Since horses are herbivores, some people make the mistake of assuming that if they feed them some plants, they are good to go.
Feeding them the wrong things can lead to a world of problems for you and the horse. Many of the foods we consume as humans are safe enough for horses to eat, except meat products, dairy products, or other animal byproducts.
So, what can horses eat then? Generally, natural foods like lush pasture, healthy snacks, and a decent source of micronutrients. We will break all of that down in the article.
What Horses Can Eat
Horses have complicated and sensitive digestive systems. Anything that affects the population of the bacteria and microbial content of a horse’s gut can make the horse feel uncomfortable.
Apart from the usual hay and fresh grass, you can feed your horse treats. Be careful on choosing which treats to use to ensure you don’t sacrifice the well-being of your healthy horse.
Before choosing a horse treat, you should consider the health of your horse. If your horses love sweet things like sugar, you should not feed horses with PSSM, Cushing’s, or Equine Metabolic Syndrome sugar cubes.
Here is a list of plants to consider that are safe enough to serve as horse feeds.
Dry hay is important in a horse diet, especially in the cooler months when the pasture doesn’t grow. It will keep your horse full and provide fiber to the horse that can keep the digestive system in good health.
There are different types of hay you can feed a horse, including oats, alfalfa, orchard, Bermuda, and Timothy. Hay is typically sold in bales, and each bale has 10 to 14 flakes. They can also be sold in cube and pellets.
Your horse would benefit from eating whole grains like corn, oats, and barley as it is a rich energy source. These often come pre-packaged in combinations that are specific to your horse’s needs. For competition horses, older and younger horses will require a different blend of concentrates.
If you are planning to mix concentrates by yourself, be careful that you don’t combine the wrong concentrates or amount as this may cause mineral imbalances.
Grasses are the natural food for horses. The roughage is great for their digestive systems if they don’t eat too much of it as this can cause laminitis. Make sure that your pasture is free from any plants that may be toxic to the horses, which we will list later in the article.
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables add much needed moisture to their otherwise dry diet. Here is a list of fruits that are safe enough to feed your horse.
- Apricot (without pit)
- Banana (including peel)
- Watermelon (including rind)
- Pear (without the core)
- Plums (without the stone)
- Dates (pitted)
- Peach (without the stone)
- Sunflower seeds
- Chia seeds
- Sesame seeds
You should offer your horse an occasional salt lick block or keep loose salt in a separate feeding bowl. Some horse owners have discovered that horses love to eat salt in the summer.
A healthy horse needs about 12 gallons of fresh and clean water daily. Make sure to provide enough water to keep your horses hydrated and refreshed.
Horses also love a little sugary treat in their diet but feed the horses in moderate amounts to avoid upsetting their digestive systems. Some treats that are safe enough to feed your horse include:
- Peanut butter
- Cinnamon (in very small quantities)
- Hard candies (except chocolate) and peppermint
- Sugar, brown sugar & powdered sugar
- Roasted peanuts (never raw)
Amounts of Food That Are Safe Enough to Feed a Horse
Depending on the level of activity, an average adult horse needs about 2 to 2.5 pounds of feed for every 100 pounds. A 1000-pound horse would need about 20 to 25 pounds of horse feed daily to be adequately nourished.
Horses have small stomachs, especially when compared to the large horses. As a result, they eat very little and must be fed constantly. A stable-kept horse needs to have its food spread out between 2 to 3 feedings daily. A horse should never go without food for over eight hours.
When feeding your horse, try to make half of their diet contain hay or pasture grass. A ridden horse needs more food during the day than an idle one, or it becomes underweight.
A typical diet for a horse ridden for one hour over the course of five days in one week should contain 2 to 5 pounds of concentrate and 15 to 20 pounds of hay. Do not exercise your horse immediately after a heavy meal as it can affect food digestion and make the horse very uncomfortable.
Horses are a creature of habits, so make sure to build a routine around their feeding time. Feed them at the same time every day and keep their food troughs clean, otherwise they may refuse to eat and drink. Remember to feed little and often.
Toxic Plants You Should Avoid Feeding Your Horse
Having a plant does not mean it is safe for your horse to consume. Some plants are very toxic to horses, and you should absolutely avoid them from their diet. These toxic plants include:
Ragwort contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which are dangerous for horses. As the toxins build up in the horse’s system, it can cause irreparable liver damage, which can escalate to liver failure, or worse, death.
Ragwort is also toxic to human beings, but in a different manner. It causes skin irritation once it touches your skin, so you should wear protective clothing when removing them from grazing pastures.
All the varieties of privet are harmful to horses, but you should be on the lookout for the box privet. The ingestion of small quantities can be lethal.
Foxgloves are so toxic that as little as 100 grams can kill a healthy horse within hours, so make sure to avoid them in your horse feed.
Bracken is harmful in any format to horses – dried or fresh. Once a horse ingests it and is not quickly given an antidote, the effects may be fatal. The good news is that horses don’t naturally eat bracken, but if you pick it up and feed them – they might.
This plant and every other one that belongs to the family like potato, tomato, mandrake, tobacco, and eggplant should be avoided. Ingestion can cause colic-like symptoms such as increased heart rate, and sometimes, death.
Unlike how the name suggests, this is not a horse-friendly plant. Once ingested, it destroys all the vitamin B in the horse’s blood. The effects include muscle weakness and an increasingly erratic pulse that can prove fatal.
Once consumed, milkweed can cause muscle spasms, muscle loss, altered heart rate, and in extreme cases, lung paralysis.
Lawn or garden cuttings
Horses should only eat fresh grass from the pasture. The moment grass is cut, it begins to ferment, and this fermentation continues within the horse’s stomach. This may lead to colic and may even rupture the stomach in severe cases.
Buttercups irritate the horse’s mouth and can cause diarrhea and colic. Typically, horses will not eat them on the fields and once it’s dried into hay or frozen, they lose their toxicity. However, it is best to avoid it completely.
Other Foods to Avoid Feeding Your Horse
This contains high levels of calcium oxalates that are toxic to horses and a majority of other animals. The effect of its consumption includes tremors and, in severe cases, kidney failure.
Every single part of this plant is toxic to a horse – leaves, bark, roots, fruits, and more. Avocados can cause colic, breathing issues, irregular heartbeat, and even death.
Onions, garlic, leeks, and chives
You can feed horses garlic supplements but as a rule of thumb, avoid giving them raw garlic, leeks, chives, and onions. These contain N-propyl disulfide, which can cause anemia.
Prevent your horse choking by removing all the seeds before feeding them fruits. Apart from choking, the seeds of some fruits like apples contain the poisonous substance, cyanide.
Bran used to be part of a horse’s staple diet, but research has shown that it can cause mineral imbalances and negatively affect their digestion and cause diarrhea.
Cattle have different digestive requirements from horses. What is okay to feed cattle may be fatal for the sensitive digestive system of a horse.
Horses are lactose intolerant and ingesting them could cause colic, diarrhea, and other digestive issues.
The theobromine contact of chocolate can be fatal to horses in large doses. In smaller doses, they have a similar effect to caffeine.
Horses cannot digest processed foods and eating bread may obstruct their digestive system. If you’d like to feed your horse some bread occasionally as a treat, make sure to mix it with water.
There are so many options to choose from to feed a house that you will never run out of ideas. What’s more important than what you choose to feed your horse are the things to avoid feeding them.
With a strictly monitored diet, your horse should be safe from accidentally eating any of these toxic food items.