Horses are some of the most beloved animals on the planet, and it’s easy to see why. Beautiful, majestic, and talented, these creatures have been admired by humans for centuries. In fact, many people dream of having their own horse to ride around the fields for hours on end.
However, those lucky enough to have a horse already know that they require a lot of attention. From proper grooming to nutrition, these animals are not easy to take care of. But, if you plan to get a horse, you need to learn all about these gentle giants. So, what do horses like to eat, and what foods should you avoid feeding them?
What Do Horses Like to Eat? 7 Favorites
It’s important to understand that, since horses are herbivores, they have specific dietary needs. Not only that, but their digestive system is also quite different from other animals. As a result, horses require a high-fiber diet, consumed in small portions over a period of time. Rather than a couple of large meals, as humans prefer, horses eat many meals throughout the day.
Here is a quick rundown of what horses should eat, so you can get a better idea of what you can feed yours.
It goes without saying that horses love eating grass and they will munch on it all day long if given the opportunity. Actually, grass is their go-to food, as it offers dozens of benefits for their digestive system.
However, that doesn’t mean your horse should overconsume grass. That’s because it could cause a condition called laminitis, which is an inflammation of the tissues between the hoof and the underlying coffin bone. Additionally, if you plan to let your horse graze freely, make sure that there are no plants in the area that are toxic to the animal, like horse nettle, black nightshade, and jimsonweed.
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Concentrates are mixtures that usually contain grains, beet pulp, molasses, flaxseed, vitamins, and other ingredients. These are great energy boosters that help old, pregnant, nursing, or competitive horses. They also make up for any shortfall in nutrition, which is why many vets recommend them.
But keep in mind that concentrates shouldn’t replace a normal diet of grass and hay. Not only that, but these mixes can be harmful if the wrong combination of ingredients is fed to your horse.
More specifically, they can cause mineral imbalances and are associated with laminitis, azoturia, orthopedic disease, and acute gastric dilation. So remember to talk with a veterinarian to determine which concentrates are best for your horse.
Most horse owners don’t have the luxury of being able to let their animals graze on pastures throughout the year. But when fresh grass isn’t an option, hay is the next-best choice.
Unfortunately, finding high-quality horse hay is tricky. You’ll need to test the hay, so you know which shortfalls in minerals and vitamins need to be compensated for with supplements.
Furthermore, too much hay can also cause problems similar to too much grass. Thus, you need to avoid having your horse munch on it 24/7.
Besides grass and hay, horses love to chew on grains. From oats to corn and barley, you can feed your horse all types of grains. However, some grains like wheat and rice aren’t always a good choice. That’s because they can cause dental problems, stomach ulcers, and colic. As a result, check with a vet before feeding your horse grains.
5. Vegetables and Fruits
Vegetables and fruits are a great way to add some extra moisture to your horses’ diet, especially since hay and grass tend to be pretty dry. While there are countless vegetables you can give your horse, they will never refuse carrots and celery. When it comes to fruits, bananas, apples, and strawberries are a no-brainer.
Be aware that horses shouldn’t consume just vegetables and fruit. You’ll need to introduce them as part of a healthy and balanced diet, or the horse might develop mineral imbalances. It’s also worth noting that fruits like peaches, avocados, and cherries are dangerous for horses, as they could choke on the pit.
6. Salt and Minerals
Most horses love salt, especially when it is scorching. While some concentrates also include salt, it’s always a good idea to let your horse lick on a salt block to get its fill. You can even find salt mixed with minerals, which should help pregnant or competitive horses stay energized. But you can also place some loose salt in a pasture or stall to allow your horse to satisfy its craving.
7. Sugar Cubes
As long as you don’t overdo it, sugar cubes can be a delicious treat for any horse. Not only is it tasty, but sugar can also make up for mineral deficiencies.
However, it should be fed as an occasional treat. In large quantities, sugar cubes can cause serious tooth decay and make your horse sick. And don’t forget that horses with equine metabolic syndrome, PSSM, or Cushing’s should never be given sugar.
9 Food to Avoid Feeding Horses
Contrary to popular belief, horses can’t safely eat all of the foods humans enjoy. While they might want to eat everything you give them, horses can end up suffering from severe health conditions after ingesting specific foods. So avoid feeding these to your horse:
What many people don’t know is that tomatoes are related to deadly nightshade, as both are part of the toxic Solanaceae plant family. But what makes tomatoes so harmful to horses?
For starters, the green leafy portions of tomato plants contain atropine, which slows gut function and causes colic.
Tomatoes also contain hyoscyamine, a chemical that reduces saliva production and intestinal motility but increases the heart rate and can cause constipation or hemorrhagic diarrhea. Besides tomatoes, you should also avoid other members of the Solanaceae family, like peppers and eggplants.
Even though horses don’t really enjoy the taste of potatoes, they might still be tempted to try them at one point. Unfortunately, potatoes are also members of the nightshade family, making them toxic to horses. Like tomatoes, they consist of atropine, a compound that can affect your horses’ autonomic nervous system.
Besides being toxic, potatoes can also become lodged in the animal’s windpipe, resulting in choking. As a result, vets recommend owners to keep their horses away from potatoes and potato-related products like chips and gnocchi.
3. Garlic and Onions
Garlic is a pretty controversial topic for most horse owners. On the one hand, many of them feed their animals with garlic and onions, praising the plants’ medicinal properties. On the other hand, others avoid the vegetables at all costs. So let’s see which side is right.
First, it’s important to know that onions, garlic, and similar vegetables such as chives, leeks, and shallots contain n-propyl disulfide. This toxic compound can destroy red blood cells and cause Heinz Body Anemia.
In 2005, researchers decided to further test the impact of garlic on the health of horses. They discovered that the vegetable could increase the mean corpuscular volume, decrease blood cell count, and even affect blood hemoglobin concentration.
That being said, garlic can indeed help horses thanks to its pain relief and anti-inflammatory properties. It can also prevent equine respiratory diseases and infections. But before you feed your horse garlic and onions, contact your local vet to run some tests and decide if this is a good addition to your animal’s diet.
Humans love chocolate, but that doesn’t mean you should give it to your horse too. As it contains caffeine and theobromine, chocolate is extremely unhealthy for horses. And, the huge amount of sugar can mess up the animal’s digestive system. The same applies to chocolate-based foods like cookies, cakes, and chocolate chips.
5. Garden Plants
There are a couple of garden plants, like bracken, pokeweed, eagle fern, and horse nettle, that are dangerous to horses. If ingested, these plants can cause renal failure, diarrhea, liver damage, colic, and sometimes death. While you most likely won’t feed them to your horse, you need to block their access to live or discarded garden plants.
Although rhubarb can be a great addition to your dish, it shouldn’t be a part of your horse’s diet. That’s due to its high amounts of calcium oxalate, which isn’t tolerated by these gentle giants. Eating rhubarb usually results in problems with the digestive system and the urinary tract. Rhubarb can also cause kidney failure and death in some rare situations.
7. Milk or Dairy Products
Similar to humans, some horses can be lactose intolerant. While milk isn’t poisonous to them, it can cause digestion issues. Therefore, once they are grown up, avoid feeding your horses milk or other dairy products.
8. Meat Products
You’ve most likely seen videos online of horses taking a bite of a hot dog, cheeseburger, or chicken nugget. In fact, horses that live on farms can also be seen bending down and grabbing a baby chick to eat it.
However, it’s important to remember that horses are herbivores. As a result, their digestive systems can’t process meat. So, make sure that your horse stays away from any meat products.
The seeds and fibers of persimmons can lead to phytobezoar, which is a sticky mass that gets trapped in the gastrointestinal system, causing colic. If you have persimmon trees in your pasture, try to keep your horse away. Otherwise, they might end up eating the ripened fruits that fall to the ground.
Tips To Feed Horses
Feeding your horse can seem pretty straightforward. After all, you just need to place the food down and let them eat, right? However, if you’ve never owned a horse, you might make a few rookie mistakes that can put your and the animal’s life in danger.
But, by following these tips, you too can become a master horse feeder:
• Remove any pips or hard peels from fruits and vegetables, as they can be a choking hazard.
• Keep vegetables and fruits in small and medium portions so your horse will have an easier time biting and eating them.
• If your horse likes to eat salt, limit its intake to prevent mineral imbalances.
• Treats like apples and carrots are a great way to improve a horse’s mood and add moisture to their diet. But don’t overdo it, or you risk causing health complications.
• Don’t feed your horse fruits or vegetables that have noticeable mold, spotting, or organic growth.
• Have you adjusted the amount of work that your horse is doing? Then make sure to adjust their food portions accordingly.
• Water is essential, so ensure that your horse has a steady supply of fresh water. If that’s not possible, at least give your horse some water before feeding. That will prevent undigested food from washing through the digestive system too quickly.
• Horses are habitual creatures that thrive on routines. Thus, you should keep feeding them at the same time each day.
• When feeding grain, less is always more. Start with a minimal amount and adjust if necessary. Over time, you’ll discover the perfect balance of hay, grain, and pasture for your horse’s particular needs.