Your horse may be the apple of your eye, but do you know how to safely give him a reward for good behaviour or just a treat because you love him? Apples, carrots, sugar cubes and peppermints are traditional favourites, but there are many more things your horse will love – and many that are not such a good idea.
Most fruits and many vegetables are safe to give in small, treat-sized amounts to healthy horses. Here is a list of safe ones:
- Apricots (pitted)
- Bananas (some will even eat the peel!)
- Cherries (pitted)
- Dates (pitted)
- Green beans
- Mango (pitted)
- Peanuts (roasted, never raw)
- Plums (pitted)
- Pumpkins and other members of the squash family
- Sunflower and pumpkin seeds
- Snow peas
- Sweet potatoes
- Watermelon (including the rind)
Not all of these will be enjoyed equally! Like humans, horses will tend to gravitate towards the sweeter treats, and will be less enthusiastic about lettuce. Most horses will chew their treats nicely but bear in mind some will gobble, and this poses a choke risk – make sure to cut fruit and vegetables into small pieces to avoid this.
It is NOT safe to feed any amount of the following:
- Any cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage or kale) – these can cause excessive gas to build up and colic
- Tomatoes, eggplant or capsicum/peppers – these are nightshades which can be toxic to horses
- Any fruit pits
- Onion, leek and garlic (unheated) – these can cause Heinz body anaemia
- Raw potatoes – similarly to humans, these are toxic
- Rhubarb and spinach – high oxalate content
Additionally, some treats are too high in starch to be fed in anything but the smallest quantities, even to healthy horses, and should not be fed at all
- Cooked potato
- Bread (especially in ham sandwich or burger form – horses are strictly herbivores, even if some will willingly eat meat!)
Commercially made treats are also available to buy – these are usually cereal grain-based cookies, which often also contain molasses for sweetness, although low sugar types are more and more available. These should be offered in moderation, as they are basically the equivalent of lollies for us.
On this note, if you have a horse that suffers from insulin resistance/metabolic syndrome, laminitis, pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID/Cushing’s disease), polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM) or is obese, you should be extremely careful offering treats that are high in sugar. This includes the obvious sugar cubes, peppermints and cookies, but also effects the sweeter fruit such as apples, dates, pears, plums etc. Alternatives for these horses include commercially made “low sugar” cookies (these should be below 10% total sugars/starch), lucerne cubes, and the rinds and peels of fruits (for example apple peels and watermelon rinds) – these retain a little of the original taste, without the risk.
If you’d like to spend the time baking something for your horse, you can make your own baked treats too.
Horse Cookies (for healthy horses, in moderation only)
- 1 large Carrot
- 1 large Apple
- 1 cup Molasses
- 2 1/2 cups rolled oats
- 2 Tablespoons Oil
- Shred the carrot and the apple into a large bowl.
- Add in the oil, oats, and molasses. Stir to combine well so that all the oats are covered in the molasses.
- Pour the mixture into a greased 9×13 baking dish. Pat the treats down with a spoon or with your fingers so they are flattened into the pan. Bake at 200 degrees for about 40 minutes or until they begin to get crispy.
- Remove the treats from the oven and let them cool for a while. The treats will harden slightly as they cool. Once they are hardened you can score into pieces.
Low Starch Apple Cinnamon Horse Treats (for metabolic/laminitic/PSSM horses in moderation)
- 3 cups ground flaxseed
- ½ cup unsweetened applesauce
- 2 tablespoons cinnamon
- 2 cups hot water
- Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Dump flaxseed into mixing bowl. Add cinnamon, mix. Add applesauce, and then the hot water. Initially mix with rubber spatula, then use your hands until the dough is smooth.
- Cover cookie sheet with parchment or wax paper (do NOT use cooking spray or oil). Place dough on paper covered cookie sheet to evenly cover it. The thinner you spread the dough, the crunchier your horse cookies will be. Cut the dough into squares BEFORE baking; this allows them to come apart easily after baking. They are difficult to cut apart once baked.
- Place in preheated oven and bake at 180 degrees for 60 minutes for chewy cookies, and 75 minutes for crunchy cookies. After that, turn off the oven and let them sit in the warm oven for another 30 minutes.
- The cookies shrink during baking. Once cool, they break apart easily. Store in a baggie or plastic container in the refrigerator so they will not mould if not eaten quickly.