Benefits of a Forage-Based Diet for Horses

Benefits of a Forage-Based Diet For Horses

Horses were born to be natural grazers. Long before they were fed oats, corn, barley, or any processed feeds and had individually mixed meals twice a day, horses were introduced to America by the Spanish and survived and thrived on forages – the native grasses of the prairies that were available to them. Nearly 500 years later, equine enthusiasts are rediscovering the benefits of a forage-based diet for horses. 

In a forage-based diet, most of the calories come from forage with little or no grain included in the diet. Forage sources could include free-choice hay or pasture, hay pellets, or a combination of these feedstuffs. There are many benefits of forage-based diets for horses. It can improve their mental, physical, and overall well-being. Since horses are grazers, their digestive system works best with nearly constant intake of high-fiber forage instead of small, grain-based diets. Forage-based diets can lower the risk of ulcers and other gut problems, especially when forage is provided free-choice. 

There are some considerations to make if transitioning to a forage-based diet. Depending on activity level, your horse will need a lot of hay to get the calories it needs. All horses should be provided at least 1 to 1.5% of their body weight in hay per day. If they are in training or regular exercises, that may be increased to about 2 to 2.5% of their body weight in forage each day. For a 1,000-pound horse, that is equal to 20-25 pounds of hay. Since you are not providing a fortified grain, you may also need to provide vitamin and mineral supplementation to balance the diet. 

Because you can’t tell the make-up of your pasture grass or hay, it is vitally important to have your hay and forages tested. Testing your hay ensures that the nutrient requirements of your animals are being met. If your hay does not have the proper nutrients, you will want to supplement it with the vitamins and minerals needed to offer your horse a balanced diet. BioZyme® Inc., makers of Vitalize® equine products, offers free hay testing to its customers. To learn more about collecting samples, getting your samples analyzed, and working with our nutrition team, visit Vitalize Hay Testing

If you are looking for nutritional supplements that are fully fortified with vitamins and minerals to support nutritional health, Vitalize offers several solutions. These Vitalize supplements contain AO-Biotics® Amaferm®, a prebiotic research proven to enhance digestibility in horses and other animals. Choose from three fully fortified Vitalize supplements. 

  • Vitalize® Equine Free Choice is a free-choice vitamin and mineral supplement for horses. It is fortified with vitamins, minerals, and organic trace minerals and also contains garlic to deter insects.  
  • Vitalize® Equine Protein Pellet is a pelleted, natural protein supplement for horses fortified with vitamins, minerals, and organic trace minerals to balance rations. It also provides 28% natural protein. 
  • Vitalize® Equine High Performance is a pelleted supplement highly fortified with vitamins and minerals designed to support the nutritional needs of performance horses. It contains high levels of calcium to help maintain proper gut pH. 

If you are transitioning to a forage-based diet from a grain-based diet, remember that it should be a gradual transition. Gradually reduce the amount of grain you feed your horse daily while increasing their amount of hay and fiber sources. 

A forage-based diet doesn’t always agree with every horse, and there could be instances where you can’t totally eliminate grains from your horse’s diet. If you are unsure, always consult your vet or an equine nutritionist. 

Horses were meant to graze. A forage-based diet can give your horse the constant intake required to properly maintain their digestive tract and keep their mental focus in check. To learn more about Vitalize products to add nutritional support or to locate a dealer near you, visit

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