Healthy Human Foods You Can Share With Your Horse
My kids love to give our horses carrots and apples. We often feed them other uncommon nutritious treats as well. But because horses have complex digestive systems, treats should be given in moderation, and some types of food should be avoided. Horses are programmed to eat small meals often, so your horse will always want another treat, especially if it’s one they find delicious. However, you will be amazed when you find out how many healthy foods your equine family members can enjoy with you!
How much is too much? This depends on the individual, their health, and their activity level. For example, 4 large carrots equal approximately 1 pound. An average-size horse eats 20-25 pounds of hay/grain per day. Feeding 4 carrots daily to a horse that consumes 20-25 pounds increases their daily food consumption by 4-5% per day. This may seem minimal, but it is also the equivalent of 30 minutes to 1 hour worth of grazing in comparison. On the other hand, if you feed 4 carrots to an “easy keeper” or pony that typically consumes 10 pounds per day, those 4 carrots would increase their daily food consumption by 10-12%, which may be more significant.
Selecting healthy foods as treats that somewhat resemble your horse’s daily dietary needs is an excellent way to incorporate treats into your routine with your horse. Below are some healthy foods that you can share with your horses and their benefits.
Bananas are an excellent source of potassium and good carbs. You can feed them with or without the peel on. Like for runners and cyclists, bananas can be beneficial for horses before and after competition and riding. They are packed with vitamin B6, which helps convert carbohydrates into usable energy, and potassium to help replenish electrolytes lost during sweating.
Often labeled as a superfood, blueberries are safe and beneficial to feed to horses. They are tasty and convenient to feed as they already come in the perfect bit-size treat. Blueberries have the highest antioxidant capacity of all popular fruits. Antioxidants aid in recovery and help protect the body from cell damage and disease. Blueberries are a fantastic treat option for insulin sensitive and horses with metabolic syndromes. Several studies have demonstrated blueberries help to improve insulin sensitivity. And lowering blood sugar levels. Blueberries are also beneficial for post-exercise recovery. One study suggests that blueberries may aid in muscle recovery after strenuous exercise.
Another fruit ample with potassium, oranges, are also one of the best sources of Vitamin C, which can reduce exercise-induced oxidative stress and may help reduce inflammation in equine athletes. Vitamin C also helps the body to absorb iron more efficiently. Oranges can be fed whole with the peel on or cut and peeled into smaller pieces to be given in multiple snack-size bites.
Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates (good carbs). They are also packed with Vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene that helps reduce post-exercise inflammation. Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of fiber for digestive health. Some studies show consuming sweet potatoes often may help in healing stomach ulcers. Sweet potatoes can be fed raw or cooked with the skin on. We recommend that they are cut into small pieces before feeding to prevent choke. Please note that sweet potatoes are in the Morning Glory family, which are SAFE to feed horses. Nightshade vegetables are NOT safe to feed to horses and include regular potatoes (white or red), tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers!
Strawberries are a sweet and healthy treat that horses love and are packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. They are among the top fruits with antioxidant-rich benefits and are a good source of manganese and potassium for replenishing electrolytes after exercise. Just 8 strawberries provide more Vitamin C than an orange. Strawberries are high in fiber which feeds the friendly bacteria in the gut and helps digestive health.
Cantaloupe is packed with nutritional benefits and is a perfect treat for replenishing electrolytes after exercise. Cantaloupe is a good source of Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Zinc, Copper, Iron, Vitamin K, Choline, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Manganese, and Selenium. Cantaloupe is a perfect treat for horses with sugar sensitivities or metabolic syndromes as it helps maintain a healthy blood sugar level and metabolism support.
Apples, this traditional horse treat favorite is another great option for horses with sugar sensitivities or metabolic syndromes. In humans, eating apples is linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. This is due to their polyphenol antioxidant content. Polyphenols can help reduce and control blood sugar levels. Apples are also high in fiber and help feed the good bacteria in the gut. Apples contain pectin, which is a type of fiber that acts like a prebiotic.
Finally, this popular horse snack still makes the list of healthy treats for horses. Carrots are packed with beta-carotene, which is converted to Vitamin A during digestion. Vitamin A is essential for immune system support and function. Carrots also contain high amounts of vitamin K, calcium, potassium, and fiber. Carrots promote healthy skin and coats, support bone health and digestion, and have anti-inflammatory properties.
Other healthy treats: raisins, grapes, cucumber, coconut, watermelons, pumpkins, zucchini, squash, celery, and peas
What NOT to feed: caffeine, chocolate, onions, white or red potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage, persimmons, rhubarb, eggplants, brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, avocados, and unpitted stone fruits
When feeding treats, always remember to feed in moderation and to introduce new foods slowly. Horses have small stomachs relative to their size. Horses eat little often, so make sure to give only a few treats per feeding. As a baseline, the average horse should ideally get less than ½ lb per day of healthy treats (This would be equivalent to 2 x-large carrots, 2 small apples, 2 cups of blueberries, or 1 ½ banana.). This amount can vary up and down depending on each horse’s health, fitness, and caloric needs. If fresh fruits and vegetables aren’t an option, we recommend limiting treats to no more than ¼ lb or approximately ½ cup of processed or store-bought horse treats.