When purchasing hay for your horse, assess its freshness; it should not be dusty or smell moldy or musty. Moldy hay contributes to respiratory ailments in horses. The more mature the hay is when it’s harvested, the more stemmy and high in fiber/low in protein it will be. While this may be nutritionally adequate for lightly ridden horses and easy keepers, it is also less palatable and may not get eaten at all.

Hay cut earlier has more leafy material, calories and protein. Horses are usually quite eager to eat it, but it may also lead to weight gain if fed free-choice. A good idea is to feed the “younger,” tastier hay at meal time and leave the more mature hay available free-choice for snacking on whenever the horse wants something to keep him busy.

The two types of hay are grass and legume. Examples of grass hay are orchard grass, Bermuda grass and timothy. Legume hays include alfalfa and clover. Many hay producers grow mixed fields for “combination” hay—for example, orchardgrass and clover.

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This article originally appeared in the 2010 issue of Horses USA. Click here to purchase a copy.

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Holly Caccamise has been with Horse Illustrated and Young Rider since 2007, and in August 2019, she took over as head editor. She’s been instrumental in the production of both magazines and helped Horse Illustrated win a 2018 American Horse Publications Media Award in the General Excellence Self-Supported Publication (circulation 15,000 and over) category. Before getting involved in the editorial side of print media, she worked as an award-winning ad copywriter for Thoroughbred Times magazine. Caccamise has her MS in Animal Science from the University of Kentucky, where she studied equine nutrition and exercise physiology, and her Bachelor’s from UCLA in Biology. Caccamise has also worked as a research assistant, horse camp counselor teaching riding and vaulting, and as a top-level show groom in the eventing world, where she continues to compete her horse, Artie, at the lower levels.


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