Treats for your horse: the good and the bad!


Clare Barfoot – SPILLERS®

Everybody loves to give their horse an extra treat. We happily tuck in to a bar of chocolate here and a packet of crisps there, so why shouldn’t our horses have an occasional something special as well? However, although your horse might thank you for the occasional healthy snack, inappropriate treats could be very unwise. Here’s why.

The digestion question

Horses are trickle feeders and in the wild they will spend most of their time covering large distances and selecting food from a variety of plants. This has allowed their digestive systems to evolve to digest mainly high fibre foods and in order to prevent digestive problems they must eat ‘little and often’.

Treating: the problem

If a horse has a sudden change to their diet, for example a sudden change in feed or a change in the quantity, their digestive systems may not be able to adapt quickly enough. Many people know that when introducing a new feed that it must be introduced gradually and fed in several small meals a day, however when it comes to feeding treats, it can be easy to forget this and many of us just give them as and when without thinking too much about it.

Good treats, bad treats

As a horse owner it is important to know which treats are good and which should be avoided. All treats, whether they are good or bad must be fed in moderation, but below are a few suggestions:

Unhealthy treats

  • Any human foods with caffeine for example chocolate
  • Too many Polo’s and other sweets
  • Sugar Cubes
  • Sandwiches
  • Grass cuttings
  • Contents of a compost bin!
  • Uncooked potatoes especially if green
  • Bread, buns or cakes (mince pies!)
  • Anything containing meat or meat products (no Christmas turkey!)
  • Healthier options

Succulents for example carrots and apples are the obvious choices but have you ever thought about hanging a swede in your horse’s stable? Hanging root veg is an ideal way to keep stabled horses amused. Don’t be too worried about over-doing veggie treats (as long as you don’t feed them by the sackful) because most vegetables are largely made up of water. Carrots for example are approximately 85% water so in actual terms you are only feeding a very small amount of real carrot.

Carrots are very nutritious and are probably best known for their beta-carotene (orange pigment) content that can help you to see in the dark! Carrots not only contain beta-carotene which is a precursor of vitamin A but are also good sources of B vitamins, vitamin C, calcium, phosphorus, potassium and sodium as are most vegetables. Other vegetables your horse might enjoy are turnips, beetroot and parsnips; just avoid green or sprouting potatoes as these are poisonous.

With regard to fruits obviously there are apples but you could try pears, nectarines, peaches even bananas which are commonly fed to horses in Australia. Bananas may be an acquired taste but are very nutritious and contain a good source of potassium.

In general just be sensible with the amount you give and make sure that, like all dietary changes, if you are going to feed a fair quantity of a new vegetable you introduce it slowly. I am sure your horse will really appreciate having his diet varied.

Healthy treats designed for horses

There are many treats on the market that have been specially designed for horses. Some horse treats have added healthy ingredients, for example added glucosamine to support healthy joints or biotin to support healthy hooves; others have added herbs to make them even more scrumptious! Avoid heavily molassed treats; at the very least they make a real of a mess of your hands and are very sugary.

For more ideas on how to treat your horse or pony contact the SPILLERS® Care-Line on 01908 226626.

Author: Features Editor

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