Planning a picnic in the country? Visiting the local stables? Heading for a horse show? What’s in your lunchbox or picnic basket? Do you have anything you can share with a horse?
The Best Intentions
Well-meaning people are inclined to share the good things they have, even with a horse. As long as those things are safe for equines, and offered in a safe manner, this practice can be a treat for you and your favorite horses!
Horses enjoy a lot of the same treats we do!
Safe Foods for Equines
Apples may be the number-one favorite. Smaller apples should be cut up, so they do not present a choking hazard. We hang an apple-wedging tool in the barn aisle, just for well-wishers! We often tote apples to the stables with us, and we save the cores for our ponies!
Pears are another great choice. Horses are not too particular. My horse even appreciates the core, after I have eaten the best part of the fruit!
Horses love carrots. You can break carrots in half to share, or even cut them into little sticks. Avoid cutting them into wheels, as these can cause choking too.
Bananas are super summer treats, as they offer lots of potassium to a horse who has worked hard in the sun. Some horses will balk at these, though, especially if they are too mushy.
We love taking ginger snaps and graham crackers to the barn. The horses love them, and so do we!
Many fruits appeal to horses. Any pits, seeds, or rinds should be removed. Most horses do not really enjoy citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, limes), which may be too acidic for them anyway.
Of course, a horse will readily accept a peppermint or sugar cube. These should be fed one at a time, to avoid choking. Although sweets do not provide helpful nutrition, they are handy rewards for a good schooling session. Did you know that a single sugar cube may inspire the horse to take the bit better as well?
Baby-food fruits provide a wonderful camouflage for veterinary medicines, if your horse needs these. A spoonful of junior applesauce, prunes, or pears will surely make the medicine go down quickly!
Store-bought horse treats can be costly. Why not grab a recipe and bake your own?
Foods to Avoid
Horses are vegetarians, so they should not eat anything with meat (even meat juices) in it. Their digestive systems are designed to handle grasses and grains.
Avocados are poisonous to horses. Broccoli, cabbage, chocolate, nuts, potatoes, and tomatoes should all be avoided.
Dairy items are a bad idea, as these can cause stomach upset.
If you are entering a horse show, be advised that chocolate and poppy-seeds can cause a horse to fail a pre-show drug test.
Always Ask First!
Most people do not mind if you offer their horses treats, but it is a good idea to ask first.
Some horses have special diets, food-interactive medications, or they can even have allergies. Horses can even be diabetic. In addition, if a horse should colic in a day or two, you certainly don’t want to be responsible for it!
Most responsible horse owners put considerable time and effort into teaching their horses to behave politely around humans. Introducing treats without permission can undo lots of training and may put you at risk. (Some horses do bite!)
If you should happen to see an unfamiliar horse, poking his head over a fence, it is best not to offer treats.
How to Feed Treats
Of course, the safest way to offer a treat is to drop it into a horse’s bucket in his stall. Horses who constantly receive hand-fed treats may develop bad manners. No one wants his horse to begin nipping and biting for goodies!
If you must feed a horse by hand, place the treat in the center of your palm, and hold your hand out flat, as if it were a plate. Horses have excellent peripheral vision, but they cannot see directly in front of their noses. You do not want an equine friend to mistake your fingers for food!
Do not offer a horse treats while he stands in a barn aisle in cross-ties, unless his owner consents that you may do so.
Your own horse is another story. Presumably, you have developed a trusting relationship, and you know your own boundaries.
Be sure to dispose of all wrappings, so the horse doesn’t eat them. A plastic wrapper, baggie, or even a twist-tie can lodge inside a horse’s gut and cause huge problems.
In the pasture, do not feed treats to one horse with others present. This may cause the more aggressive horses to act up. (Of course, one should never enter a pasture without permission, for safety and courtesy.)