Horses
Taking it slow, whether it’s gentling wild horses or feeding them, is important. Ask Stefanie Skidmore with the Colorado nonprofit organization, Wild Horse Outreach & Advocacy (WHOA). Since its creation in 2019, Stephanie and WHOA (wildhorseoutreach.org) have shared one mission: help mustangs successfully go from wild to mild, and from holding pens to loving homes.
And for nearly five years, The Original NibbleNet® has been helping assure that those transitions are as easy on a horse’s constitution as on their spirit.
“I’ve used NibbleNets with mustangs since I became a TIP trainer in 2017,” says Stefanie, referring to the Mustang Heritage Foundation Trainer Incentive Program (TIP), where approved TIP trainers may gentle and train Bureau of Land Management (BLM)-branded wild horses or burros, as well as market and find new homes for them. “And personally, I’ve been using NibbleNet®s since 2012. My veterinarian recommended them for their quality.”
“When gentling mustangs, we’re allowing the other party to settle in and come out of their shell, to learn what to expect, to ask questions, and to figure out how to interact with their handler. It takes time for me to figure out a horse and what works, through reading them and adjusting to what I see. At times we move forward by taking a step back. Sometimes it’s giving a horse space to offer a behavior and express what they need.
“Quality products from small businesses like The NibbleNet make the work safer and more enjoyable for everyone.”
Wild horses can spend up to 90% of their day eating or moving in search of food, which aids in digestion and helps to avoid colic, ulcers and the digestive upsets commonly found in domestic horses. Insulin-resistant, diabetic, foundered or laminitic horses are rare in nature.
Free feeding and grazing time are reduced for most domestic horses. Slow feeding products like The Original NibbleNet® mimic Mother Nature and help wild horses transition into their new life and role with minimal digestive stress.
Last December, Stefanie took in a wild diamond in the rough.
“The first time I saw her, I looked hard for a redeemable quality. I think I said her ears were cute.” Buttercup, as Stefanie called her, was a four year-old mare, adopted from a wild herd in Antelope Valley, Nevada. “She was not only plain and petite, on the thin side, and entirely frazzled by her surroundings, other horses, and life in general, she was incredibly scared. She would go into flight mode whether there was anywhere to go or not.”
“The NibbleNet helped Buttercup put on weight and kept her occupied and happy while she became accustomed to her new surroundings. We went from slow-if-any progress (wide-eyed, high-headed, full of the snorts and ready to leave/bolt) to a low and relaxed head, with licking and chewing, and thinking prior to acting. While all wild ones undergo a shift in mannerisms during gentling, it’s rarely as dramatic as in her case. Our once-ugly duckling turned into a much more swan-like being!”
Buttercup has since been adopted by a loving family that Stefanie says is “doing a great job” continuing with her training.
“I’ve never been happier to admit that, giving into the pleading that got her onto my trailer, was the best thing I could have done.”
And (just maybe) her next best decision was choosing a NibbleNet®.
Learn more about The Original NibbleNet®, the healthy and safe slow-feeding system, and find a complete list of products, dealers and distributors in the United States, Canada, and overseas at www.nibblenet.com.
SIDEBAR: Horse Gentler’s Tip: Benefits of Ponying.
1. Exercising more than one horse at a time.
2. Helping a young/green horse gain confidence on the trail.
3. Ponied horse gets used to seeing rider/movement above them.
4. Ponied horse gets used to voice commands.
5. Ponied horse learns to quietly walk/trot/lope/stop/back. If a horse is going to get excited and buck or bolt into the lope, I prefer to sort that out while ponying rather than riding.
6. You never know when you'll need to catch/pony a horse (catching a spooked horse from horseback is sometimes easier because they may be more inclined to let another horse approach than a person). You may have to catch one for an injured rider or from a tired or intimidated/scared rider.
7. It's fun!
Caveats: 1. You'll want to have a good handle on the horse you're riding. The only thing worse than one runaway horse is two. 2. Practice somewhere safe before venturing out. 3. Don't always take two/the same two out together so you don't create buddy sourness issues. (I've used this to help buddy/barn sour horses gain confidence in their rider and themselves, then weaned them off a second horse by their side). 4. It’s helpful to switch sides while ponying, both for your body and for the horses. 5. The excuse, "my horses would fight if I did this," is (in most cases) because you allow it. I do not. No play fighting, nipping or kicking gets tolerated. All that starts with making angry faces at each other, so it's best to address it right then and there at that level before anyone's got hair missing.
# # #
(Photo provided by Stefanie Skidmore: Mustangs Lacy (Divide Basin, six year-old dun mare) and Littlefoot (Devil's Garden by three year-old gelding) stretching their legs during a ride.
Submitted by L.A. Sokolowski for The Original NibbleNet
NibbleNet®: Worth Every Penny!
“Finley is very messy when eating hay. If any falls on the ground he will urinate on it, then leaving it to be thrown away. He also eats extremely fast and takes huge bites of his hay,” said Tonia Headrick about her beloved Belgian gelding (whose stable table manners left a little something to be desired).
While the type of hay fed to mature horses can affect urine output (for example, legume hays like alfalfa or clover are higher in protein and calcium, and more digestible than grass hay, leading to passing more urine and a wetter stall), in this case, it was an old-fashioned case of Finley just needing to slow down at mealtime.
“He eats extremely fast and takes huge bites of hay. So a NibbleNet helped him slow down quite a bit. I love how there might only be a handful of wasted hay now at the end of the day.”
Tonia purchased her first two NibbleNets (she also owns a mammoth donkey, Miss Mick) seven years ago and has been using them ever since: “I just purchased two XL ones for Finley while he’s in his stall.”
The Florida horse owner was following an equine rescue on Facebook called Rosemary Farm Sanctuary when she read “some great reviews” about using NibbleNets.
With the current cost of a bale of hay ranging from $4 to more than $19 per bale; a horse that costs $730 a year to feed in one part of the country can cost almost $3,000 a year in another, making saving money more important than ever for equine rescue groups.
“In my area, hay starts at $10 per bale and goes up to $22 for the average square bale. So I’m definitely saving, especially with as much hay as this big guy eats!” Tonia says.
“We value exceptional service, fair treatment of customers, pride in our product, giving back to our community and giving Americans jobs, and we value all horses. That is why we do what we do,” says NibbleNet creator and horse owner, Deb Rusden.
When you buy a NibbleNet® from its online catalog or one of its approved distributors, a portion of those proceeds goes to help horses in need including Rosemary Farm, After the Homestretch, Bridle Up Hope, Equine Rescue and Adoption Foundation (ERAF), Equine Voices Rescue & Sanctuary, Humane Society Treasure Coast, In Stride Equine Assisted Therapy, Live and Let Live Farm Rescue, Peaceful Acres Horses, Inc., Return to Freedom, Shangri-La Therapeutic Academy of Riding, United in Light, and wild horse trainer, Stephanie Skidmore.
“They are worth every penny spent on them,” Tonia says. “I have saved so much – in hay and money – through the years that they have more than paid for themselves. And they are very durable, which is not easy with a draft horse!”
EOTRH: The Equine Dental Syndrome You Probably
Never Heard Of
with L.A. Sokolowski
At age two, Jennie Hakes was riding the family St. Bernard. By four, she was saving money in a mason jar for her own horse and by her teens, riding with USEA Ironmaster and four-star eventer, Ralph Hill, in the Central States Dressage and Eventing Association Rider Development Program. Now 66, she has been active in CSDEA for three decades, and has always had students in the Minneapolis/St. Paul (Minnesota) area where, “There’s lots of dressage and eventing.” Five years ago, Jennie and her husband Steve built High Hope Farm North outside of Aitkin, where she continues to share “teachable moments” with amateur adult and 4-H riders.
But the lesson she wants most to share has nothing to do with riding. It concerns a destructive dental syndrome she faced with her 22 year-old mare, CZ, known as EOTRH, or Equine Odontoclastic Tooth Resorption and Hypercementosis.
A white paper, Associated Risk Factors of EOTRH and Hypercementosis, first produced in 2013 by Reata Equine Veterinary Group in Arizona and submitted in 2018 to the 59th annual American Association of Equine Practitioners conference, said, “We suspect that the painful disease involving equine incisors and canines does not have a single detriment but occurs as the result of cumulative impact of several risk factors: trauma caused by excessive dentistry, periodontal disease, feed type, genetics, and hormonal conditions such as Cushings and laminitis.”
Last October, Leah E. Limone, DVM, of Northeast Equine Veterinary Dental Services in Massachusetts, loaded her own white paper and video, Update on EORTH, on the Veterinary Clinics of North America: Equine Practice website: “EOTRH is a relatively recently described disorder of unknown etiology affecting the teeth of older horses. The condition was first described as an uncommon disorder of canine and incisor teeth and subsequently described histologically and given a descriptive name.”
Recognized most in horses over 15 years old, EOTRH is characterized by internal and external tooth resorption and destruction, in combination with excessive cemental deposition. Hypercementosis (swelling around the roots of affected teeth) is a reparative rather than primary pathologic process. Older age is a risk factor but moderate-to-severe radiographic changes have been identified in middle-aged horses (11-13 years). Periodontal disease is typically concurrent. Radiography is necessary for diagnosis and treatment planning. Extraction of all diseased teeth is a reasonable and effective treatment.
Degeneration leads to painful fractures, tooth loss, and removal, and can express itself in performance and behavioral issues including head shyness and resistance to bend during work.
Some horses, like Jennie’s CZ, prove more stoic about pain than others.
“Her registered name is Colinda Z (Zangersheides use the ‘Z’ suffix). You can find her studbook brand, a shield and Z, on her right hip,” Jennie says. The Dutch Warmblood/Holsteiner had been imported from Belgium and competed in the jumpers by Lisa Roskens, of Omaha, Nebraska before entering Jennie’s life. “She’s a character. She likes to give the neighbor’s cattle the stink eye!
“The thing with CZ’s teeth is that two veterinarians and an equine dentist never diagnosed her because we never took X-rays. It wasn’t until I hauled her in to get a broken tooth pulled that she was X-rayed and we saw how her incisors were compromised. They all had to come out.” On July 20, Dr. David Schwinghamer took CZ’s teeth out at his Anoka Equine clinic in Elk River.
“To think that she was in pain, perhaps for years, and I didn’t know about it, is something that I will always feel very guilty about,” Jennie confesses. “From my understanding, checking for EORTH Syndrome has only come to the fore recently, so not all equine veterinarians or dentists are up to speed about it. “
First lesson from Jennie and CZ? “Get your horse’s teeth X-rayed.” CZ got to keep her molars but lost all her incisors. “For the first month healing, I fed soaked hay cubes in a big (sheep) feed tub and rinsed her mouth out a few times a day (lots of free showers for me). She could graze on longer grass she didn’t have to bite off.”
Second lesson? Get a good hay bag. “Once her gums healed, I used a NibbleNet. All four of my horses eat from them when they are inside overnight. People think horses sleep eight hours a night like we do, but really, they are awake most of the time and probably bored. “
She found NibbleNets through the recommendations of members on Twin Cities Combined Training (TCCT) on Groups.io. “I posted how tired I was of hay bags destroyed and replaced yearly, and what recommendations did people have for slow feeders that last? I Googled the options they shared and found the NibbleNet.”
Watching Zoo Atlanta elephants use NibbleNets squelched her doubts about durability. Now CZ enjoys meals more while her hay (and Jennie’s budget) last longer. “Hay gets eaten, not pooped or peed on, and it slows her down from going through it too fast.”
High Hope Farm has a saying, “No hour of life is wasted spent in the saddle.” No flake of hay is getting wasted in the barn, either.
Building Barns, Building Hope: An Original NibbleNet® Story
Good construction is everything, in hay bags AND barns.
Just ask Dr. Karie Vander Werf with Treasure Coast Equine Emergency Services in Palm City, Florida.
Called “the treasure of Treasure Coast Equine” by her clients, Dr. Karie is one of only two equine veterinarians in the state of Florida board-certified in both internal medicine, and emergency and critical care. A University of Florida graduate who returned to UF for her clinical work after attending Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine, she later took additional training in Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue (TLAER).
But nothing prepared her for that Sunday morning in April 2020, when she was awakened by the barking of her dog, Silver and, looking out out her window, saw her five-stall barn and the 24 beloved farm animals inside, engulfed in flames.
Only, “By some amazing and absolutely crazy miracle,” she says, a pregnant goat named Princess Starlight, managed to survive. “They [Martin County Fire Rescue] didn’t find her until they put the fire completely out.” The other 23 animals, including a turkey, chickens, horses and miniature donkeys, were not so lucky.
“Almost everybody in town knew that barn,” she says, “and loved the design, because it was so airy and flowed well.” After the tragedy, the Palm City community came together to build GoFundMe Pages and, within days, raised more than $30,000 to help this popular local veterinarian rebuild and recover.
“She is one fantastic veterinarian. Florida has one of the best,” said one horseman, Randy Billinger, with the Midwest Mustang & Burro Saddle Club.
As for Dr. Karie, the show of support was all the healing prescription she needed: “I just couldn’t believe, especially at a time when people were struggling, that there could be such an outpouring of support. It was amazing.”
Resilience is one thing this veterinarian understands, which may also be why she uses The Original NibbleNet® hay bags, whose unique one-inch webbing grid of holes offers the best veterinarian-recommended material for slow-feeding horses. NIbbleNets are custom woven to assure resistance to abrasion, dirt, mildew and water absorption, significantly extending the life of each hay bag.
“I love NibbleNets for my horses because it significantly reduces waste, makes stall cleaning a breeze, and is slow-feeding to help keep stall bound horses from becoming bored,” says Dr. Karie. “I use them for my goats as well as my donkeys and Minis in their pasture.
“I use them for the patients I board at my house as well,” she continued, “and not one of my animals -- or the visitors -- have damaged the ‘Nets.”
“Dr. Karie’s popularity is as enduring as any NibbleNet hay bag,” says Deb, who was part of the Palm City, Florida horse community whose heart ached alongside the veterinarian’s terrible losses. “I donated to the GoFundMe page and donated NibbleNets. I’m not sure how many she has now, but over the years I have donated and discounted them. She always says she will let me know when she needs more!”
When you buy a NibbleNet you are getting the highest quality hay bag on the market, she says. “Years of testing and development have gone into this bag and it shows. Just like years of education and commitment go into creating a veterinarian as great as Dr. Karie and Treasure Coast Equine Services. We are all sharing in the joy of seeing this barn rebuilt.”
With over 20 different styles and sizes, and a trio of different size squares to choose from, there’s an Original NibbleNet® bag for every situation. Not available through catalogs, find your perfect slow feeding match at www.NibbleNet.com.
The Original NibbleNet Helps OTTBS Stay on Florida TRAC
Since 2010, Florida’s Thoroughbred Retirement and Adoptive Care (TRAC) has offered retired South Florida-based racehorses safe and successful second careers through rehabilitation and placement in adoptive “forever homes.”
Spearheaded by the Florida Benevolent Horsemen’s Association, Calder Race Course, Gulfstream Park, and professional jockeys, a program created for the sole purpose of finding homes for retired Thoroughbreds evolved into Florida TRAC. Since its inception, more than 500 horses have entered the program and approximately half have found new careers and people to love them.
Horses entering the TRAC program get hands-on care, professional retraining, and a second shot at life thanks to its supporters. Many of which, like The Original NibbleNet® in Palm City are Florida businesses or associations showing their commitment to their local community.
“Our efforts depend on a strong alliance among racetracks, industry officials, horsemen, owners, trainers, jockeys and fans,” says Florida TRAC farm manager and trainer, Katie Schmit. “Each donation brings us closer to our goal of seeing all our horses in successful second careers. We can always use help. Monthly expenses include basic care, such as transportation, feed, veterinary care, supplies and board.”
Which is why fellow Floridian Deb Rusden, creator of The Original NibbleNet, provided TRAC and its fundraising efforts with 54 of her slow feeding system hay bags. For a nonprofit watching its expenses, a NibbleNet can save money and hay.
“Years ago,” Deb says, “the executive director of another rescue reached out to me because she had been searching for a product that could reduce hay waste and its associated messes.”
At first she feared taking a “pricey gamble” (purchasing four NibbleNets) but called it a risk “worth taking” after seeing how the slow feeding system was indestructible and effective in slowing horses down as they ate, reducing waste by helping bales last longer, and minimizing what was dropped into manure or on the floor.
“Florida should be proud of TRAC giving horses a second chance at a new career after their racing days and transforming them into wonderful adoptees,” Deb says. “From equine therapy horses to Mounted Patrol officers and show horses, TRAC assures that the opportunities are endless for these off-track Thoroughbreds.”
The Original NibbleNet® is a Florida horse business glad to nurture the progress.
Equine Voices Rescue & Sanctuary and The Original NibbleNets®:
Speaking Up for Saving Horses
When Florida horsewoman Deb Rusden, founder of The Original NibbleNets® hay bag, learned about the good works of Equine Voices Rescue & Sanctuary in Arizona she knew – as one PMU rescue horse owner to another -- that she had to reach out its president, Karen Pomroy.
“I found out about Karen almost ten years ago, from a magazine article about how she saved PMU foals,” Deb says. “Since I have a PMU rescue horse too, I wanted to introduce myself and learn more about what she was doing. I may not remember the exact magazine, but I sure do recall buying it straight off the rack because I was so excited to find her!”
The PMU (Pregnant Mare Urine) industry produces pharmaceuticals, including hormone-replacement drugs, that use estrogen collected via urinary bladder bags from pregnant mares, and creating an overabundance of unwanted foals, considered ‘byproducts’ of the industry, whose little lives are snuffed out by slaughter as soon as they are auctioned over the scales as weanlings.
Deb’s own PMU rescue horse is Kieran, a 17 year-old Percheron draft cross she has owned since he was an eight year-old, but their history goes back much further: “I’d known about him since he was 18 months old, when a friend of mine rescued him from slaughter along with two other PMU babies.”
Karen, like many kids (including Deb) grew up loving animals -- especially horses -- and in 1994 she quit her job to spend over a year backpacking the world. It became a trip, she says, that changed her life.
“As I traveled, I saw so many animals mistreated,” Karen says. “I knew I had to follow my path and leave the corporate world. I began volunteering for a wild horse sanctuary in California and joined the grassroots movement to help wild horses.”
The experiences gained from that mission to save horses from slaughter laid the ground work for Equine Voices Rescue & Sanctuary, the nonprofit rescue and sanctuary Karen started in 2004 and is known today as “a place of healing” for horses and burros rescued from abuse, abandonment and slaughter.
As the “Voice” of the sanctuary Karen chose an ungainly 11 month-old draft-cross colt named Gulliver, one of four foals -- along with Bella, Deuce and Spanky – born as PMU byproducts on a North Dakota farm. The farm had lost its Premarin contract with Wyeth Pharmaceuticals when Karen rescued them from certain slaughter.
“Gulliver has played a huge role as a voice for PMU foals and educating the public about the atrocities our equine friends endure,” Karen says.
Thanks to her devotion, Gulliver is now 18 years old, stands 17.2 hands and weighs over 1,600 pounds, and his own forever home, Equine Voices, is also home to over 50 horses, ponies and burros available for adoption or sponsorship.
That's alot of mouths to feed and keep busy during turnout. Which is where Deb and her slow feeding hay bags come in: “It was an easy decision to offer the nonprofit rescue a discount. Karen and the Equine Voices volunteer team are absolute angels – every animal here is living a healthy, happy life including getting the nutrition and feeding system they need to thrive.”
Like Equine Voices’ Burro Habitat buddies, Rosie, Bindi Sue, and Rosetta. Rosie and her baby, Bunny, were rescued by Celine Myers, of the Ark Watch Foundation, from a Texas feedlot destined for slaughter. Sadly, Bunny did not survive and Rosie spent seven weeks in treatment at a vet clinic for abscesses in four hooves, but now has a forever home with jennies like Bindi Sue, a “visitors’ favorite” since 2013 when she came, with three other burros from a herd of 72 purchased at auction after a BLM Bait Roundup.
“We were able to get the other burros to good homes and Bindi Sue is enjoying life here,” Karen says. And (hint, hint) this inspirational little survivor is available for sponsorship. As is sweet Rosetta, born at Equine Voices in 2016 to proud mama Rosie and papa, Dominic. “She has a very loving and playful personality and is always looking for the next volunteer to trick into giving her affection!” (Or into refilling her NibbleNet.)
The Arizona animal advocate continues, “NibbleNets are a fantastic product. It slows down the eating time for our horses and also helps prevent colic by keeping hay off the ground. Having as many horses and burros as we do, any product that is both easy to use and helps promote our horses’ good health is greatly appreciated. NibbleNets are that product.”.
“Horses,” adds Deb, “give us their loyalty and trust, and ask nothing in return but to be loved and cared for. I know how important it is to me that my own animals are free from fear and want. At Equine Voices, they can graze and feed in peace.”
NibbleNets, thoughtfully arranged around a paddock or pen, can help deflect ‘herd hierarchy.’ Referring to a 2012 study conducted at the University of Kentucky, arranging hay nets or feed tubs in an equilateral triangle as opposed to a straight line allows passive horses more time to eat. (Researchers believe a triangular arrangement optimizes visual contact with other horses and more closely resembles normal grazing behavior.)
Learn more about Equine Voices Rescue & Sanctuary at www.equinevoices.org, and shop (not found in catalogs) The Original NibbleNet® by Thin Air Canvas, Inc. at www.NibbleNet.com.
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.