Horse Eating Grass but not Hay – Reasons and Solutions

A horse’s dietary needs play a critical role in maintaining their health, performance, and overall well-being. Hay is an essential component of a horse’s diet, providing them with the necessary fiber and nutrients to thrive. However, there are times when horses may eat grass but not hay, posing challenges for their caretakers.

This article aims to explore the reasons behind this behavior, the potential effects on the horse’s health, and the solutions and preventive measures that can be taken to ensure a balanced and healthy diet.

why is Horse Eating Grass but not Hay?

If a horse is eating grass but not hay, it could be due to factors such as hay quality, sudden dietary changes, or digestive issues. To encourage hay consumption, ensure the hay is fresh and mold-free, transition gradually between pasture and hay, address any digestive problems and offer a variety of hay types.

Reasons for Horse Eating Grass but not Hay

Diarrhea and digestive issues

One common reason why horses might eat grass but not hay is due to diarrhea or other digestive issues. Diarrhea can be caused by a variety of factors, including infections, sudden diet changes, or an imbalance in gut flora.

When a horse is suffering from diarrhea, it may not feel well enough to eat hay, which is harder to digest than fresh grass. Typically, horses recover from diarrhea on their own, but if the condition persists for more than a day or two, it is essential to consult a veterinarian.

Poor hay quality or moldy hay

The quality of hay plays a significant role in a horse’s willingness to eat it. Poor-quality hay or hay that has become moldy can deter a horse from consuming it, as they may instinctively avoid food that could potentially harm them.

Hay that has been stored improperly, exposed to moisture, or left for extended periods may develop mold, which can produce harmful toxins. In such cases, the horse may prefer to eat fresh grass instead.

The transition from pasture to hay or vice versa

Another reason why horses may eat grass but not hay is due to a sudden transition between pasture and hay. Horses that have been grazing on pasture may be reluctant to switch to hay when brought into a stable or when the pasture is no longer available.

Similarly, horses that have been on a hay diet may take some time to adjust to fresh grass when turned out to pasture. It is essential to manage these transitions gradually to prevent any disruptions in the horse’s feeding habits.

Effects of not Eating Hay

Potential weight loss or malnutrition

When a horse is not eating hay, it may not be receiving the necessary nutrients to maintain its weight and overall health. Hay is a crucial source of fiber, which is essential for proper digestion and gut health. A lack of fiber can lead to weight loss, malnutrition, and other health issues.

Hindgut acidity and related issues

Horses that do not consume enough hay may be at risk of developing hindgut acidity, a condition primarily affecting horses on high-grain diets or those receiving extremely rich legume hay.

Hindgut acidity can cause discomfort and lead to a reduced appetite. When coupled with diarrhea or other digestive issues, weight loss can be profound and occur quickly.

Solutions and preventive measures

Monitoring hay quality and freshness

One of the most critical factors in ensuring that a horse consumes its hay is monitoring the quality and freshness of the hay provided. It is essential to store hay properly, away from moisture, and in well-ventilated areas, to prevent mold growth and maintain its nutritional value.

Regularly inspecting hay for signs of mold or spoilage can help identify any issues early on, allowing for timely replacement with fresh, high-quality hay.

Gradual transition between pasture and hay

To prevent a horse from refusing hay, it is crucial to manage transitions between pasture and hay gradually. Begin by slowly introducing hay into the horse’s diet while still on pasture, gradually increasing the amount of hay and reducing the time spent grazing.

This process allows the horse to adjust to the change in diet and become more accepting of hay as a primary food source.

Addressing diarrhea and digestive issues

If a horse is not eating hay due to diarrhea or other digestive issues, it is important to identify the underlying cause and provide appropriate treatment. Consult with a veterinarian to determine the best course of action, which may include dietary adjustments, probiotics, or medications to alleviate digestive discomfort and restore normal eating habits.

Offering a variety of hay types

Some horses may be more willing to eat hay if offered a variety of types or blends. Experimenting with different hay types, such as timothy, alfalfa, or orchardgrass, can help identify the horse’s preferences and encourage hay consumption.

Mixing different types of hay can also provide a more balanced and appealing diet, ensuring that the horse receives a wide range of nutrients.


Understanding the reasons behind a horse’s preference for grass over hay can help caretakers address the issue effectively and ensure that their equine companions receive the necessary nutrients for optimal health. By monitoring hay quality, managing dietary transitions, addressing digestive issues, and offering a variety of hay types, caretakers can encourage their horses to eat hay and maintain a balanced, healthy diet.

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