The Do’s and Don’ts of Feeding Treats to Your Horse

Even the best of us need a treat from time to time, and your horse is no different. Horses love the occasional treat – or even a daily one, as long as you feed them in moderation and don’t give them too many calorie-laden snacks. Treats can be offered to your equine to thank them for performing well during training or a race, or simply to win their affection if you have only just started training them. Read on to find out when and how you should give your horse treats, and what you should offer them if you decide to do so.

The Golden Rules of Treat Feeding

There are a few golden rules to adhere to when it comes to treating any animal, just like there are golden rules. Horses in particular also have special dietary needs that you need to be aware of. Firstly, you should choose healthy fruits, vegetables and grains as treats, which will taste great to your horse while still falling into the category of foods that they might eat in their regular diets. This will ensure that their chances of experiencing digestive upset are minimised, while also ensuring that their health is preserved in the long term.

Secondly, treats should only be offered in small amounts! Feeding your horse a whole bag of carrots or apples in one go constitutes more of a meal than a treat, and it will also be one filled with sugar and unnecessary calories. For the average sized equine, one or two carrots or apples is more than enough. Always remember that feeing them too much of anything could negatively impact their diets, lowering their protein content, exceeding their recommended starch intake, and diluting their intake of mineral and vitamins. Too much of certain special foods can also create severe gastrointestinal issues, and even problems like laminitis and colic.

Safe and Healthy Treat Foods

There are many foods out there that can be safely and freely offered to horses as rewards. A few of them to consider include:

  • Apple slices, carrots, and cubes of hay. These are always good places to start treat-wise, and even the fussiest of animals will be interested in them. Many horses will have no trouble enjoying other fruits like bananas as well.

  • Commercially produced horse treats. These can be found at your local pet/equine store, and have already been created with the correct nutritional values for your horse. They also store far better than fresh produce, which makes them a great option when you are on the road or need an instant treat available.
  • Sugar cubes. While these are not particularly healthy, they have a reputation for being a favorite of equines of every size, shape and breed. Just offer them sparingly!

Foods to Avoid Giving Your Horse

There are also some foods that you might consider to be good treats for your horse, but can actually be unhealthy or even harmful. Steer clear of options like:

  • Lawn clippings. These can contain poisonous weeds, can alter the pH of your horse’s hind gut, and may even cause choke, which can be deadly.
  • Unpitted stone fruits like plums and apricots. These can cause choke!
  • Chocolate. Horses may enjoy it from time to time, but if you race professionally, it can come up positive on a drug test.
  • Wheat products like bread and cake. These can gum up your horse’s digestive tract and even cause troublesome blockages.
  • Broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. These can cause uncomfortable to severe gas in large enough amounts.
  • And nightshades. Members of this plant family, like potatoes and tomatoes, are best avoided by equine animals!

About Doreen Cohen