Do Horses Eat Grass?

Written by: Annemarie Dutton
Last updated on:

Horses in the wild thrive on a diet of grass and other plants.  From this vegetation, they extract the nutrients needed to grow strong and healthy.  But, do domestic horses eat grass?

The short answer is yes, domestic horses eat grass. Horses need a diet high in fiber and low in starch or sugar to maintain their health. Grass provides this. 

This article examines the importance of grass in horses’ diets and the common types of grass they eat.

Types of Grass for Horses

Grass is essential to horses’ digestion and provides the nutrients they need to grow strong and healthy. There are two categories of grasses: warm-season and cool-season. Bermudagrass is a quality warm-season grass, and timothy, orchardgrass, and bluegrass are good cool-season grasses.

Cool-season grass for horses:

Timothy grass

Easy to grow, thrives in cool, wet regions but doesn’t tolerate close grazing well. It produces leafy stems late in the growing season.

Orchardgrass

Orchardgrass is not a tasty grass, nor one that appeals to picky horses, but it can grow in less than desirable soil conditions.

Tall fescue

Commonly used in Europe, tall fescue grass has deep roots, does well in low pH soils, and retains its quality during the cool growing season. In addition, because of its deep roots, it can withstand both heat and low moisture.

Kentucky bluegrass

Kentucky bluegrass can withstand drought and grows well in light, sandy soil. Since it’s palatable to horses of all ages, many horse owners like it – even though it needs fertilizing more often than usual for optimal growth throughout the year.

Perennial ryegrass

Perennial ryegrass is an ideal forage because it can quickly establish high-yielding growth and rapid regrowth after overgrazing. The downside is that it can cause laminitis in some horses because of the water-soluble carbohydrates (including fructan) it produces.

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Warm-season grass for horses:

Bermudagrass

Bermudagrass is a kind of grass that is grown in the south. It can grow in different places and does well on fertile soil. It produces high crops when managed well and has about as much nutrition as orchardgrass or tall fescue.

Bahiagrass

Bahiagrass is grown in many areas of the south. People like it because it’s easy to grow. However, it’s tough, wears down a horse’s teeth, and provides little nutritional value. Therefore, it’s better suited for cows and sheep.

Crabgrass

Crabgrass grows quickly and fills bare spaces. In some places, horse owners use crabgrass for forage, but it grows unevenly and is not desirable as a food source for horses in other areas.

Can Horses Eat Grass Clippings?

Horses can not eat fresh-cut grass because they gobble it down without adequately chewing it, leading to severe health issues. Clumps of cut grass also attract mold and bacteria, resulting in severe and sometimes fatal stomach problems for horses when ingested.

If your horse eats fresh-cut grass, the following are some examples of the potential health conditions:

Colic

There’s a genuine concern of mold accumulating on clumps of grass clippings that are still wet. If your horse eats moldy grass, it may develop a common but painful gut condition known as colic.

Colic is broadly defined as abdominal pain and has many forms, but one common cause is overeating. Large amounts of grass clippings, especially those that haven’t yet dried, stay undigested in the stomach and begin to ferment. This undigested grass can build up gas which exerts pressure on the gut and causes pain.

Diagnosing and managing colic as soon as possible is essential, and is a job best done with a vet’s advice.

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Laminitis

Grass is rich in carbs, and excessive eating of freshly cut grass can cause an overload of sugar. A sugar overload causes a chain reaction in the gut and results in chronic foot inflammation.

The condition is known as laminitis. It can permanently cripple the horse or prove fatal in severe cases. If you have any suspicion that your horse is at the risk of foundering, contact the vet immediately.

Choking

Choking happens when the food gets stuck in the horse’s esophagus. It can result in dehydration or infection if the food or any liquid comes in contact with the lungs.

One of the significant causes of choking is ingesting food that hasn’t been chewed properly. For example, if your horse begins choking after eating cut grass, you may notice slight changes in its behavior.

The horse may become uninterested in its feed. Instead, it will try to get the stuck food out by either coughing or shaking its neck downwards. Excessive drooling, the release of light mucus from the nostrils, and an abnormal increase in heart rate are also some of the things you should watch out for.

Can Horses Eat Dry Grass Clippings?

Horses can eat dry grass clippings that have been spread out or given in small amounts. 

Typically, grass that has been cut and widely spread out in the sun should dry out within a day. In contrast, grass cut in humid weather and left in clumps can take up to several days before it is safe for the horses to eat.

Drying time for cut grass depends on many things, including the length of time the grass is exposed to the sun, temperature, humidity, and even the type of grass.

Conclusion

We recommend knowing how many grass clippings you leave for your horses to graze. If you’ve recently mowed your pasture grass, it’s best to keep your horses away until it dries out.

Horses can eat cut grass that is dry, but eating wet grass quickly can cause dangerous health concerns. However, your horse can typically fully recover with early diagnosis and proper treatment.

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