Skip to Content

5 Tips to Help You Choose the Best Hay for Your Horses!

Last updated: March 10, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

While some people may think that all horse hay is the same, this is far from accurate. There is a wide variety of forages and qualities of hay; some are much better for your horse’s health than others. Knowing how to choose the best hay for your horse is essential.

To choose the best hay for your horse, break open a bale and check it for mold and freshness. Moldy hay has a distinct musty odor, but fresh hay has a sweet aroma, feels soft, and is flexible. You can also have the hay analyzed to ensure its nutrient content meets your horses’ needs.

Typically, horses should consume up to 2% of their body weight in hay per day, and because they consume so much, it’s critical to give them the best. So if you are stuck in deciding which one’s the best, I suggest sticking around as I will be going over some essential information.

Hay Basics 

Hay is a crucial component of a horse’s diet, providing essential fiber, vitamins, and minerals. When selecting the best hay for your horse, it’s important to understand the different types of hay available and how to identify high-quality hay.

Selecting the correct hay for your horse is essential in ensuring they receive the proper nutrition according to their needs. It’s important to consider factors such as the horse’s age, weight, and activity level when choosing the right type of hay.

In addition to selecting the right type of hay, it’s also important to monitor the amount of hay you feed your horse. Feeding too little hay can lead to nutritional deficiencies while feeding too much hay can lead to weight gain and other health issues. Consult with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist to determine the appropriate amount of hay to feed your horse.

By choosing the correct hay and monitoring your horse’s feeding habits, you can help ensure that your horse is receiving the proper nutrition they need to stay strong and healthy.

Picture of square bales of hay in a field.

Types of hay

Hay is a critical component of a horse’s diet and comes in a variety of types. The most common types of hay for horses are legume hay and grass hay.

Legume hay includes alfalfa and clover hay, which are higher in protein and calcium than grass hay. This type of hay is ideal for horses with higher nutritional needs, such as growing foals, pregnant mares, and performance horses.

Grass hay is a low-protein, high-fiber hay that is suitable for most horses. Common types of grass hay include timothy, orchard grass, and bermudagrass. This type of hay is ideal for horses that require a lower protein diet or are prone to weight gain.

When selecting hay for your horse, it’s important to consider your horse’s specific nutritional needs and consult with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist if necessary. In addition to legume and grass hay, there are other types of hay available, such as oat hay and wheat hay. However, these types of hay are less commonly used for feeding horses.

It’s also important to consider the quality of the hay when selecting a type. Look for hay that is free from mold, dust, and other contaminants and has a fresh smell, green color, and soft texture.

By understanding the different types of hay available and their nutritional profiles, you can select the best hay for your horse’s specific needs and help ensure that they receive the proper nutrition they need to thrive.

Picture of a bale of grass hay.

Which cutting of hay is best for horses?

Rain, heat, and geography all play a role in how many cuttings are successful within the year,
Usually, a grower can cut their fields up to three times a year in most areas of the country.

Generally, the second cut of hay is the best because it provides greener leaves, more nutrients, and has a fine texture; it also tends to have a sweeter smell compared to the rest. The first cut usually grows thicker stems and has more weeds.

The first cut of hay develops slightly more coarse and includes more grass, while the third cut ends up being the thickest hay, although not all farmers get a third cut as weather and heat can affect the crops.

A great tip to know is that you can rate hay by its weeds, maturity, and whether or not it suffered any damage caused by the weather.

Below is a helpful YouTube video that discusses the differences in hay.

YouTube video

What should I look for in good-quality hay?

Selecting high-quality hay is essential in ensuring your horse receives the proper nutrition they need to thrive. Here are some key factors to consider when evaluating hay:

  1. Appearance: High-quality hay should have a fresh smell, be green in color, and have a soft texture. Avoid hay that is discolored, dusty, or has a moldy or musty smell.
  2. Leaf-to-stem ratio: Look for hay that has a high leaf-to-stem ratio, as this indicates that the hay is more nutritious. Avoid hay that is overly mature or has a low leaf-to-stem ratio.
  3. Stage of maturity: Different stages of maturity can impact the nutritional value of the hay. Early-cut hay is typically more nutritious than late-cut hay, as it has a higher protein content.
  4. Weed and debris content: Good-quality hay should be free from weeds, debris, and other contaminants. Look for hay that is clean and free from foreign objects.
  5. Nutritional value: Consider the nutritional value of the hay when selecting a type. Factors such as protein content, fiber content, and calcium content can impact the nutritional value of the hay.

It’s important to purchase hay from a reputable source and store it properly to maintain its quality. Keep hay dry and protected from moisture and pests to prevent spoilage.

By evaluating the appearance, leaf-to-stem ratio, stage of maturity, weed and debris content, and nutritional value of hay, you can select high-quality hay that will provide your horse with the proper nutrition they need to thrive.

Picture of a horse eating from a hay net.

Hay for insulin-resistant horses

It’s important to know which type of hay and know the right amount to feed your horse to manage its carbohydrate metabolism. Luckily, various forms of hay will aid in your horse’s well-being.

Timothy grass hay is a good choice for insulin-resistant horses because it tends to be lower in starch. Orchardgrass and Alfalfa are also great selections when you need to monitor the amount of starch your horse consumes.

In addition, Timothy hay is higher in fiber and lower in sugar and calories than most other types of horse hay, making it a great choice for overweight horses. Timothy hay is also higher in calcium, which is essential for horse health.

It is best to avoid hays containing wheat, oats, and barley as they all have a high amount of starch that can be harmful to insulin-resistant horses. The main objective is to find one with low carbohydrate percentages and one with lower sugar content.

It may vary depending on various harvesting factors, such as when the level of maturity it reached before getting cut, if rain fell on the hay after being trimmed, and depending on what time of the day the cut took place.

For those who are unsure of which hay to use, there are other ways you can reduce the sugar levels on them by soaking them for at least 30 to 60 minutes before feeding your horses to help reduce the sugar content in them.

It is important to remember to remove it from the water before giving it to your horse because the water retains the sugar content. To avoid mold growth, you must feed them the soaked hay immediately.

Changing the feeders used to feed your horse is something to consider. Using slow feeders such as hay bags helps control the sugar intake they consume. You can ensure that your horse is consuming fewer levels by allowing it to graze in the early hours of the morning, as this is when the sugar levels are at their lowest.

If a morning graze is unavailable, then an alternative is using a grazing muzzle to help reduce the amount of starch and sugar it consumes.

What hay is best for Laminitic horses?

Laminitis can cause the horse’s coffin bone to separate from the hoof wall, causing their bones to rotate within the hoof. It is a painful and deteriorating process for your beloved animal and can become recurring if not treated correctly.

It is usually blamed on horses overeating grains and large amounts of grass high in nonstructural carbohydrates (NSCs). Although, there are several causes behind this condition. Finding the root cause of this condition is essential so your horse receives proper medications and diet.

Generally, a mixture of grass hay and alfalfa is the best hay combination for horses prone to laminitis. But each horse is an individual, so it’s best to consult your vet if your horse is prone to laminitis. Teff hay, although not popular in the U.S., has shown promising results.

In a recent study, Teff hay proved beneficial for laminitic horses because of its low sugar and starch content, making it safe for horses with certain conditions or diet restrictions to consume.

Teff hay is usually grown in warm seasons that originate from Ethiopia as a grain. It has recently become more popular among horse owners in search of lowering their horse’s sugar intake. This hay includes thin stems that are leafy and soft to the horse’s palate, making it easier to feed them.

The great thing about Teff is that it germinates quickly and is usually ready to harvest within 45 to 55 days after seeding takes place.


Overall, we touched base on several hays that our horses can benefit from to prevent recurring.
Laminitis while discovering some tips we can take to improve our horse’s condition.

Always make sure to consult with its Veterinarian before changing its diet, as giving your horse the wrong hay can reverse any improvements you seek. Nonetheless, you now have gained a sense of knowledge and confidence in helping you decide which type of hay is best for feeding your horse.