Although horses generally don’t need it if they are fed a balanced diet, some owners like to give their horses a little something extra every now and then. You may opt for the traditional snacks such as apples and carrots, or just an extra handful of muesli or cubes. But there are also all kinds of different horse snacks and treats on the market. What’s in all these snacks and what should you keep in mind?
If you search for horse treats, you will find dozens of products. From ‘normal’ products such as cubes and licks with vanilla, banana or apple flavour to the more ‘human’ products such as cubes with liquorice flavour and candy and muesli bars. Many of the basic ingredients as the same as the ingredients of normal horse feed, such as different types of grains (oats, wheat, corn, etc.) and grain products (wheat bran, linseed, etc.). Various flavours and colours are then added. Many producers then add vitamins and other nutrients. The disadvantage of horse treats is that they can sometimes contain a lot of sugar, so this means a lot of energy. It is therefore wise to look closely at the ingredients of the product and to feed it in moderation.
Tip: Pay close attention to the best-before date on a bag of horse treats. Sometimes they can sit in your tack room unnoticed for a long time. Mouldy treats can increase the risk of colic or other illnesses.
One of the ‘traditional’ treats for many horses is the sugar cube. But other human products, such as peppermints and candy canes (red and white peppermint sticks) are sometimes fed by owners. These snacks mainly consist of sugar. In principle, they are not harmful in small amounts, but feed in moderation and keep in mind that your horse may be getting more energy than its body needs.
Another ‘human’ snack is bread. Bread mainly consists of wheat, a product that you also see in horse feed. But because bread is made for humans, it is not ideal for horses. When feeding fresh bread, a large ball of dough can form that is difficult to digest and can cause obstructions. Stale bread (1-2 days old), but not mouldy, is better to feed. In addition, the carbohydrates in bread mainly consist of starch. The capacity for starch digestion is limited in horses. This means that too much starch in the feed can cause disbalances in the intestinal flora, which can lead to, for example, diarrhoea or colic. Giving a little bread is therefore no problem, but a horse’s digestion is not made for processing larger quantities.
Vegetables and fruit
The advantage of fruit and vegetables is that, in addition to the delicious taste, they also contain all kinds of vitamins and minerals. But this does not immediately make it a healthy snack. The disadvantage is that fruit in particular can contain a lot of sugar. If horses ingest too much sugar, this increases the risk of colic or laminitis. If you feed it in moderation, you may feed pears, bananas, peaches or plums in addition to the usual apples. When feeding peaches and plums, be sure to remove the stone. Horses can also do this themselves with their tongue, but if they do swallow a stone, this can cause an obstruction in the oesophagus. As far as vegetables go, carrots are a suitable snack. They contain relatively much water and few nutrients, so a horse may be allowed to eat several kilograms of carrots per day (depending on its body weight).
Only feed fresh vegetables and fruit, if they are mouldy or rotting this may cause health problems.
Tip: Feed fruit and vegetables whole to prevent oesophageal obstructions. If you cut it into (round) slices or pieces and the horse does not chew them properly, it may block the oesophagus. (source: voercompare)
It is wise to always offer snacks in a bucket, bowl or on top of the hay. The moment you let the horse eat from your hand, it may develop biting behaviour. In some training methods, such as clicker training, treats, cubes or other small morsels of food are often used as a reward (positive reinforcement). It is important that the trainer teaches the horse to stay out of the trainer’s personal space and wait to receive the food reward to avoid food aggressive- and biting behaviour.
Every horse treat is an addition to your horse’s diet, so the basics must be in order. That means sufficient roughage of good quality, possibly supplemented with concentrates. Are you giving your horse something extra as a snack every day? Then take this into account in calculating the basic diet, to keep the energy supply in balance.
Keep in mind that your horse’s gastrointestinal tract cannot tolerate big changes in diet. So don’t vary your type of snack too much; it may even be wiser to use the horse’s own existing diet as a snack. For example, if your horse gets 1kg of concentrates per day, you can take a handful of this and feed it as a treat/reward. That way you are not feeding more than the horse needs.