Native Grasses or Premium Horse Hay – Which is Best?

My sweet QH Corazon, taking her turn at liberty to chow down on some native grasses.

In my book, native grasses absolutely rule! If they are truly “native” and growing randomly and wildly, they present a smorgasborg of variety and nutrition for the ambling equine. In the wild, a horse may travel up to 20 miles a day, taking a bite or two here, moving a good distance, then sampling a few more bites there. He hardly ever stands still, and unlike us, is meant to “eat on the run” (or walk). Imagine not only the number of grasses that horse is getting, but also the varying nutrients the soil in each area provides!

Unfortunately, very few horses these days have access to a natural grazing pattern on native grasses. It’s sad, but it is true. We have some wonderful hay growers, thank goodness, but most hays are overfertilized to keep out weeds or add nutrients, so they are often overly rich or way off balance in terms of the minerals they contain.

If your horse has 10 different grasses and “weeds” to munch on, he will always know which ones he needs and will choose those first, until he’s had his fill of them. What better method for fulfilling your horse’s nutritional requirements? So for me? I’d always choose native grasses over hay, whenever possible.

In Texas my horses had access to about 500 acres 24/7 so had the great fortune to be able to pick and choose amongst the local fodder. I fed hay sometimes too, especially during drought or winter months, when grass was scant, but they always seemed to find some tempting, naturally growing morsel to complete their menu.

Here in the high desert of New Mexico things are radically different. My horses have eight acres of varied terrain but not one blade of grass therein. If one errant grass seed does dare to pop its little head up, they find it immediately and it’s toast!

I am fortunate, however, in that I do have some meadowy areas where several strains of grasses and weeds grow abundantly when we have even the slightest bit of moisture. We are in the monsoon season right now, so there’s grass galore. Whenever I can, every day or two, I turn the horses out for controlled grazing periods. Usually one at a time, since my 40 acres is not totally perimeter fenced and I don’t want to have to go chasing the herd over the hills. They love their “time in the sun” and gorge on the grasses as fast as they can, probably knowing their turn will be over in an hour or so. This rotated grazing during our grassy days really helps save on hay and really amps up everybody’s nutrition.

I know we don’t all have access to grass for our horses, or we don’t have that access all the time. But if you do, ever, try to make sure your equine gets some of it. It’s the healthiest thing you can do for him, plus it makes him just feel more like a real horse because he’s doing a real horse thing – grazing!

Corazon enjoying her grazing time with her two herd mates jealously looking on from the corral. Don't worry, they've both already had their turn to graze today. (And yes, she is wearing a halter, leather, and dragging a rope. All the better to retrieve her with if she goes on walkabout.)

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