Forages for Feeding Horses

Available forages for horses vary by region and season. Here's a look at some of the most common.

Forages for Horses

Veterinarians and nutritionists agree: High-quality forage is the foundation of a healthy equine diet. Available options vary by region and season, and are usually available as hay or pasture. Take a look at some popular forages for horses in our slideshow.

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Tall Fescue Grass

Fescue is a hardy pasture grass. However, endophyte-infected tall fescue can cause fescue toxicosis, a serious and potentially fatal disease in mares and their unborn foals.

Photo: University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment

Rye Grass

Ryegrass is a cereal grain hay with generally low protein. Like other grain hays it might have an inverted calcium-phosphorus ratio.

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This warm-season grass is most common in Southern states. Coastal Bermuda grows tall enough to be cut for hay and has a similar nutritional profile to other grass hays.

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Oat Grass

Like other cereal grasses, oat hay typically has a low protein and marginal calcium content. Depending on its maturity when cut, it might include some oats.

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Red and white clover are legumes and provide acceptable protein and energy levels for horses. But clover might be "too rich" for young horses during the early rapid growth phase. A compound called slaframine, produced by a fungus, can be found on clover in warm humid weather and cause horses to slobber, while a black blotch mold in clover can result in sunburn due to liver damage.

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Orchardgrass is a cool-season grass that’s typically moderate in protein and high in fiber.

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A cool-season grass, bromegrass is a nutritious option for horses and, when planted in pastures, helps stabilize sod from hoof and grazing damage.

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Timothy is a bunch grass that is lower in protein than other forage options but high in fiber. It’s a popular option for feeding horses but must be harvested in the pre- or early-bloom stage to ensure high nutrient content.

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Alfalfa is a calcium- and protein-rich legume that veterinarians often recommend for horses suffering from equine gastric ulcer syndrome.

Photo: iStock

Beet Pulp

Beet pulp is a low-sugar byproduct of sugar production and is a forage alternative that can supplement horses' fiber needs. It comes with or without molasses, so choose carefully if you’re feeding a horse that’s sensitive to sugars.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse