The Do’s and Dont’s of Feeding Treats

We all enjoy a treat once in awhile – a nice warm brownie fresh out of the oven, a cool slice of watermelon on a hot summer day – and your horse is no different. He will enjoy a treat from you every now and then, or even on a daily basis in small amounts . We share treats with our horses to say thanks for a job well done,  as a reward when training, and let’s admit it  - feeding treats to our horses makes us feel good, too.

There is nothing wrong with treating your horse. He deserves it, and so do you. But there are some guidelines we can use when selecting the type of treat,  as well as the feeding frequency and amount.

  • Select healthy vegetables and fruits as treats – these taste good to your horse and are usually close to foods they eat in their normal diet, so chances of digestive upset are reduced.
  • Feed only a small amount. Feeding your horse 15 large carrots at a time may create more of a meal than a treat. For an average size horse, one or two carrots is sufficient. Feeding too much of any treat can have negative effects on a balanced diet like 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.
  • Feed sparingly. Treats are only special when they are not available all the time; feeding treats  free choice defeats the purpose.

What are Good Treats?

  • Healthy snacks like apple slices, carrots, and hay cubes are good places to start for a treat. Many horses will even enjoy a banana.
  • Commercially made horse treats can be a favorite for many horses and they may store and travel better than fresh fruit or vegetables when you’re on the road.
  • Sugar cubes are a very traditional (although not very healthy) treat for horses.

What Treats Shouldn’t I Feed?

  • Don’t feed lawn clippings (these can contain poisonous plants, can cause choke, and can drastically change the pH of the hindgut )
  • Cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower can cause severe gas if fed in large amounts
  • Potatoes and Tomatoes are members of the nightshade family and while some people report feeding these with no issues it is best to avoid them. 
  • Don’t feed unpitted stone fruits, as the pits can cause choke.
  • Chocolate – while your horse may enjoy it, chocolate can cause a positive result in a drug test.
  • Fresh bread, donuts, etc. – these items can become a doughy mass in the digestive tract and cause a blockage.
  • Sweet Feed (COB & unfortified sweet grains) can quickly unbalance the diet when enough is fed as a “treat”.

When feeding treats, remember the acronym A.I.M. - Always In Moderation. Keep your treats as close as possible to the natural diet and enjoy being a hero to your horse!


6 thoughts on “The Do’s and Dont’s of Feeding Treats

  1. Pingback: The Do's and Dont's of Feeding Treats | The Feed Room | Texas Horse Report

  2. Thank you for your nice article, I printed it out and put it up in our barn to remind my wife! Feeding treats to your animals should be treated just as you were feeding them to yourself – only it’s easier to feed healthy when it’s not you. Carrots can last over a week, even uncooled and provide a nice, easy, and healthy snack that few horses will turn their noses to.

  3. Great article Nutrena. We try to recommend at CountryMax that treating your horse is a great way to add a little something nutritional to their diet as well as a bonding experience between horse and rider. Like anything else though, moderation is key and choosing the proper treat is vital! Keep up the great posts!

  4. I’ve posted on fb about the fact that the whole apple shouldnt be given to horses because of the cyanide in the seeds.there was all kinds of repost including one that called me stupid for posting that.what is true? Do or dont?

    • As with any treat, moderation is key. While it is very unusual for a horse to have a problem with eating apples, if they eat enough of any one thing it can cause issues. Use your good judgement and limit any treat fed. Thanks for the question!

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