Hay for Horses? How to Choose the Best Hay for your Horses

Hay is an essential food for horses. It provides them with the nutrients they need to stay happy, healthy and generally well. When choosing hay for your horse, you should consider their age, weight, activity level, and nutritional requirements.

There are many different types of hay available, so it can be difficult to decide which one is best for your horse. Here is a brief overview of the different types of hay and their nutritional benefits:

Variety of Hay

Alfalfa, grass, and mixed hay are the three most popular kinds of hay.

Grass Hay

Grasses exhibit an impressive array of species, playing vital roles in diverse ecosystems. Notably, some commonly used grasses, such as brome, orchard, and timothy, have gained popularity in crafting grass hay. Particularly benefiting horses with specific health concerns.

Horses, like all animals, can face weight and metabolic issues, making grass hay an excellent dietary choice for such equines. Its significant fiber content proves particularly advantageous. 

Horses naturally graze, and their digestive systems are optimized for a continuous flow of fibrous material. Grass hay aligns with this natural behavior, ensuring efficient gastrointestinal function. Which is beneficial for overweight or metabolically challenged horses.

An additional benefit of grass hay is its low protein content. While protein remains essential for equine health, an excess can prove harmful to horses with specific conditions. Grass hay maintains balanced protein levels. Providing the necessary nutrients without burdening the animals with excessive protein that could worsen metabolic problems.

Alfalfa hay

Alfalfa, scientifically referred to as Medicago sativa or lucerne, represents a nutrient-rich legume hay hailing from the pea family. Because of its exceptional nutritional profile, alfalfa hay has become a favored choice among horse owners.

Performance horses, who do lots of physical activities, need more protein for energy and muscles. Alfalfa hay provides the right amount of protein to help them perform at their best and recover after workouts.

Even underweight horses can benefit from alfalfa hay. It has lots of calories and protein, helping them gain weight and become healthier. The nutrients in alfalfa hay support the overall well-being of underweight horses, making them thrive and feel better.

Some horses may get too fat or have health issues if they eat too much. So, it’s essential to give it in the right amount, especially for horses prone to obesity or specific health conditions.

Mixed Hay

Alfalfa and clover are two types of legume hay that are often mixed with grass hay to make what’s called “mixed hay.” This mix gives horses a balanced diet with the right nutrients they need.

The combination of grass hay and legume hay is great because it has both fiber and protein. Horses need fiber for their digestion since they naturally eat lots of plant material. The protein from the legume hay helps horses build and repair their muscles, keeping them healthy and strong.

Mixed hay is a good choice for horses with regular nutritional needs. It’s not as high in protein as pure alfalfa hay, but it still gives the horses the extra protein they need.

Another great thing about mixed hay is that it’s usually less expensive compared to pure alfalfa hay. This makes it a smart choice for horse owners, especially those with many horses to feed.

Hay’s Nutritional Advantages

Horses eat a large amount of hay because it provides them with fiber, protein, essential vitamins, and minerals to stay healthy. The nutritional benefits may vary depending on the type of hay being fed to them.

Hay plays a crucial role in maintaining your horse’s healthy digestion. The fiber in hay aids in the smooth passage of food through the digestive system. Thereby reducing the likelihood of colic and other digestive issues.

Protein: Alfalfa hay is the type of hay with the highest protein content. Making it a fantastic option for horses who need extra protein for labor or growth. However, alfalfa hay should only be given sparingly to horses that are not working hard or who are prone to putting on weight.

Calcium: It is abundant in alfalfa hay. An important mineral for horses’ bone and muscular health. Lack of calcium in the diet may put horses at risk for skeletal and muscular problems.

Vitamins and minerals: Hay is a good source of vitamins and minerals like selenium, magnesium, and potassium.

In addition to that, hay is a source of vitamins A, D, and E.

Choosing the Ideal Hay for Your Horse


Young horses may need more protein and nutrients for growth and development. While older horses may have trouble digesting hay and may need softer, easier-to-digest alternatives, including soaking hay or hay cubes.


Horses that are overweight or have metabolic problems may need hay with fewer calories, like grass hay. A higher calorie hay, like alfalfa or mixed hay, may be suitable for horses that are underweight or working hard.

Activity Level

Horses who are working hard or competing may need more protein and calories to maintain their level of activity. Alfalfa or mixed hay may be a good option for these horses. 

Horses not engaged in strenuous labor might not need as much protein or energy, and they might thrive on a diet of grass hay.

Specific Nutritional Requirements

Horses with metabolic disorders or nutrient deficits, may have particular dietary requirements. It’s important to speak with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist to figure out the best hay selections for your equine companion.


Selecting the right hay for your horse also involves considering its quality. High-quality hay ensures there are no harmful elements like mold, dust, or contaminants that could be risky for horses. Look for hay that is aromatic, green, and free from weeds and other debris.


Maintaining your horse’s health and wellbeing requires selecting the ideal hay for them. Consider factors like age, weight, activity level, and nutritional needs to choose the right type of hay. Whether it’s grass hay, alfalfa hay, or a mix, make sure it’s of high quality and free from contaminants.

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