Horse Pellets vs. Traditional Hay: Which Is Better for Your Horse?

horse eating

As a horse owner, one of the most important decisions you’ll make is deciding what to feed your horse.

While traditional hay has been the go-to feed for horses for centuries, horse pellets are now an increasingly popular alternative thanks to their many advantages. So which is right for your horse and its unique needs? 

Let’s explore the pros and cons of both options, factors that can make one better than the other, and why a combination of both may reign supreme. 

Horse Pellets

Horse pellets, also known as equine pellets or horse feed pellets, are a type of concentrated feed that is made from compressed and processed ingredients.

Horse pellets typically contain a mix of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals.

Some are designed to be more treat-oriented or to supplement with other forage sources, while others are fortified to be a complete feed. 

Horse pellets are made by grinding and mixing various feed ingredients, such as grains, forages, and supplements, into a homogenous blend. This blend is then processed through a pellet mill, turning the mixture into small, uniform pellets.

The resulting horse pellets are then cooled and dried to remove excess moisture, greatly extending the shelf life. 


Smaller Size – Horse pellets are typically pretty small with a shape that lets them pack well together. This is great when you’re low on space. 

Minimal Analysis – Horse pellets typically come with a minimal analysis, allowing you to see the nutritional breakdown. 

Cleaner – Exceptional horse pellets don’t include ingredients that don’t support your horse’s health. Then the heating process renders seeds from weeds, etc., unable to germinate. This reduces nonnative plant exposure and improves the quality of manure for composting. 

Less Dusty – Horses with respiratory issues usually do better with pellets thanks to them being less dusty. They also help with allergies triggered by grass pollen. 

Easier to Chew – From their smaller size to easier-to-chew texture, pellets are great for horses experiencing dental problems. 

Easier to Digest – The heat and pressure used to create horse pellets break down the feed ingredients, making them more digestible for horses. Additionally, their small size provides more surface area for the enzymes and bacteria to provide better digestion. 

Complete Feed – Some horse pellets are fortified with additional vitamins, minerals, and supplements, making them a complete feed. 

Personalized Support – Horse pellets come in a variety of formulations to meet the specific nutritional needs of different horses based on factors such as age, activity level, and health status. 


Digestive Risks – While pellets’ easy-to-chew texture can benefit a horse struggling with dental issues, they can potentially lead to digestive issues as a result. Chewing is good because it helps release saliva that contains calcium and sodium bicarbonate, which buffers stomach acid. 

Boredom – Might sound weird at first, but pellets can lead to symptoms of boredom, which include cribbing, weaving, or box walking because they can be so quickly consumed. Our horses spend a lot of time grazing. 

Weight Gain – Chewing hay takes work, burning lots of calories. Horse pellets, on the other hand, not so much. 

Choking Hazard – Some horses will need their pellets wetted and placed in a shallow bucket before feeding to reduce gorging, which increases their risk of choking. 

Traditional Hay

A staple in feed for horses and other livestock, traditional hay is a type of forage that’s made from dried grasses or legumes, such as timothy, alfalfa, or clover, which provide a source of essential nutrients and fiber.

Hay is typically harvested by a mower, then left in the field for several days to dry it out. For peak nutrition and to reduce mold contamination, the timing of the harvest — typically late spring/early summer — is crucial. Once the hay has dried to a desired moisture level, it is then baled or stacked for storage. 


Natural Nutrition – Hay is a natural forage source that provides horses with essential nutrients, fiber, and roughage.

Chewing and Digestion – Chewing hay requires horses to produce more saliva, which aids in digestion by buffering stomach acid while promoting better dental health. 

Encourages Foraging Behavior – Hay encourages horses to graze and forage, promoting better gut health while also helping with boredom. In the wild, horses spend a significant part of their day foraging, which provides mental stimulation.

Environmental Impact – While hay still requires processing, it is significantly less than when creating pellets. 

Cost-Effective – Hay is often the more cost-effective option for feeding horses, especially if it is purchased in bulk and stored properly.


Quality – The quality of hay can vary depending on factors such as harvesting time, weather conditions, and storage methods. Poor-quality hay is less nutritious and can pose health risks to horses. 

Dust and mold issues – Hay can harbor dust and mold, which can promote respiratory problems and allergies. 

Storage and handling – Proper storage and handling of hay are crucial to prevent spoilage and maintain nutritional value. Hay must be stored in a dry, well-ventilated area and protected from pests, moisture, and sunlight.

Waste – From horses trampling on their hay to just not eating some of it, it’s rare for some of the hay you give your horse not to go to waste. 

Horse Pellets Vs. Traditional Hay

Better together than apart? Because both horse pellets and hay have pros and cons that the other can cover over/eliminate, the average horse will likely do best with a mixture of the two. Your horse’s unique needs will determine what the optimal ratio of that mixture looks like. 

Pet Affiliate Program For Horses?

If you have found a brand of horse pellets that you really like, consider joining the company’s affiliate program. It’s a great way to earn a passive income!

While it’s easy to think that you need to be an internet superstar, even those that simply run a blog or have the ability to frequently promote products to others are often ideal candidates.

Final Thoughts

All things considered, it is clear that horse pellets and traditional hay both have their benefits when it comes to feeding your horse.

Choosing between the two depends on the particular needs of you and your horse.

Take time to make sure that your horse is getting the quality nutrition he or she deserves!

Interested in more educational information about horses? Check out our post on how to pet a horse.

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