Do Horses on Pasture During the Day Need Hay at Night?

Horses with grassy turnouts graze all day, so they don’t need extra forage when they’re stalled at night, right? Not so fast, our nutritionist says. Here’s why.

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do horses on pasture during the day need hay at night
Many horses residing in areas with good pasture can fulfill their calorie demands and maintain condition with grass alone, especially if they aren’t working too hard. | Photo: iStock
Q.In the past few weeks our pasture grass has really come in. My horses are now out on pasture all day and come in at night—I turn them out around 7 a.m. and they come in between 5:30 and 6 p.m. Since they’ve been grazing all day, I haven’t been giving them hay overnight. They’re in good condition and clearly not lacking for calories, plus I figure they sleep at night. Is this okay, or should I be giving them hay at night?

—Janet Bryant, Templeton, Massachusetts

A.In many areas with climates that support good grazing, grass is typically abundant by this time of year. As a result, many horses can meet their calorie demands and maintain condition if they have access to good pasture and aren’t working too hard.

Feeding to condition is a major component of any equine nutrition program. If your horses are maintaining a body condition score of 5 (or slightly above or below), your feeding program is meeting their calorie requirements. And good news: It does sound as though your horses’ caloric needs are being met at this time from consuming only pasture all day

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Written by:

Clair Thunes, PhD, is an equine nutritionist who owns Clarity Equine Nutrition, based in Gilbert, Arizona. She works as a consultant with owners/trainers and veterinarians across the United States and globally to take the guesswork out of feeding horses and provides services to select companies. As a nutritionist she works with all equids, from WEG competitors to Miniature donkeys and everything in between. Born in England, she earned her undergraduate degree at Edinburgh University, in Scotland, and her master’s and doctorate in nutrition at the University of California, Davis. Growing up, she competed in a wide array of disciplines and was an active member of the U.K. Pony Club. Today, she serves as the district commissioner for the Salt River Pony Club.

4 Responses

  1. We bring our horses in at night as well. They are in a barnyard with their stalls and we hay at night. But the last few nights, they havent been eating their hay. Could it be they are just full? They ate their oates

  2. We bring our horses in at night as well. In the summer they go out around 6:15 AM and don’t come back in to their stalls until 8:30 PM. In the winter they go out at the same time, but they come in a lot earlier…around 6:30PM. In our area we have a LOT of coyotes, bob cat and even an occasional mountain lion passing through. No way are we leaving our horses vulnerable to attack at night. Instead they get hay, plenty of water and a soft bed of shavings. All seem pretty content!

  3. Many good points about here about ulcer risk, gastrointestinal health and 24/7 turnout that every horse owner should already know. Also, horses only sleep a 3 or at most 4 hours per day, not all of that at night.

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