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Recently a young visitor to our ranch asked me, “what do horses like to eat.” I have a good idea but thought it would be interesting to get input from other horse owners’ so I asked many of my friends and got some unique responses.
Horses like to eat sweet treats, whether it be candy, fruits, or sweet grains. Some of their favorites include watermelon, apples, strawberries, bananas, and peppermints. But because of their complex digestive system, horses have to eat a certain amount of forage, and most like alfalfa hay the best.
Horses like to eat fruits and vegetables, and most of these are safe to feed your animal. But there are some precautions you need to know before feeding your horse treats.
This article is one in a series I wrote about horses’ dietary needs. The previous article, What do Horses Eat? An Equine Nutrition Guide covers the basics you need to know to feed your horse correctly.
Treats horses like to eat.
Horses can’t survive on treats alone because their sensitive digestive systems require forage to function correctly, but they can eat limited amounts of treats. Some of the treats horses like to eat the most are sweet.
Horses may be picky eaters when it comes to hay, grass, and grains but not so much when it comes to treats. They like just about anything with sugar, be it sucrose, fructose, or glucose.
But eating too many sugary snacks can make your horse’s health turn sour in a hurry. Horses are herbivores, meaning they’re made to eat plants, not sugar, so give sweet snacks to your horse sparingly or not at all.
Sugar-based horse treats
Sucrose is the typical white crystal we use to cook and make candy, and it’s produced in plants through photosynthesis. We get most of our sugar from sugar cane and sugar beets.
In south Louisiana, sugar cane is abundant, and the stalks can be crushed and fed to horses. The entire stalk is safe for your animal to eat; just be sure and grind the stiff stalks before feeding it to them.
Sugar beets are fed to horses in pulp form and provides healthy fiber. We don’t grow sugar beets in our region, but I have heard that some horses love raw sugar beets, and others won’t eat them.
If you decide to feed your horse raw sugar beets, keep them to a minimum because they have incredibly high sugar content. I also recommend that you cut them into bite-sized pieces.
Hard candy and sugar cubes
Hard candy and sugar cubes are favorite horse treats. When I was growing up, my grandparents kept sugar cubes on the kitchen table. We always slipped a couple in our pocket to feed the horses.
Besides sugar cubes, our horses like to eat hard candy. But be careful how much sweets you feed your horse and never feed to horses with equine metabolic syndrome, Cushing’s, or PSSM.
Fruit (fructose) treats horses like to eat.
Fructose is the sugar that makes fruits, some vegetables, and honey sweet-tasting; it is also abundant in corn syrup. Horses like honey, one friend adds it to the feed of his horses that are picky eaters.
I live ten miles from Louisiana’s strawberry capital, Ponchatoula, Louisiana, where the strawberry festival is held each spring. Many of my neighbors grow and sell strawberries, so we have plenty available to feed our horses.
And horses like to eat strawberries. They are healthy and provide many helpful nutrients such as magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, and potassium. But there are some precautions you need to be aware of before feeding them to your animals.
First, wash strawberries thoroughly before feeding them, they are sprayed with insecticides in the fields, and these chemicals can make your horse sick.
Secondly, don’t feed them too often because they contain high sugar content. Too much sugar can negatively impact your horse, especially one with insulin issues.
And finally, it’s essential your horse doesn’t fill up on strawberries and avoids the necessary forage it needs for proper digestion. If a horse overeats strawberries, it will prevent grazing.
Most horses love eating bananas, and they are healthy snacks. Some friends feed their horses the entire banana, peel, and all. They told me not to peel a banana for a horse because after they eat a peeled one, they will turn their nose up to unpeeled bananas from that point on.
Besides feeding horse whole bananas, I’ve also heard of people peeling, freezing, and cutting the frozen bananas into bite-sized treats for horses. I don’t know if it’s practical for most people. I like to have a horse treat ready to go, and horses like to eat them just fine at room temperature.
If you feed your horse, unpeeled bananas assume they are unclean and wash them thoroughly. Bananas contain many healthy vitamins and minerals, including potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, and vitamin D.
Although a healthy treat, you should limit Bananas because they can cause horse abdominal discomfort and digestive issues.
As you likely gathered, I live in a farming community. Many of the locals grow fruit and vegetables, and cantaloupe is a popular one. So it’s common for us to have plentiful cantaloup rinds available to feed our horses.
Horses like to eat cantaloupe; it’s sweet and refreshing on a hot day. We throw out the cut-up pieces with the rinds. The horses eat the flesh and leave the thin rind. Canteloup is sweet and should be fed sparingly.
It’s a sweet treat and a good source of nutrients, including beta carotene, potassium, vitamin C, folic acid, vitamin B, and antioxidants. These nutrients help your horse stay healthy. But don’t forget to wash always wash cantaloupe well before feeding your animals.
I’m more particular when cleaning canteloupe than smooth melons because of the chances that pesticides are in their rough exterior crevices.
Horses like to eat apples, whole, halved, and even the cores. They are safe and can be found in a wide range of sweetness. Just like us, horses are individuals and prefer some apples over others.
As with any fruit or vegetable, always wash its exterior to get rid of pesticides. I like to cut my apples into quarters before feeding to our horses, but my neighbor feeds his animals the apple whole and says he has never had a problem.
I still think cutting the fruit is the safest practice. Apples are a great healthy horse treat. They are easy to store and provides some essential vitamins and nutrients to benefit your animal.
We buy a bag of apples for ourselves, and when they start to turn, they are converted to horse treats. Just remember not to feed them too often because they are full of sugar.
Here are some of the vitamins and nutrients in an apple: potassium, fiber, vitamin A and vitamin C.
Vegetables horses like to eat.
Celery is a crunchy vegetable that most horses like; however, I’ve known some picky eaters that didn’t. It’s mostly water and is high in fiber, which benefits your horse’s digestive system.
Celery also contains many critical vitamins and nutrients, including vitamin A a powerful antioxidant, and is a good source of vitamin C, collagen, phosphorus, and magnesium.
If you decide to feed your horse, celery wash it thoroughly to remove possible insects and insecticides. I also prefer to break the stalks into manageable sizes so it’s easier for our horses to chew.
Horses like to eat lettuce, preferably when it’s fresh and crunchy. Lettuce is a treat enjoyed by animals of all sizes, rats, rabbits, goats, and horses. Lettuce has high fiber and water content, plus it’s easy to digest, which makes it a safe treat.
We typically wash our lettuce and throw the head over the fence. Because it is high in fiber and is primarily water, you don’t have to worry about overfeeding lettuce. A horse can eat as much as they want without affecting their sugar levels.
Cucumbers, zucchini, and squash
Cucumbers are an excellent healthy treat horses like to eat. They are low in sugar and calories and, like lettuce, are comprised of mostly water. Cucumbers provide two essential benefits to horses; they can help reduce inflammation and provide extra hydration.
Cucumbers, squash, and zucchini are all healthy horse treats that you can grow in a small garden. If you’ve never had a vegetable garden, I suggest starting with these three. They are easy to grow, tasty, and are healthy treats for your animals.
Always remember to wash your vegetables before eating them or feeding your animals. I typically cut the cucumber, squash, and zucchini before I feed them to our horses. Also, limit the amount you provide them because these vegetables can cause bloating, and your horse may get off their feed.
Carrots are the treat we all agreed was the one horses like to eat the most. A simple carrot is a real treat for horses, and it provides vitamins that are essential to horses’ health.
I have heard one person warn against feeding carrots to horses suffering from laminitis. They claimed it causes the horse additional pain and enhances the symptoms.
I had never heard this, so I researched this issue and ran across a study debunking the claim. Apparently, feeding carrots to horses with founder is an issue people consider. You can click this link to read the carrot/laminitis study.
Some fruits and plants horses shouldn’t eat.
Tomatoes are another easy food to grow in a garden. But unlike cucumbers and squash, horses don’t really like to eat them. I had always been told not to feed tomatoes to horses because they will make them sick.
So when I saw our horse standing over the tomato plants in our garden, I was worried he would eat a few before I got to him. But to my surprise, he hadn’t taken one bite of a tomato.
When I relayed this story, I was told that my horses’ behavior was typical. Either because of the smell or the color, horses generally don’t eat tomatoes, and if they do bite into one, they don’t like the taste and move on to something else.
Cabbage, broccoli & cauliflower
If I didn’t know better, I would think cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower would be good treats for horses. But although they are full of vitamins and nutrients, they create a ton of gas and are harmful to horses.
You should not feed any vegetable with the propensity to create gas in your horse; these include brussels sprouts, onions, and any other in the nightshade family.
We love to eat avocados, but they should never be fed to a horse, even in small amounts. Avocados contain persin, which has toxic effects when consumed by a horse.
The persin is in the flesh of the avocado as well as the skin. Your horse could have a bad reaction ingesting even a small amount. So don’t ever feed your animal avocadoes or discard them anywhere it could access them.