“When we take control of one of these lives, when we say, I will be responsible for this animal, his care and feeding, his health and happiness, we tacitly promise to give him the very best care that we can. To learn everything we can about the horse, and how to give him the longest and very best life possible. Not the life we’d like, but the life we know is right because we studied it and are certain.”
Joe Camp, The Soul of a Horse
When I was growing up, my family would often visit Edwards Gardens in Toronto on Sunday afternoons to take a walk through nature in the city. My sister and I rushed to our favourite place, the wishing well, so we could make our wishes. Mine was always the same. “I wish for a million horses.”
Fast forward many years and I was finally able to start realizing this wish. In preparation, I wanted to learn as much as I could about the animals I would be responsible for. This involved taking courses at Equine Guelph and reading as much as I could about the proper care and feeding of horses. I started a local stable sitting service to gain practical experience and worked at over 30 farms. I observed, respected, and learned something from every stable I served. In 2010, I established a cooperative stable for trail riding enthusiasts near Guelph, Ontario.
While I was training, one of the things I noticed was how differently people managed their hay feeding routines. Of note was how much hay was wasted by feeding hay on the ground. Not wanting to waste hay, I did my research and obtained OptiMizer hay feeders. And this is where the story becomes interesting!
The OptiMizer was invented and commercialized in Ontario in 2004 by a hay farmer, Matthew Bulmer. When it was introduced, no one was talking about slow feeding, so the goals for the original OptiMizer were simple:
Be safe for the horses and allow them to feed in a natural, head down position
Be big enough to hold a day’s worth of hay and easy to refill
Keep the hay off the ground to reduce waste and save money
To achieve these goals the first OptiMizers held two small square bales of hay in a galvanized container and the horses pulled the hay through a heavy metal grill that floated on the hay. At the time, in addition to noticing a huge reduction in wasted hay, Matthew’s customers were commenting that hay was lasting a lot longer and that feeder aggression had reduced. In other words, they were seeing some of the benefits of what is now known as “slow feeding”.
Over time, some of the management issues for our “easy-keeper” horses encouraged me to try slow feeding hay nets. I started to use them around the paddocks and in the stalls and gradually reduced the mesh size of the nets to regulate hay consumption. The hay nets were great, but they were very time consuming to refill. Secretly, I wished that our OptiMizers, which were so fast and easy to use, could be as slow feeding as the nets.
In 2018, I shared that wish with Matthew. Specifically, I asked him if we could combine the slow feeding benefits provided by hay nets with all the benefits of his OptiMizer. (And I also asked if we could make the OptiMizer lighter-weight, so I could move them around the paddock. After all, when you are making wishes, why not go for it all?) So, Matthew made a prototype using a roto-moulded plastic base with a slow feeding netting top mounted on a slide arm. Everyone at the farm loved it, especially the horses, and gradually three more prototypes were built, improving each time to make it better, easier, and safer. A patent application was filed and the new OptiMizer was born.
And here we are now, getting ready to produce the new OptiMizers and make them available for “a million horses.” Sometimes, wishes do come true.
My horse is a 17 year old, off-the-track thoroughbred. She lived outside all last winter in a small herd with 7 other horses. We use OptiMizers at our barn and the horses always have access to hay. My mare is a hard keeper, but by getting the right amount of hay, whenever she wanted it, it was the first winter that she did not need a blanket or extra grain.
- Laura T.
We have 8 horses, so we used 3 OptiMizers last winter. We filled them one time a day or so, even on the worst days, and used a lot less hay this year. I am confident that the OptiMizers will pay for themselves in the amount of money we save in otherwise ruined hay.
- Heather M.
I have been using slow feed hay bags for years. I needed at least 5 or 6 bags a day in the winter to feed 3 horses. Last winter, I used the OptiMizer. I could slow feed 2 bales of hay in the OptiMizer and saved so much time not having to refill bags every day. Plus, I noticed it was a lot cleaner in the spring. The OptiMizer is really a "hay miser" when it comes to not wasting hay.
- Amanda M.