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Hay Only Diets...

From our perspective there is substantial published evidence plus our own experience that highlight the flaws in the argument that hay is all horses need.



The horse in the photo had been on a ‘Hay Only’ diet for the last 2 & ½ years following of a bout of laminitis. She had been well cared for and was placed in a grass free setup to ensure she didn’t have another bout.

Her carers followed what they believed was an appropriate way to manage her diet to avoid reoccurring laminitis. However, as time went on, they became concerned that she was not thriving and got in touch for help.


When we saw the photo, it was evident to us that she was lacking protein and other important vitamins and minerals in her diet. This was verified by blood tests. This is not uncommon in horses on high hay only diets in our experience.


It is important to understand that when protein is low the horse must break down his own tissues to obtain critical nutrients especially amino acids.


The body has to prioritise. For example, ‘Enzymes’ (which perform the trillions of chemical reactions that keep you alive) are made up of thousands of amino acids (protein) and when protein is in short supply it is more important that these enzymes are operational than it is for the horse to have muscle mass. This is why horses lose muscle (top-line) and become anaemic (protein is needed to make blood components).


With this horse Selenium was also very low, 638 when it should be around 2400.

Vitamin E is also lacking in a hay only diet due to its loss in the hay making process. Feral/wild horses obtain sufficient Vitamin E from the consumption of green forage in spring, late autumn and from along water-ways over summer.

Vitamin E being a fat-soluble Vitamin is stored in the liver and can be drawn upon when its supply is low, i.e. when grass is mature or dormant.


Feral/wild horses have a diet that varies not only in grass species, but also according to the season – these horses don’t consume green forage all year round, neither do they consume very mature grass (like hay) all year round.


The forage of our domestic horses living in temperate (much wetter) climates is often unsuitable all year round when they are turned out on traditional paddocks without appropriate hay and essential nutrients via a bucket feed.


Without management of grass, plus hay and a bucket feed to provide all the complementary nutrition they need, the metabolism of numerous horses becomes compromised over time. The extent of this depends on their individual metabolism and level of sensitivity to inappropriate pasture.


This is what we mean by being ‘prone to laminitis’ or ‘head-flicking’. These are the horses that cope less well to unsuitable forage or pasture and where you see the grass affected issues developing more rapidly in response to changes in the grass.


If you keep horses on a hay-based diet, as we do at CHH, it is prudent to add quality protein to the daily feed along with a broad spectrum Vitamin, mineral and amino acid supplement. Ideally one that is well formulated and includes the co-factors (little helpers) needed for minerals to perform their functions.

The detrimental effects of an inadequate diet may not show up in your horse for many months to several years but eventually a lack of good basic nutrition and management of forage will impact upon his health and well-being.


The horse in the photo is now on a simple, but nutritious diet and we will update you on her progress in 2-3 months time.


The diet is very simple:

  • Non lucerne chaff and beet - the soaked beet makes a good hydrating base for a feed when they are on high hay diets.

  • Crushed linseed (build up to 200gms/day)

  • Whole black sunflower seeds (build up to150gms/day)

Feeding these two together not only supplies the protein also the omega 3,6,9 fatty acids.


Additional vitamin/mineral supplement for her are as follows...


  • Premium MVA (Minerals, Vitamins, Amino Acids) for her daily essential nutrients including organic selenium and the increased levels of Vitamin E needed when on high hay diets, as well as the lysine, methionine and threonine which are lacking in protein sources.

She is also on additional selenium from the vet for 2-3 months then will be retested.

  • ShapeUp (pure amino acids with a pre-biotic)

  • AlleviateGold (a heaped tablespoon am & pm for 20 days = 1kg size pack) - these high dose vitamins will really speed up her progress.

  • Salt - add a generous dessertspoon of salt to each feed


NB this diet/quantities fed is for this horse in particular - we are being cautious as she has had laminitis before- other individuals may need more or less. Please fill out our enquiry form for more specific help.

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