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, Editor
Holly Caccamise has been with Horse Illustrated and Young Rider magazines since 2007, and in 2019, she became Editor in Chief of both titles. Caccamise has a master's degree in...


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