A horse’s main diet is grass or related forage such as hay or haylage, but even in the wild horses will eat other foodstuff occasionally.
As owners it is natural to want to give treats to your horse, although some riders do not believe in giving anything outside of the horse’s established diet.
The general rule is that human processed foods are not really suitable (although the tiny ends of sandwiches don’t really count).
The key to any treat is to give in moderation and avoid risks such as colic or blocking the intestine system.
Traditional treats include apples and carrots, but what else can you safely give your horse as a treat?
Fresh Fruit & Veg Treats
Apples and carrots are popular treats mainly because these are local products. Ideally they should be cut into strips to avoid choking, although if the horse is in a field with apple trees this won’t be possible.
Most other fruits can be given such as these listed below, although remove any large stones that could cause choking.
- Raisins and Dates (pitted) can also be safely given.
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin / melons
Foods To AVOID
It is usually advised to AVOID the following plants
- Tomatoes and potatoes, and possibly peppers as these are all of the same plant family and can cause digestion problems (they are also both members of the deadly nightshade family).
These plants may be considered poisonous because of the bad press they get as human foods, however as this article on human food diet shows many of these beliefs are myths. To be on the safe side it is probably better not to feed them, but there is also no need to panic if you suddenly discover that your horse has somehow got access to a piece of tomato.
Another family group to avoid is the cole family
- Broccoli, cauliflower, Kale, cabbage leaves
This is because of the gas that is produced with these vegetables and which can build up inside the horse’s digestive system and lead to colic.
- Grass cuttings – these may seem tasty but cut grass starts to decompose and produce heat
- Diary products are not considered good (Yoghurt, cheese, milk)
- Avocado (there is an article here describing why)
Finally …. never feed treats to a strange horse or without the owner’s permission. Some foods such as chocolate can affect drug results in competing horses, other horses may be allergic to certain foods or be on a special diet due to an ailment.
Other Horse Treats
There are other treats that can be given to horses aside from fresh fruit or vegetables some of the more common ones are;
- sugar cubes (not healthy but some horses really like them) – some trainers use them to encourage salivation
- mint sweets (polos in particular)
- commercial horse treats – (not too many)
- a small handful of their normal hard feed
Some treats such as shown here, can be useful as a way to give medicines especially tablets since the centres are soft and pliable. They get a good write up on Amazon for this reason (simply click on the link to view more information and read other reviews on the Amazon site)
How To Feed Horse Treats
Feeding treats by hand is a nice way to bond with a horse, try to ensure the hand is flat and push the food towards them so they can take the food without having to accidentally nip you. (and if like me make sure your dog isn’t standing underneath trying to catch dropped pieces).
For horses that can be pushy with treats use a bucket or their trough feeder, and don’t carry the treats in your pocket when you are near them otherwise they may start nosing for the food and cause harm or damage to you or your clothing.
Some horses have dubious eating manners and can try to seize treats, causing nips and bites. Because of this some horse owners refuse to allow their horse to have treats because of behavioural issues and this may be something you also decide to do.
One of the ways to avoid bad behaviour is to only provide small treats and avoid routines for giving treats, so they don’t come to expect it and behave badly when it doesn’t happen.