How To Soak & Feed Alfalfa, Timothy or Grass Pellets

By Mary Walby

I first began feeding soaked hay pellets when I received a senior horse for rehab who suffered from chronic diarrhea. The equine dentist told me that his teeth were completely worn out and incapable of chewing hay. I told him about the diarrhea, and he said, “If large unchewed pieces of hay get all the way to the colon, they can irritate it and cause the diarrhea.” I was thrilled. Perhaps all I had to do was remove the hay from his diet, find something else to feed, and maybe the diarrhea would disappear?

Being a traditional western vet, in addition to a cutting edge equine dentist, he recommended going to a senior horse complete feed instead of hay. But I had already been through all the grain issues with another horse, and all the damage it did to his gut. There was no way I was going to feed grain to this horse. Thankfully, I had a holistic vet to consult with, and she recommended feeding hay pellets or cubes, weighed and fed in the same amount you would weigh hay.

For variety in the diet, I found timothy and orchard grass pellets, and then a few pounds of alfalfa pellets for protein. He maintained his weight on pasture and 1% of his body weight in pellets in the growing season, and then 1.5% of his body weight in pellets in the winter. It cost more than feeding hay, but I knew he’d be healthier for it, and that was the whole point. The bonus was that I had no more vet bills after that!

Within two weeks of his new diet, the diarrhea was gone, never to return.

How to soak & feed pellets

When feeding hay pellets, I do a ratio of 2:1, cold water to pellets. This works for alfalfa, timothy, or orchard grass pellets. Alfalfa pellets tend to be a bit drier (depending on the weather when and where they were made) so I soak them for 5 hours to get them to completely break down.

I have had two choking incidences with two different senior horses on hay pellets. One time was completely dry pellets and required veterinary intervention. The other time was on pellets soaked for 20 minutes. That horse worked it out himself over half an hour, but after that I just decided to soak until they are completely broken down, and I haven’t had a choking incident since then.

When soaking in the summer, I put them in a cool place out of the sun and then feed after 5 hours, but I always check the smell to make sure it hasn’t started to ferment. On a hot summer day, I have had them ferment after 8 hours, so I don’t feed that batch if that happens.

In the winter, when it’s cold, I can soak the pellets overnight outside, or in an unheated garage. The pellets can still be okay after 12 hours, if it’s cold enough. However, my preference, when possible, whether hot or cold weather, is to feed them after 5 hours of soaking.

The only downside is that in very cold weather, like 10-15 degrees Farenheit, the pellets will refreeze after about 20-30 minutes of being in a feed bucket. So for my horse that was on the hay pellet diet, he couldn’t finish before they started to freeze again. So I fed in smaller amounts, keeping the pellets in an insulated bucket and only handing out what he could eat in 20 minutes. Thankfully it’s only that cold 1-2 weeks per year, where I live.

On a rare occasion, if I don’t have 5 hours, I can get away with soaking for 3 hours, however, the pellets are partially broken down, but not all the way, and the alfalfa pellets are less broken down than the grass hay pellets, so I stay and watch the horses eat. I haven’t had a problem so far, but then I rarely do that.

If you have any further questions, just leave them in the Comments section below 🙂

Mary Walby began rehabbing senior horses by accident over 10 years ago at the same time she started training in the martial art of Aikido to learn how to fall off a horse. Little did she realize that the essence of Aikido would permeate every aspect of her life and make it better, from performing and teaching piano, to rehabbing senior horses. She recently founded God’s Window Senior Horse Rehab and Sanctuary, a non-profit organization committed to promoting the health and welfare of all senior horses from a holistic perspective.

How To Soak & Feed Alfalfa, Timothy or Grass Pellets

41 thoughts on “How To Soak & Feed Alfalfa, Timothy or Grass Pellets

  • January 20, 2019 at 7:40 pm

    2:1 ratio? Can you spell that out for me. 🙂 2 cans water one can pellets or the other way around. Also, is your mixture mushy or just moist when done?

    • January 21, 2019 at 8:48 am

      Hi Cindy, Thank you for the question. Yes, water is double the amount of pellets. So if I’m feeding 2 cups of pellets, I soak them in 4 cups of water. When I do this the mixture is moist and completely broken down after a minimum of 5 hours of soaking, but it is not mushy. I stay away from making it mushy because it’s messy and the my horses don’t lick it clean when it’s mush.

        • January 20, 2020 at 1:51 pm

          Yes, I have done that to speed things up on occasion, but I stay and monitor how far broken down they are and how warm they are. As soon as they are broken down I would feed them. What I don’t want to have happen is them to start fermenting. That’s the big thing I’m monitoring for, and if anything is ever questionable, I don’t feed it. It’s cheaper to skip a feeding than to have a vet call for colic. Good luck.

      • January 4, 2021 at 12:49 pm

        Hi I am starting my 8 yr old gelding on Standlee Timothy pellets with Vermont blend pro and vitamin E added All together how much do I start with (pellets) to slowly introduce him to it? He gets about 25 pds of hay a day as well Thanks

        • January 4, 2021 at 11:14 pm

          Hi Margaret, I’m curious to know what is the purpose of feeding your horse timothy pellets? I usually feed pellets for seniors that can’t chew hay and have difficulty maintaining weight. I’m not used to an 8 year old horse needing that. What’s happening with your horse that prompts you to add hay pellets to the diet? Is it just to be a carrier for supplements?

          • May 14, 2021 at 10:06 am

            Hi Mary, thank you for your important information. My senior’s teeth are also worn out, haven’t had him to long. Can you advise me on the amount of pellets to replace a flake of Timothy hay, He gets about 19 lbs at each feeding, twice a day, Do I feed 19 lbs of pellets per feeding? He is also getting 2 lbs of Timothy pellets and 2.5 lbs of Total Equine, soaked, once a day since he isn’t eating all his hay. He’s 16 hands and about 1000 lbs, a bit too skinny, 19 yrs. He loves the soaked pellets. Vet just floated his teeth, I try to do this every 9 months or so. Thank you Mary

            • May 14, 2021 at 2:15 pm

              Hi Barbara,

              Thank you for your questions.

              Weigh the flake of timothy hay and that is the amount of pounds of dry pellets (before you soak them) it would take to replace it.

              However, the horse’s stomach isn’t big, so I don’t feed more than 4 lbs. per feeding of pellets. Otherwise, the stomach empties when it gets too full, even if digestion is not yet complete. Also, I had one horse
              who if he ate more than that at one time, his heart rate would go up and start to act a little off. You can monitor your horse and see what works for him.

              If your horse can chew hay and his manure is normal, then I’d just feed hay, never let him run out, and add a ration balancer. If he’s still underweight, then I’d add 3 lbs. of soaked hay pellets twice per day and see what happens over 4 weeks. If he still needs more weight gain, then I’d add a 3rd feeding of soaked hay pellets.

              I’m confused about 19 lbs per feeding. That seems like a lot. Horses can maintain their weight on 1 1/2-2% of their ideal body weight in forage. If your horse’s ideal body weight was 1200 lbs. that would be 24 lbs. of forage per day. (1200 x .02=24). I define forage as hay, pasture, hay pellets, hay cubes.

              The draw back to Total Equine, at least from the ingredient list I can find on google, is that it is grain based, has corn, etc. While this gives quick energy, grain digests too quickly in the foregut, travels to the hindgut and can disrupt the microbial balance. Grain is also inflammatory and can exacerbate arthritis. It can also be difficult for senior horses to maintain weight on grain long-term because it is not forage based. Many times you end up giving more and more grain, the hindgut is unhappy and you end up with the “old look” that is typical of some seniors who are not in great health. That is why I prefer to forego grain, replace it with hay pellets and a ration balancer.

              Having said that, what I like about Total Equine is that it has alfalfa in it. Alfalfa can be beneficial for seniors. I like to add 1 lb of soaked alfalfa pellets AM and PM feedings for the amino acid profile. That way I can get the benefits of alfalfa without the grain in Total Equine.

              Are you saying he’s fed 19 lbs. of hay twice per day? That would total 38 lbs and seems like a lot. 1 1/2-2% of his ideal body weight, I’m guessing would be 2% of 1200 lbs. would be 24 lbs. In general a horse can maintain its weight on that amount of forage per day.

              Thank you for your questions. Let me know if I misunderstood anything. Good luck finding what works for your horse.

              • May 17, 2021 at 9:17 pm

                Hi Mary, thank you for your quick response. I’m corrected on the amount of feed; it is 9 lbs per feeding, 18 lbs or so per day, plus the soaked pellets. Your information was enormously helpful. Can you tell me what a ration balancer is? Also my vet said my 19 yr old should be sleek by now; will be doing a test for Cushings (sp?) is there a mineral/herb for this. By the way he is also getting Platinum Performance CJ daily. I’m very broke but exceedingly blessed and happy. Many blessing to you for all you do for us. “who gives the horse its strength, flowing mane, proud snorting” ….Job 19-21.

                • May 17, 2021 at 9:39 pm

                  Hi Barbara. You’re welcome! The 9 lbs per feeding for a total of 18 lbs. per day makes more sense. Thank you for clarifying.

                  A ration balancer is simply a supplement for missing vitamins and minerals in the diet that the horse is not getting enough of from their forage. It’s not designed for calories. It’s only meant to provide the vitamins and minerals. Platinum Performance CJ is an example of a ration balancer.

                  Regarding cushings, my favorite resource is Riva’s Remedies ( They offer an online class on equine metabolic syndrome (includes IR, Cushings, PSSM) that is superb. I don’t see it listed specifically on their website, but you could contact them and see how to view the free webinar they have as an intro.
                  They go into detail on how to manage it holistically and how to adjust the program to the individuality of each horse. They have great success with keeping horses healthy and not needing pharmaceutical drugs. Good luck!

            • May 14, 2021 at 8:26 pm

              Hi Mary, thank you for your important information. My senior’s teeth are also worn out, haven’t had him to long. Can you advise me on the amount of pellets to replace a flake of Timothy hay. He gets about 19 lbs at each feeding, twice a day. He is also getting 2 lbs of Timothy pellets and 2.5 lbs of Total Equine, soaked, once a day since he isn’t eating all his hay recently, He’s 16 hands and about 1000 lbs, a bit too skinny, 19 yrs. He loves the soaked pellets. Vet just floated his teeth, I try to do this every 9 months or so. Thank you Mary.

        • May 19, 2021 at 1:24 pm

          Hello. I’m wondering if alfalfa pellets can be fed year round,
          Why the bag states 7-10 days.?

          • May 20, 2021 at 1:22 pm

            I feed alfalfa pellets year-round. I don’t know why a bag would state 7-10 days. I’d have to see the bag and the feed label. Is anything else in the ingredient list? If there is, that could by why.

      • February 26, 2021 at 4:06 am

        Hello, you mentioned several times that you use cold water. Why? What would happen if you would use warm water and kept the bucket in the house until fed?

        • February 27, 2021 at 6:52 pm

          Sandra, Thank you for your question. I did not live where my horses lived so when I set up my system for feeding, I figured out that with the cold water straight out of the hose it took approximately 5 hours for alfalfa pellets to completely break down, and for the grass hay pellets, it took at least 3 hours.

          You can do warm water. I never did it simply due to logistics. The only thing to make sure it that the pellets don’t start to ferment. My two goals are:
          1. pellets completely broken down (so there’s no choking)
          2. no fermentation of the pellets (so the horse won’t get sick).

          Feel free to work out your own system for using warm water. Good luck.

  • February 2, 2020 at 6:38 am

    Hello Mary,
    I am so glad I found your article!! I too feel the same about everything you said. Right now, my 32 year old rescued Mustang was on a senior feed and twice a day, I would soak timothy pellets for him too. Well now he isn’t eating his senior feed as much so I am going to increase the pellets and get him off the senior since he doesn’t eat it all and the birds end up flocking to it. So maybe he doesn’t eat them all because the birds have gone potty in them. I have warm water in my tack room, so I can get my pellets dissolved in 5 to 10 minutes. We just got a hot water tank in there and it’s been a lifesaver! But if my horse is going on pellets only, along with a good supplement, so do I weigh the pellets like I would hay? I’m not quite sure how much he should get. I do feed throughout the day. Thank you for your help and I’m so glad I found your article! Keep on keepin’ on! Your horses are lucky to have you! God bless you!! “In His hands is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” Job 12:10

    • February 2, 2020 at 7:20 pm

      Hi Linda,

      Thank you! I’m glad it’s helpful. I weigh the pellets dry. I have a scoop that’s about 4 cups and when I weigh it on the scale it weighs 1 lb. (However, my alfalfa pellets are much firmer and 3 cups of them weigh 1 lb. So I weigh everything, even a new bag of pellets because there can be variation).

      Then I add my water in the ratio of 2:1 (water to pellets). How much does your horse weigh? And do you know how many pounds of hay per day he would eat to maintain his weight back when he could eat hay? Does he have access to pasture? If so, you won’t necessarily need to replace the whole diet with pellets.

      If I have a 1000 lb horse, then I would start with 10 lbs of pellets per day and go up to 20 lbs. which is 1-2% of the horse’s body weight. With the horse in my example above, he ate 10 lbs of pellets with pasture during the growing season and then in winter I increased it to 15 lbs. How did I know that was adequate? He maintained his weight well. If he didn’t, I would have increased the amount of pellets.

      When I’m feeding that many pellets, I prefer to have multiple feedings per day, usually not more than about 3 lbs per feeding because the stomach is not that big and will empty even if digestion is not yet complete just to make room for the additional food coming in. The horse above self-monitored his intake, so even if I fed him 5 lbs in one feeding, he would leave some of them after a while and go take a nap, then come back later and finish them.

      I had one horse that loved his pellets so much, he would not self-monitor his intake and would keep eating well beyond 3 lbs. Too much food or too much water too fast can cause gas, which I found out the hard way. So for this horse, I limited him to 3 lbs. every few hours. Then over the course of a day he’d eat 12-15 lbs. and he was maintaining his weight at that quantity. He was able to eat some hay and had pasture, so he was probably eating a total of 20 lbs in forage per day (hay, pasture, pellets). He weighted about 1100 lbs. I knew from past years of when he could eat a full hay diet, in winter he could maintain his weight on 20 lbs. of hay per day. I also found that this horse preferred his pellets cold. If they were warm, he would turn his nose up at them. However, all horses are different, so just see what your horse likes.

      In general, I’m not a fan of abrupt feed changes, but I have done it when taking a horse off of grain (because the grain was doing damage) and also with the horse who had diarrhea because the hay was causing damage. So I really observe and follow my gut and listen to the horse when I make the change. Small, frequent meals are preferable to large ones as you are probably already familiar.

      Good luck finding what works for your horse. And thank you for this: God bless you!! “In His hands is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” Job 12:10. It really made my day.

  • February 26, 2020 at 10:30 am

    Can it be soaked in the refrigerator overnight in warm weather?

    Are Timothy pellets and orchard grass just as good as timothy, and would you soak it the same way?

    Here, wintertime, and my daughter’s senior horse is looking thin. I drink hot tea, and I am heating water in my coffee maker for my tea and the pellets, not boiling, but tiny bubbles. (I don’t like my tea too hot.)

    I have been measuring the alfalfa but not the water… 6 cups of alfalfa, and remaining water up to a certain mark on the pot, after my tea water is poured.

    It soaks for maybe 5 minutes. The pellets are soft but formed, and it’s still pretty warm when I carry it out.

    (I stick my finger all the way down into it to make sure it’s not too warm before i give it to him.) I figure if it’s a pleasant drinking temperature for me , it should be ok for the horse.

    He seems to really enjoy the warm food. It does get a bit mushy at the bottom, but I spoon it up for him, and he gobbles it right down.

    I guess this summer I’ll have to go with cold water.

    • February 26, 2020 at 9:09 pm

      Glad you found a system that works for your horse. My horse dislikes warm food, but I’ve known other horses who don’t mind. It sounds like your horse loves it.

      Yes, soaking hay pellets in the refrigerator overnight works great. What I like about that, is that I don’t have to worry about the soaked pellets fermenting in the heat of summer

      I have fed both soaked timothy pellets and soaked orchard grass pellets for variety in the diet. They tend to break down more quickly than the alfalfa pellets. Yes, I soak them in the same way I soak the alfalfa pellets. (Is that what you were asking)?

  • March 29, 2020 at 12:02 am

    Hi, thank you for the article. I have just recently started feeding timothy/alfalfa pellets because my horse has no front teeth so he is unable to graze. His vet recommended chopped hay but he would not eat that. I tried the pellets and he seems to really like them. I am just wondering what you feed them in. I am currently feeding them in his regular hanging feed bucket but I find the soaked hay gets packed in the corners of the bucket and he cant get seem to get about 1/3 of the hay out of the bucket. I wonder if I feed it in a large bowl on the ground if it will help keep the hay from packing in.

    My poor baby has lost so much weight he looks like a skeleton. He is 30 years old and has been battling diarrhea for a while now. His eating habits are sporadic. He used to be a great eater but over the last 2 years he is very difficult. I had him on senior feed for years and one day he just decided he wasnt going to eat it anymore. He literally started to starve himself, he just wouldn’t eat. That is when I called the vet out. She did a thorough physical and found nothing wrong. I found he would would eat just a tiny amount of chopped hay for a while then he decided to stop that too. He would only eat his cookies which were grains and molasses. I decided to put him back on sweet feed just to see what happened. He ate like he was 8 years old again and gained all of his weight back. I was thrilled. Then about a month or so ago he became finicky of his sweet feed and has nearly stopped eating that as well. I currently feed 2 scoops of sweet feed and two scoops of timothy/alfalfa cubes. The amount he eats of it varies greatly day by day. Sometimes he eats almost nothing and sometimes he eats all but what is packed in too hard to eat. The last two nights I had put the pellets in with a 4-1 ratio of water and gave it to him right away. He seems to love that and ate it all because the pellets never got packed in the corners. I found hear him taking turns s dringing the water and then eating the pellets. Now after reading your article I am concerned that is a dangerous way to feed which is sad because it worked for him. So long g story short, do you think the large ground bowl would work better? I am hesitant to do it because he has a tendency to step on it and flip it over :-(. If you have any tips about a finicky old horse that would rather starve to death than eat certain things gs I would love to hear any advice you may have. I just ordered some supplements, I think it was called Biosponge, for his diarrhea and I am really hoping that along with getting more roughage in him will help with the digestive issues.

    Thanks so much.

    • March 30, 2020 at 3:51 pm

      Hi Beth, Thank you for your questions. I feed soaked hay pellets on the ground in a big wide feed dish at least 1 1/2 feet in diameter (or even larger) that way the horse doesn’t have to work hard and no pellets get stuck anywhere. I have not had a horse step in it other than maybe when he’s done. You might experiment with how much you feed at a time to prevent any stepping in the dish. I like to keep it 3 lbs or less per feeding simply because the stomach isn’t that big.

      I have known people who have made the pellets even soupier than I have, and it has worked well for their horses. No matter how I feed the pellets my preference is to feed them on the ground so the horse’s head and neck is in a more natural grazing position and the sinuses can drain. However, find what works best in your situation.

      I’m glad you found a way that works for you, but I’m not clear on what was dangerous about it?

      In terms of weight gain for a senior, I like to weigh hay and weigh pellets and monitor how many pounds the horse is actually eating each day. Sometimes the weight loss is simply because they are not eating enough to maintain weight. 1 1/2 to 2% of the body weight in forage (that’s 15-20 lbs. per day for a 1000 lb horse) is a starting point.

      The diarrhea can complicate things further in that he may be eating, but not able to digest well to be able to use the nutrients. I have found that diarrhea often is caused by something in the diet the horse can not digest. Is he still eating hay? Does he quid hay? If so, that could definitely cause diarrhea. Removing all hay would let you know if it’s the cause.

      Regarding sweet feed, I tend to shy away from feeding it, however, I completely understand if that’s the only thing he’ll eat. The one time I did use sweet feed for the short-term was with a horse who wouldn’t eat her supplements (all herb/plant based), but she’d lick up the sugar coated sweet feed. I was disappointed to say the least, but oh well. It turns out that she had an infection and that was altering her taste buds. Once I put her on antibiotics for the infection she ate all of her herbs/supplements with no problem, and I stopped with the sweet feed. Did the vet do blood work on your horse? That might rule some things out for you.

      Another long-shot, and probably not related, but I will mention it since your horse is a senior. Hopefully this will be a long way off, but I always keep in mind with seniors that when their body is preparing to die they will stop eating anywhere from 1-5 days in advance of death. Stopping drinking can also occur, and when that happens, death is about 2 days away. Neither of these things are painful, it’s just the body putting all it’s energy toward dying and not toward sustaining the body in living. When either of these things happen for days at a time, that is the active dying process, which is completely normal.

      Many times with seniors who aren’t 100% they will intermittently stop eating, may be just for 1 day and then resume, or they’ll eat a little to keep living, but not a lot. When they are doing this, they are not actively dying. It sounds like your horse is in this spot, and that becomes the challenge of finding what food works for him. Sometimes the intermittent stopping eating can be the result of something else going on in the body. Sometimes vets are able to figure it out and treat it and sometimes not.

      I hope that’s helpful.

      • May 25, 2020 at 9:01 pm

        So happy to find this site. I need to gather my info. & questions for another time. Just happy to find after such a long search. Thanks!

  • April 10, 2020 at 6:38 am

    We feed my daughter’s pony alfalfa and Timothy hay pellets soaked. The pony loves them soupy. I find sometimes she’s not that interested if not soupy enough so I would say some owners will need to work to find the right consistency to make their horse happy.
    I’m curious about the amount of feed. My daughter’s pony was having trouble maintaining weight so we put on senior grain (soaked) but then happily put on a little too much weight. She’s up to about 850lbs now. We’re supposed to have her losing weight and currently feeding 3lbs alfalfa Timothy pellets mixture am/pm and a flake of Timothy hay in the afternoon to keep her busy. She also gets a 1/2 cup sweet feed and 3/4 cup grain with her supplements to get her to eat them. She’s boarded in a pen without turnout but my daughter exercises her 7 days a week including gaming lessons and events. Her weight has come down some but not as much as the vet would like. Is it safe to go lower than the 6lbs of pellets she’s getting now?

    • April 10, 2020 at 2:00 pm

      Hi April,

      Thank you for your comments and questions. Yes, I agree, finding the consistency each horse likes for the pellets is key. That’s wonderful that your pony loves the soup.

      If it’s possible to eliminate the sweet feed and grain, I wouldn’t be surprised if she lost weight easily. I have used soaked alfalfa pellets as a carrier to feed supplements instead of grain. I’ve used anywhere from 1 cup or more depending how much is needed to hide the taste of the supplements. Since she loves her soup, you could also try adding the supplements into her soup.

      If she were off grain, then the question becomes how much forage (hay/pellets) does she need to maintain her weight. Determine her optimal weight and then feed 1 1/2 – 2 % of her optimal weight in forage daily. If her ideal weight was 800 lbs. then 1 1/2% of that would be 12 lbs. of forage per day. I would weigh the pellets dry and weigh the hay and made sure it equaled 12 lbs. If she starts to lose too much weight on 12 lbs a day then I would increase the number of pounds per day. Or, if she’s still overweight on 12 lbs. a day then I would decrease the number of pounds of forage per day. This is just an example. It sounds like she might be able to maintain her weight on less.

      I wonder if you went back to how you were feeding her just before you added the senior grain and she gained too much, if you just added an additional feeding of soaked pellets to increase the total pounds of forage per day, you might find the magic number of pounds she needs per day to maintain weight. Hope that helps. Good luck!

  • June 8, 2020 at 9:39 am

    Hello, so glad to find this site. I just obtained a very skinny adoptee TB. Age 20ish. I’m splitting his Timothy and alfalfa soaked pellets plus 1 lb per day Amplify pellets and about 2lbs per day sweet feed (just to encourage consumption of pellet mush and AMplify). Split into 3 feedings per day this week as I’m working from home. I have excellent grass hay that he does eat (lightly) without quidding and spitting out. For the bony TB, am I safe feeding 1% body weight in well soaked pellets?

    I am a hay pellet believer as it has turned my unthrifty old BLM mustang into a fat shiny boy who looks years younger now. He does get 2lbs amplify pellets also….

    • June 8, 2020 at 3:16 pm

      Thank you for your question. When I look at horses needing approx. 1 1/2 -2% of their ideal body weight in forage per day, I count up everything they are eating: hay, pellets, pasture, etc. It sounds like he might actually be in that range from everything you describe about what he is eating.

      If the horse is not maintaining his weight on that amount of pellets, then I increase it until the horse is maintaining his weight. From what you describe above, if he has access to hay to nibble on all the time to keep digestion flowing well, and is maintaining his weight, I wouldn’t be concerned.

      In terms of the actual feeding of pellets, I never feed more than 3 lbs. (to a 1000 lb. horse) at one time just because the stomach isn’t that big and can cause other problems.

      Since horses have a fiber requirement, but not a grain requirement, I’m wondering if you could consider weaning him off grain and replacing it with grass hay pellets (and a ration balancer for vitamins/minerals). Overall he will be healthier, not just his external looks but internally as well. An added bonus is that hay pellets are cheaper than grain.

      However, if you have a picky eater or other constraints, then the bottom line is I find what works for each horse. Sounds like you have some lovely horses that are lucky to have found you. Good luck.

  • December 11, 2020 at 7:48 am

    Hi Mary. What an interesting article. I have a 14 year old Appendix mare who is a hard keeper. I’m curious about no graining and feed. She is currently on soaked alfalfa and timothy pellets 1pound, 1/4cup coconut oil, half pound soaked oats ( she requests them), 1 and half pounds Safe and Easy Performance (Buckeye), 1 pound EQ8 Gut Health, and a quarter pound Gro-n-Win, am and pm. I finally have her looking really good. My question is, you only feed soaked alfalfa pellets and no hay to your horses.? How do you do that? I have one horse and a boarder who will eat herself to death. I’m really curious of your system and your nutrients you give. Thank you so much.


  • December 12, 2020 at 11:01 am

    Hi Spring, thank you for your comments and questions. I’m glad to hear that you’ve found something that works for your horse.

    For my horses, I feed grass hay (1 1/2-2% of their body weight per day), alfalfa at 10% of their body weight per day, pasture and an herbal mineral supplement to make up for the nutritional deficiencies in the hay. When a horse can no longer maintain condition on that, then I start replacing some of the hay with soaked hay pellets. When they can no longer chew hay at all, then I replace all of the hay as soaked hay pellets, up to 3 lbs per feeding. If this happens, then I feed soaked pellets 3-4 times per day. I tend to add more feedings if they still need more weight gain. I also could go up to 4 lbs. per feeding (but this amount depends on the horse– I had one horse for whom he didn’t feel well, when I gave him that much), and I could also increase the alfalfa to 15% of their body weight per day.

    The horse I had that could no longer chew hay was on pasture all the time so he always had something he could nibble on, so he could regulate his own intake. Thankfully, he was not insulin resistant so this worked well for him.

    The herbal mineral supplement I use (which is like a ration balancer) is in this book. It’s the vitality red for fall/winter, vitality green for spring/summer:

    It was formulated to make up for the copper, zinc, selenium deficiency in my area. The holistic vet I had said that for those that are more comfortable with a commercial brand, she recommended Platinum Performance because they use quality ingredients that are not grain based.

    Regarding hard keepers, I have found that grain can perpetuate the “hard keeping”. When I removed all grain from the diet and just added soaked hay pellets to help weight gain, they did beautifully. Then I just tweak the amount of soaked hay pellets to maintain condition. This has worked so well that I’ve never looked back, and it’s cheaper than processed feeds.

    Here’s an article I wrote that summarizes how I feed seniors:

    Thank you again for your comments and questions. I hope you have many more years to enjoy your horse. She is beautiful!

  • January 10, 2021 at 11:39 am

    Will this work for sheep as well? I have three that choke often. It’s so very scary.

    • January 10, 2021 at 1:57 pm

      I will leave Mary to answer you more thoroughly Eva, but I can tell you that even my non-senior horses will occasionally choke on dry pellets. The solution I use is to drizzle flax oil on top of the pellets – no more choking and plenty of healthy Omega-3!

      • January 10, 2021 at 8:08 pm

        Thanks for the tip Jini. Out of curiosity, where your horses able to work out the choke themselves on the dry pellets, or did it require veterinary attention?

        • January 10, 2021 at 8:44 pm

          First time with Xadaa it was a 2-hour multi-disciplinary healing session – BodyTalk, Bowen Method (Guliz was also there), Lazer Tapping, Past lives and Pranic healing. The next time it was Makah – because he wanted me to teach one of our barn helpers (Natalie) how to do pranic healing. She was panicking, saying, “But how can we help him if we can’t even touch him??!!” I taught her what to do, Makah told me to stand way back (I think he wanted it to be crystal clear that SHE was helping him, not me) and she helped him clear the visibly stuck/spasming bolus in less than 5 minutes. Then 2 weeks later (when there WAS flax on the pellets, he choked again). I was the only one there, so I was like, “What the heck??” And he says to me, “Call Natalie.” Ah, he wants to teach her that distance doesn’t matter at all. Conveniently, I had been testing Livestream software at the barn, so immediately did a livestream with Natalie – who of course, had arrived home 5 minutes ago. I didn’t know whether she could see/hear us because she didn’t text me anything in the chat – so I hadn’t even given her instructions on what to do when his throat cleared! Turns out, I didn’t NEED to give her any instructions, the second the livestream connected us, she intuitively went to work on him. She said she could ‘see’ him better with her eyes closed 😉

          I actually filmed a lot of the episode/session with Xadaa – it’s on my editing list!

          • January 11, 2021 at 7:07 pm

            Wow, Jini! I’m glad I asked. I never saw that response coming. Beautiful! Can’t wait for when it comes out on your blog.

  • January 10, 2021 at 8:03 pm

    Hi Eva, I don’t know about sheep as I have never had them. I do know that once I started soaking hay pellets until they are completely broken down, I’ve never had a choking incident again. I have had choking incidences on partially soaked hay pellets and dry hay pellets. Good luck with the sheep.

  • March 3, 2021 at 9:22 pm

    Just lately my 20 year old gelding stopped eating his feed. He always eats 8 cups of Tribute senior plus some MSM, This is given morning and night. seems to go well. But when he gets his lunch of 1-2 cups of Tribute Senior and only & 1 cup of alfalfa pellets which we always soak it all in water to soften he turns his nose up at it. I am wondering if it gets too mushy or too cold for him to eat I can easily heat water to mix the alfalfa. He ate it no problem this whole past year now he’s not. Do yo think if I put hot water on his alfalfa pellets, he would eat it better. One other thing since it is only 1 cup of alfalfa on 2 cups of Tribute Senior do even need to water it? Also when he didn’t eat my husband didn’t clean it out just fed more on top. I am thinking his bowl could be fermented by now getting thrown out wash bowl and see if that was the problem Thank for your help

    • March 4, 2021 at 2:20 pm

      Great questions. Here’s what comes to my mind as you described everything. Please sort through and see what resonates with you, and leave whatever doesn’t.

      1. I don’t feed grain of any kind to a horse because of its inflammatory properties. If they need weight gain, then I’ll feed soaked hay pellets or cubes as a hay replacement (weighed and fed in the same amount as I would hay), and add a ration balancer for vitamins/minerals. Sometimes horses will go off grain, and I’m guessing maybe their body doesn’t want it anymore? But I don’t have any experience feeding grain.

      2. I feed soaked hay pellets or cubes when a horse can’t chew hay well enough to maintain weight. Therefore, I always soak it until it’s completely broken down to avoid any possibility of choking. I have had senior horses choke on dry pellets and semi-soaked pellets. Once I went to soaking until they are broken down completely, I’ve never had another choking incident. It only takes one, single individual pellet for a horse to choke.

      3. Yes, a horse’s sense of smell is far beyond our capabilities and if something doesn’t smell right it is their warning system. Yes, not rinsing out the dish before feeding might solve the problem. He might have turned up his nose due to the smell.

      4. I don’t know about hot water. I haven’t ever used it just because the cold water soaking worked so well. But you can certainly try and see if that makes a difference.

      5. Here’s two other thoughts, probably unlikely, but I’ll mention them. I learned both of these the hard way: 1. Horses can go off feed due to an infection. 2. Horses can have a decreased appetite when they begin the natural dying process. Here’s a great article on that:

      From what you describe, the rinsing out the bowl first sounds like a simple, easy thing to try, and it might solve it right there. Good luck!

  • December 20, 2021 at 10:46 pm

    Hi Mary,

    I’m so happy found your article. Thanks for the great info.

    I have a 25 year old gelding who has PPID and has recently recovered from multiple hoof abscesses as well as surgery for pedal osteoitis. He is sound now and seems happy, but I’m trying to put more weight on him as he lost a lot while he was hospitalized. Despite his PPID, he has few if any signs of IR and no history of founder, but I still watch his sugar as best I can without dry lotting him.

    He currently gets free choice long stem coastal and free choice pasture (weather permitting) in addition to 3-4 lbs of thrive feed (forage based complete feed). He quids most of his forage, so I recently started adding soaked timothy pellets.

    He loves the pellets so much he begs for them even after he has finished his rations. I’m gradually increasing to give 2-3 lb dry weight pellets and 1-1.5 lb thrive 3x/day. This only equates to 6-9 lb forage pellets daily, and since he begs for more food, I’m convinced I need to increase his ration.

    Can I increase the pelleted hay ration too quickly? If I add more feedings or increase the amount of pellets he receives at each feeding can I put him at risk for founder or colic? Is timothy a safe forage choice for PPID horses? I want to put weight on him, but don’t want to risk putting him in an emergency situation.

    I’m also unsure about how to know how much pellets he needs since he has free choice forage but quids most of it. The vet said he has no grinding surface left on his teeth. Is there a safe way to free feed pellets so he can self regulate his intake? I do not work from home, so I am concerned about being able to feed more than 3x/day due to my schedule. I could make 6 feedings daily work for a few weeks, but I doubt I can make that a permanent regimen.

    Thanks for any insight you have.

    • December 21, 2021 at 8:24 pm

      Hi Jessica, Wonderful questions. I can share with you my experience, but each horse has its own quirks, so please take everything with a grain of salt and see what resonates with you, and observe how your horse responds and adjust accordingly.

      In general, if a senior horse is quidding hay and their manure is completely normal, then I would still let them have have hay here and there to chew on. However, I have yet to see a senior who is quidding hay whose manure is completely normal all of the time. I prefer to replace all hay with soaked hay pellets because they are not getting much in nutrients from quidding hay. I’d feed up to 2 1/2% of the horse’s ideal body weight in forage per day when I’m wanting them to gain weight. For an average 1000 lb horse, that is 25 lbs. per day. In this case, that would be in pellet form.

      In an ideal world I would split this into 4 lb feedings throughout the day. The stomach is not that big and really can’t hold much more. Even if you fed more, the horse’s stomach will empty to make room for incoming food even before digestion is complete. Even spreading out feedings by 30-45 mins between them can allow for the stomach to complete digestion. (However, some horses will self-monitor and will take care of this issue themselves. It really depends on the horse).

      Regarding PPID, low sugar forage as you know is ideal. With pellets, I’d have to test them to see. I don’t know how practical that is. Soaking to leech out sugar is another option. I could see that with hay cubes. Soak them for 30 minutes and then drain out the water. I haven’t tried it with pellets to see if you could pull that off. Soaking also takes out other good nutrients, so if I go this route, I want to make sure I’m supplementing vitamins and minerals adequately.

      Higher up on my list would be removing all grain and sugar out of the diet coming from other sources, especially for a PPID horse. When you say Thrive feed, do you mean the SmartVite Thrive Pellets from Smartpak? If so, on the ingredient list is “corn distillers, dried grains with distillers”. While this makes the pellets palatable, it is a source of sugar. I’d rather remove this source and take my chances with the timothy pellets. Grain is a high source of sugar. My guess is the timothy would be lower even if you didn’t test it, nor soaked it.

      To replace the vitamins and minerals in Thrive, I’d look for a ration balancer that does not have grain or sugar of any kind. There are some companies that make this, and it’s usually fed in a small amount every day just for the vitamins/minerals, not for calories.

      Regarding how to increase the pellets fed. My ideal would be to add a feeding. Or if you increase the amount of a feeding, I’d increase it by 1/2 – 1 lb for a few days, see what happens and if the horse is ok with it, then several days later increase again. A safe number is to increase it gradually over two weeks. However, I would not feed more than 4 lbs in a feeding. But I also know people with bigger horses that I have had, and they feed 5 lbs in a feeding without a problem. However, you know your horse better than anyone, so observe them and let them tell you. If you’re in doubt check their vital signs and document. I had one horse eat too many pellets and his heart rate went up a little, he seemed bloated and his gut sounds were noisier than usual. I cut him back (he did not self-monitor) and all vitals returned to normal.

      I’ve also known people who separated their horses at night so the senior could have 10 lbs of soaked hay pellets over night. The horse in this case self-monitored and didn’t gorge. I was surprised. The horse knew the pellets were there and wasn’t afraid of them being taken away so he did start to self-monitor his own intake. While separation from herd mates can cause a stress of its own and may not be advisable, feeding this way could be an option with your schedule.

      For a big picture, I’m wondering if you fed him 4 lbs. 3 times a day in hay pellets (assuming he’s about 1000 lbs ideal body weight) and removed the grain, replaced with a non-grain ration balancer, if he would gain weight? It’d be a starting point. If it worked for you to feed an additional amount over night you’re getting even closer to 20-25 lbs per day.

      I would not bother counting any of the hay as part of your 20-25 lbs a day since he’s quidding most of it.

      I once had a horse maintain his weight on 10-12 lbs a day of soaked hay pellets during the summer (he was also on pasture) and in the winter I increased it to 15 lbs. split between 3 feedings. He was 1000 lbs. He was separated for his feedings for a few hours. He would take a break part way through and take a nap, then come back about 1-2 hours later and finish the rest of his pellets. He was great at self-monitoring.

      Once your horse is at an ideal weight, it may not take 20-25 lbs a day to maintain it. Your horse might be able to maintain on less. You’ll have to monitor and see what happens.

      If you can do 6 feedings for a few weeks, you might be able to gain some ground there and monitor him closely and see what happens.

      I had an underweight senior coming out of winter. I fed an additional 6 lbs of soaked hay pellets per day for one month and he put the weight back on. The grass was also growing so that helped him as well. Then I backed off to his usual amount once he was back at a good weight.

      Those are my ideas. Hope you find something that works for you. Good luck.

      • December 26, 2021 at 8:38 pm

        Thanks so much for your help! I’m happy to report that my horse is gaining weight with the hay pellets very nicely. He seems to be able to eat 4.5-5 lbs at a time, but takes a very long time to eat (40 minutes to 1 hour) and usually leaves a small amount uneaten. I’m assuming this means he is self monitoring? He is a large horse, so if I’m able to feed that much at a time safely, it helps a lot. This way I can get 20 lbs of pellets in 4 feedings which is doable while he’s gaining weight.

        The feed I use, Thrive, I think would be called a ration balancer? It has no grain in it at all and is designed to add nutrition to a diet that is 80-90% forage.

        • December 27, 2021 at 2:02 pm

          Hi Jessica, Wonderful! Sounds like you found a way that works for your horse. I like that he takes his time eating and leaves a little at the end, and he’s gaining weight. Congratulations. From what you describe, it sounds like Thrive could be a ration balancer. The only thing that indicates it is not is the quantity you’re feeding per day of 3 -4.5 pounds per day. Ration balancers tend to be a small amount each day, like 1-2 cups.

          If I went to a straight ration balancer with my pellets, and that was it for feed, then I’d be adding 1-2 lbs of soaked alfalfa pellets per day and an omega 3 fatty acid supplement in the non-growing season.

          Here’s an article I wrote on feeding seniors. If you wanted to tweak the diet further, this is how I would do it. But it sounds like what you have is working, so stick with it. You can always make adjustments later if needed.

          I’m thrilled to hear your horse is gaining weight on the pellets.


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