Horses are natural grazers and should be allowed free access to either grass or hay 24 hours a day. In the winter when grass isn't available, hay should be available but kept off the ground to reduce spoilage and waste. Horses that are kept inside stalls should have safe access to hay as well. Horses are easily susceptible to colic or other illness after eating spoiled or mouldy hay, so hay must be kept fresh and free of mould. A hay feeder can help protect and hold the hay.
Ground feeders are the safest and most popular types of feeders. Horses naturally eat with their heads down and this is the best way for them to eat and digest their hay. The ground is also how horses pick up dirt and worms, so a feeder should have a bottom so that the hay never comes in contact with the ground. This also helps to keep the hay off of the wet ground in inclement weather.
Begin with one full sheet of 1 inch thick plywood. Use untreated plywood so the horse doesn't ingest chemicals if they chews on it. Measure the plywood and cut out three 40 by 18 inch sheets. These will be the two long sides and floor of the feeder. Cut out two 18 by 22 inch sheets for each end of the feeder. Lay the bottom panel on the floor. Place the front of the panel upright and butt it against the sheet on the floor. Nail along the bottom edge of the front panel so that the nails go through to the floor panel. Do this for the back and ends also. Nail the edges of the side panels together to make the feeder sturdy. You can place armfuls of hay or one whole square bale of hay inside the feeder box.
Hanging hay feeders are very convenient and can be brought along in the trailer, hanging inside when travelling and on the outside when the horse is tied during a show. They can also be used when a horse is inside a stall and a permanent hay feeder is not available.
Hanging hay feeders are not as safe as sturdy ground feeders, since a horse can possibly get a leg or hoof inside the feeder. The safest way to use a hanging hay feeder is to make sure it is tied up high enough so that the horse must reach up slightly to pull the hay out.
Hanging feeders can be made from football, hockey or even fish nets. Lay the netting out flat to take measurements. Use an old hay net if available, or measure and cut a large circle 6 feet wide. Use a thin nylon rope to weave around the outer holes in the net until you have circle the entire thing. Leave a foot of string on each side to use like a drawstring. This is also the material used to tie the hay net up, so make sure it is long enough.
Round bales are good for keeping your horses fed during your vacations or in the winter when grass is not available. A round bale is very large and hard to move, so the best type of feeder is one that the hay is placed on top of.
Set the round bale on top of a wooden pallet and use additional pallets to make a ring around the outside. Stand the pallets up on their sides with the boards running vertically. Connect the pallets with wire. This fence-type structure around the hay bale lets your horse reach over to eat the hay without stepping into it.