10 Tips for Choosing the Best Hay for Your Horse
High-quality hay can be an important source of essential nutrients in your horse’s diet. A horse’s
protein and energy requirements depend on age, stage of development, metabolism and workload.
A mature horse will eat 2 to 2.5% of its body weight a day, and for optimum health, nutritionists
recommend that at least half of this should be roughage such as hay. For a 1000-pound horse, that
means at least 10 pounds of roughage each day.
Hay generally falls into one of two categories – grasses or legumes. Legume hay is higher
in protein, energy, calcium and vitamin A than grass hays. While hay alone may not meet the total
dietary requirements of young, growing horses or those used for high levels of performance, highquality
hay may supply ample nutrition for less active adult horses.
Once you’ve determined the best category of hay for your horse, most people select hay
based on how it looks, smells and feels. Use the following tips from the American Association of
Equine Practitioners to select the best hay for your horse:
1. It’s what’s inside that counts. Ask that one or several bales are opened so you can evaluate the
hay inside the bales. Do not worry about slight discoloration on the outside, especially in
2. Choose hay that is as fine-stemmed, green and leafy as possible, and is soft to the touch.
3. Avoid hay that is overcured, excessively sun-bleached, or smells moldy, musty, dusty or
4. Select hay that has been harvested when the plants are in early bloom for legume hay or before
seed heads have formed in grasses. Examine the leaves, stems and flowers or seed pods to
determine the level of maturity.
5. Avoid hay that contains significant amounts of weeds, dirt, trash or debris.
6. Examine hay for signs of insect infestation or disease. Be especially careful to check for
blister beetles in alfalfa. Ask the grower about any potential problems in the region.
7. Reject bales that seem excessively heavy for their size of feel warm to the touch, as they could
contain excess moisture that could cause mold, or worse, spontaneous combustion.
8. When possible, purchase and feed hay within a year of harvest to preserve its nutritional value.
9. Store hay in a dry, sheltered area out of the rain, snow and sun, or cover in the stack to protect
it from the elements.
10. When buying in quantity, have the hay analyzed by a certified forage laboratory to determine
its actual nutrient content.
Remember that horses at different ages and stages of growth, development and activity
have different dietary requirements. Consult your veterinarian or a qualified equine nutritionist
when formulating your horse’s ration. He or she can help you put together a balanced diet that is
safe, nutritious and cost-effective.
For more information about choosing hay, ask your equine veterinarian for the “Hay
Quality and Horse Nutrition” brochure, provided by the AAEP in partnership with Educational
Partners Bayer Animal Health and Purina Mills, Inc. More information about nutrition also can be
found online on the AAEP’s website, www.aaep.org/horseowner.
10 tips for Fighting Fungus-infected Fescue
Tall fescue is a grass which grows on over 35 million acres of land in the United States. As
many as 700,000 horses may graze fescue pastures or be fed fescue hay each year. Many of
these pastures contain fescue that is infected with an endophytic fungus that is toxic to horses.
When the horse ingests the grass, it is steadily poisoned by alkaloids produced by the fungus.
What many owners may not realize is that there are some significant health risks associated
with horses eating endophyte fungus-infected tall fescue. Some of these problems can be
minimized with careful management of horses and pastures. Follow these management tips from
the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) to reduce the risks of health problems
caused by EI tall fescue:
1. Have your pasture tested to determine the level of infection.
2. Mow fields prior to the development of seed heads, which contain the highest levels of
toxins in the plant.
3. Remove horses from EI fescue pastures in conditions of extreme heat and drought.
4. Remove broodmares from EI fescue pastures 30 days prior to breeding and 60 – 90 days
prior to foaling.
5. Keep accurate records of breeding and anticipated foaling dates.
6. Notify your veterinarian for initiation of drug therapy if your mare has been grazing EI
fescue prior to foaling.
7. Monitor the mare closely during late pregnancy.
8. Contact your veterinarian if impending signs of birth, including udder development,
relaxation of vulva, and muscles around the tailhead fail to develop within the expected
9. Attend the birth. If mare fails to show signs of normal birth progression, contact your
10. Keep mares and foals off EI fescue until after weaning to prevent poor milk production.
If replanting a pasture, it is extremely important that all infected plants and seeds be destroyed
prior to sowing. Discuss the best methods for eliminating stands of infected fescue with an
agronomist, toxicologist or your county extension agent.
For more information about treating EI fescue problems in your horse, contact your equine
veterinarian and request “Fescue: Minimizing the Risk to Your Horse’s Health,” a brochure
provided by the AAEP in conjunction with Educational Partners Bayer Animal Health and
Purina Mills. Additional information can also be found on the AAEP’s website,
10 Tips for Weight Reduction in the Overweight Horse
As a horse owner, you play an important role in controlling your equine companion’s weight.
Sound nutrition management, a regular exercise program and veterinary care are key to keeping
your horse fit and healthy. Maintaining the ideal weight is not always easy, however.
When implementing a weight loss program for the overweight horse, it’s important to do it
gradually and under the supervision of an equine veterinarian. Follow these guidelines from the
American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) to get you started:
1. Be patient. Weight reduction should be a slow, steady process so not to stress the horse or
create metabolic upsets.
2. Make changes in both the type and amount of feed gradually. Reduce rations by no more
than 10% over a 7- to 10-day period.
3. Track your horse’s progress by using a weight tape. When the horse’s weight plateaus,
gradually cut back its ration again.
4. Step up the horse’s exercise regimen. Gradually build time and intensity as the horse’s
5. Provide plenty of clean, fresh water so the horse’s digestive and other systems function as
efficiently as possible and rid the body of metabolic and other wastes.
6. Select feeds that provide plenty of high quality fiber but are low in total energy. Measure
feeds by weight rather than by volume to determine appropriate rations.
7. Select feeds that are lower in fat since fat is an energy-dense nutrient source.
8. Switch or reduce the amount of alfalfa hay feed. Replace with a mature grass or oat hay to
reduce caloric intake.
9. Feed separate from other horses so the overweight horse doesn’t have a chance to eat his
portion and his neighbor’s too. In extreme cases of obesity, caloric intake may also need to
be controlled by limiting pasture intake.
10. Balance the horse’s diet based on age and activity level. Make sure the horse’s vitamin,
mineral and protein requirements continue to be met.
Once your horse has reached its ideal body condition, maintaining the proper weight is a
gentle balancing act. You will probably need to readjust your horse’s ration to stabilize its
weight. Exercise will continue to be a key component in keeping the horse fit. Because obesity
can affect a horse’s health, communicate regularly with your veterinarian. Schedule regular
check-ups, especially during the weight reduction process.
For more information about caring for the obese horse, ask your equine veterinarian for the
“Overweight Horse” brochure, provided by the American Association of Equine Practitioners in
partnership with Educational Partners Bayer Animal Health and Purina Mills, Inc., or visit the
AAEP’s website at www.aaep.org/horseowner.
Reprinted with permission from the American Association of Equine Practitioners.