This past Sunday I worked in the yard. I mowed, weeded, transplanted bee balm, cleaned the barn, scoured the water tub and brushed the horses. I did a lot and by golly, I deserved a treat. I went to Bruster’s Real Ice Cream and enjoyed a double scoop,  orange sherbet waffle cone for dinner. We all deserve a treat once in a while, including our horses. When it comes to giving horse treats there are several things to consider.

Don’t indulge
Your horse can’t count and lacks the cognitive power to think “hey, you only gave me one? What a jip”. Two of something makes the same positive mental impression on your horse as twelve. But twelve of something can have a significant toil on your horse physically – and not in a good way.

Have a reason
Use treats as a reward for a good ride or coming to the pasture gate when you call. Your horse will form positive correlation: I do “X” = I get Treat.

Make a good choice
Make a healthy choice when choosing treats for your horse. Commercially based treats are a great option. They use ingredients suitable for horses and have a fairly long shelf life. However, for horses suffering certain diseases, commercial treats may contain too much sugar (read the ingredients). When it comes to fresh items, it isn’t always clear which are ok for your horse. We have assembled a list compiled from researchers/scientists who know best.

Good Treats

  • Apricots
  • Apples
  • Berries (strawberry, blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, loganberry)
  • Bananas
  • Canaloupe (no rind)
  • Grapes
  • Mango
  • Citrus (Oranges, Limes or Lemons)
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Pineapples
  • Plums and prunes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Watermelon
  • Pumpkin
  • Carrots
  • Squash
  • Celery
  • Green beans
  • Peppermints or Sugar cubes
  • Lettuce
  • Tomato (the fruit part)

Bad Treats

  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Kale
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Potatoes (raw)
  • Peppers
  • Spinach
  • Rhubarb
  • Corn
  • Ice Cream or Yogurt
  • Chocolate
  • Bread
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Grass trimmings

The devil is in the details
Apple seeds contain small amounts of a toxic chemical but the greater hazard is your horse choking on the core. It is best to feed your horse apple slices.

Apricot pits are toxic and can produce clinical signs similar to Cyanide Poisoning.

Avocado while the “meat” is ok, most of the avocado will make your horse ill including the skin, pit and the leaves. These parts of the avocado are poisonous and may cause irregular heartbeat, respiratory distress, colic and death.

Bread is ok in small amounts. If your horse eats a lot of bread, there is potential for the doughy mass to cause blockage.

Chocolate contains toxic chemical theobromine that horses are sensitive too. When eaten chocolate may also affect results of drug tests for competing horses leading to disqualification.

Corn and corn stalks can produce mold that causes Equine Leukoencephalomalacia or Moldy Corn Poisoning which causes facial paralysis, ataxia and death. Corn silage may also include bacterial contaminations causing botulism and listeriosis.

Dairy such as milk, cheese and ice cream and yogurt should be avoided. Horses are lactose intolerant and will suffer a bout of painful diarrhea.

Lawn clippings should not be fed to horses even as a treat. They may contain poisonous weeds, the loose blades are easy to choke on, and the fermenting clippings can affect the pH level of your horse’s hindgut causing colic or stomach rupture.

Onions, chives and leeks contain N-propyl disulfice which causes anaemia.

Raw Garlic contains N-propyl disulfice causes anaemia. Powdered garlic is ok as a feed supplement but consult your vet first.

Rhubarb contains calcium oxalates which can cause salivation, tremors and kidney failure.

Tomato plants are poisonous to horses but the fruit makes a good treat.

Alternatives for seniors and horses suffering disease
Senior horses are more prone to choke.  Crunchy snacks or rinds should be crushed into small pieces or soaked in water. Applesauce is a good alternative for seniors.

Horses with HYPP (Equine Hyperkalemic Periodic Paralysis Disease) should never be given potassium based treats like bananas, apricots, plums or pumpkin.

Overweight, prone to founder, insulin resistance horses and horses with Cushing’s disease should not be given sugary treats. Many otherwise good treats become poor choices for horses suffering these diseases. Apples and bananas become poor choices however, the peels are a good alternative. A good practical treat is simply alfalfa cubes or pellets purchased from your local feedstore.


Workin’ it
A horse’s digestive system starts in the mouth.  The process proceeds to a four-foot esophagus leading to the stomach.  A horse’s stomach holds 4 1/2 gallons where food and liquids are held for further break down.  Once something enters the stomach there is only one way out.  From the stomach, food enters 60 to 70 feet of small intestines where most digestion occurs.  The remaining solids then move through15 feet of large intestines, which contain the cecum and colon.  Everything your horse eats travels nearly 100 feet before it exits. The horse’s digestive system is lengthy so when bad food or water is introduced the potential for a toxin to cause problems is increased.

You can’t monitor every morsel your horse ingests but when it comes to treats you should make the best healthy choice for your well deserving horse.


Photography Courtesy Richard Austin/Rex Features

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