Which Type of Hay is Right For My Horse?

Are you trying to determine which kind of hay is the best to feed your horse? There are many different kinds: alfalfa, grass hay such as timothy and bermuda hay, and mixes that include both alfalfa and grass. Then too there are differences in quality and even the nutritional content between different farmers and suppliers.

It’s not uncommon for horse owners to feel overwhelmed in the face of so many choices. Just like people, however, horses have different diet needs based on their activity levels and other physical considerations. Here is a brief guide on choosing an appropriate hay for your horse.


Let’s say you have a healthy horse at a perfect weight, that’s not being worked very hard or at all. Light work might include a few short rides (30 to 60 minutes) a week. Most horses in this situation need what’s known as a maintenance diet to keep their weight the same.

Grass hay, such as timothy and bermuda hay, is generally considered the best for a maintenance diet. Grass hay satisfies the horse’s nutritional requirements, while also providing a lot of bulk to help the horse feel full.

Horses with Higher Nutritional Needs

Some horses have higher energy and nutrient needs. These include:

  • Pregnant or lactating mares
  • Young horses that are still growing
  • Underweight horses
  • Old or sick horses that have a harder time maintaining their weight
  • Horses in a physically demanding work program
  • These horses need the additional protein and energy that can be found in other types of hay

Alfalfa is a higher-protein, energy- and nutrient-rich hay that is perfect for horses who fall into this category. If a diet of straight alfalfa turns out to be too much, if it makes the horse “hot” or causes them to gain weight, a mix of alfalfa and grass hay can be fed instead.

Meeting Your Horse’s Nutritional Needs

Knowing the types of hay available to horse owners is only the start. There can be a vast difference between two bales of bermuda hay, for instance, depending on where and how they were grown.

Regardless of what kind of hay you get your horse, your best bet for making sure his nutritional needs are met is to either have the hay tested, or to only buy from hay and hay pellet suppliers who can show you the results from their own tests.