While the old saying, “you are what you eat,” was talking about humans, the premise is just as important for the animals in our lives, including horses! Keep reading to learn how the quality of hay directly affects your equine.

In our April 28th blog post, we mentioned how feeding older hay (or even store-bought hay) may leave your horse lacking valuable nutrients including Vitamins A and E, biotin, silicon, zinc and copper requiring dietary supplements.

Since the quality of hay directly affects your horse’s health, overall well-eing and performance, it’s critical for horse owners to clearly understand the quality and benefits of different hays before choosing what to feed their horse since it makes up the majority of an equine’s diet.  

Hay is Hay, Right?

Sorry, it’s not that simple; it’s all about meeting your individual horse’s specific needs. These needs include:

  • Energy needs based on activity levels
  • Breed
  • Body type and weight
  • Age
  • Metabolism

So it’s critical to know the differences between grass and legume hay when it comes to your horse’s specific needs as well as the availability of hays in your area.  

Choices of Quality of Hay

Most horse hays are generally categorized into grass or legume.

Common grass hays include:

  • Bluegrass
  • Orchardgrass
  • Timothy

In addition to horses, timothy grass/hay

is a popular source of food for rabbits,

guinea pigs, chinchillas, deer, and even

livestock. It can grow to 3-1/2 feet tall!

Not only is Timothy hay good for digestion

it also supports good dental health!


  • Lower in protein and energy; higher in fiber.
  • Helps buffer stomach acid, adds roughage without excess calories or protein.
  • Less nutrient-dense and filling so horses often eat more.
  • May not be nutritious enough for hard-working horses, a growing foal or a pregnant or lactating mare.
  • Best for horses who engage in light work or are retired.

Common legume hays include:

  • Alfalfa (most popular)
  • White clover
  • Red clover
  • Birdsfoot trefoil


  • Higher in protein, minerals and calcium.
  • Provides more energy.
  • May be too rich in nutrients for lightly worked or retired horses and lead to weight gain.
  • May need to add a high-phosphorous mineral supplement to balance the calcium-to-phosphorous ratio.

Quality Hay: The Must-Haves

Regardless of which hay you feed, make sure it is high-quality and:

  • Sweet-smelling and have a fresh-cut odor
  • Bright green (or golden) with little fading
  • Soft and flexible in your hand
  • Free of all mold
  • Free of weeds
  • Free of foreign materials
  • Free of excess dust/dirt

Quality Hay: What to Avoid

It is also important for hay to be properly baled to maintain its best quality. Keep the following tips in mind when selecting hay.

  1. Avoid hay with more than 15% moisture. Baling wet hay results in mold and toxin growth and lower quality. Avoid moldy or musty-smelling hay.

Learn why you should NEVER feed your horse moldy hay according to the University of Minnesota!

  • Avoid older, stemmy hay. Young, immature hay plants contain more nutrients. More flat leaves and fewer stems offer the best digestibility and nutrient content.
  • Avoid seed heads or blooms.
  • Avoid bleached, yellow, brown or black-colored hay.

With hay responsible for the largest percentage of your horse’s daily feed, supplying high-quality hay will support your horse’s best health. Remember, harvesting, wrapping, storage, moisture levels and the overall age of the hay are all critical factors for the highest quality hay!

Unsure which hay to choose?

Work with your regular vet for your horse’s best health, energy, comfort and longevity!

THE Grooming Tool Your Horse will LOVE!

Do you clip your horse? Another great use for the EquiGroomer comes after they’ve been clipped. Imagine all those tiny fragments of loose hair on your back and then covered with a blanket. Talk about being itchy! The EquiGroomer will bring those loose ends to the surface so they can be brushed off. 

For individual or bulk orders, call 860-573-0604 or click here to send us an email

Image Credits

Rihaij from Pixabay

Rihaij from Pixabay

AnnaAr from Pixabay

Imklatte from Pixabay

Michael Schwarzenberger from Pixabay 

Christel SAGNIEZ from Pixabay 

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