What Do Horses Eat? A Few Facts on Horse Feeding

by Sarah Macey

What Do Horses Eat? A Few Facts on Horse Feeding

Horses like to break from their normal routines from time to time. You may have noticed that your horse suddenly gets a new lease of energy if you take him on a new riding trail. It only makes sense then that he would also enjoy some variation in his diet – just like we do! Even if I wanted to, I don’t think I could eat lasagne every day for the rest of my life, so why should your horse be restricted to such a repetitive diet, why not mix it up a little? Even if he seems content and satisfied with his regular menu, I have found that adding several ounces of vegetables a day helps my horses get the added vitamins and minerals they need, helping maintain their overall health and happiness.

Feeding fruits and vegetables to horses can encourage poor feeders and fussy eaters, as well as adding variety to a horse’s diet. You can also use your horse’s favourite fruit or vegetables as a low-fat treat to reward good behaviour.

A Few Facts to Take into Consideration

  • Horses are natural herbivores and therefore, meat is not recommended as part of a horse’s diet.
  • Generally speaking, an active, healthy horse needs 2 to 2.5 pounds of feed for every 100 pounds of his weight.
  • A horse needs up to 12 gallons of fresh, clean water daily. That’s much more than our recommended 8 glasses!
  • Because horses have such a small stomach size, they eat little and often. That being said, horses should never go eight hours without any food.
  • Their long digestive system requires a high-fibre diet that is consumed in small amounts over a long time. That is why horses actually spend most of their time eating!

It is important to be aware that feeding too much of any treat can have negative effects on a balanced diet such as; lowering protein content, raising starch levels and diluting vitamins and minerals. In addition, too much of certain treats can lead to severe digestive upset and even colic or laminitis. All things in moderation. Below are the vegetables that I recommend you to feed, sparingly, to your horse in order to add a slight bit of variation into his diet.

Vegetable Meals

Treats like carrots are relished by horses and good for them too. Most people know that you can feed carrots to your horse. Many children’s story books, movies about horses and horse enthusiasts have probably already educated you on this point. But did you know, you have other choices to use as regular mealtime additions, at 1 to 2 pounds per feeding. As you would with a child, check your horse’s reaction to beetroot, carrot, celery, cucumber, parsnip, swede, and turnip. Horses love their veggies. Occasionally, horse owners give their horses garlic in some form, believing it to be an effective fly and insect repellent. You must be sure to keep the quantity small, however, as large amounts may cause your horse to develop anemia.

Fruit Meals

Most people know that horses adore eating apples and they are one of the most common treats children and adults give to horses to encourage good behaviour or simply to win the horse’s affection. Fruits your horse may like include apple, apricot, banana, blackberry, coconut, grapefruit, oranges, peaches, pear, pineapple, plum, strawberry, and watermelon. Feeding your horse small quantities of fruit is a good way to give them something sweet without feeding them sugar cubes. I can pretty much guarantee that your horse will devour the fruit samples as quickly as they would the sugar cubes but you have the satisfaction of knowing that fruit is a healthier option, even if it still has that sweet, sugary taste.

Unsafe Fruits and Vegetables

What many people don’t know is that there are a few fruits and vegetables that can make horses very sick. Be sure never to feed your horse tomatoes, peppers, or potatoes as these vegetables contain small amounts of solanine which is poisonous to horses. Avocado and rhubarb are extremely toxic to horses, this includes the avocado skin and pit, or seed, which is just as toxic as the rest of it. Be sure to avoid these foods entirely so that your horse doesn’t get sick.

Feeding Advice

Your selected fruits and vegetables should be washed before being fed to your horse to help ensure the removal of any pesticides, chemicals, and mouldy or rotten fruit or vegetables should be avoided. As long as you keep the portion sizes small, no matter how much your horse is enjoying it, you can either mix the vegetables with his regular grain or feed them separately. It is best to start with a very small amount of each vegetable in order to check for allergies. Your horse may also need time to get used to the new flavours and consistencies of foods that are new to him. Make sure you cut the pieces so that they are bite-sized to reduce the possibility of choking. If your horse is older or has dental issues, consider combining the vegetables in a blender with water and mixing this with his grain for an easy-to-swallow treat that he can enjoy.

Conclusion 

There are plenty of lists out there that contain ‘safe’ foods for horses to eat. Personally, unless it comes from a plant, I don’t feed my horse anything processed such as bread, biscuits, or doughnuts. Horses are herbivores, plain and simple, they don’t need dairy products, meat, or junk food.

Do not assume that because the vegetable is safe to eat, the leaves are too. I personally recommend avoiding any seeds or pits and I want to stress that these foods should be fed sparingly, more as a treat than as a regular meal. Basically, if you are unsure whether or not something is safe for your horse to eat, it is best that you avoid it altogether. It is much better to stick to foods that you know are healthy and safe for your horse rather than experimenting.

 

 

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