Every animal owner occasionally wants to treat their pet, and horse owners are no different. Traditionally it would be sugar cubes and mints, but as time has moved on owners want to use healthier foods as they learn more about equine nutrition. There are many cheap and unusual treats you can give to your pony.
Treats to feed your horse
- Carrots – one of the most popular treats that is easy to get, find and feed. Always cut lengthwise, and remove the leaves.
- Apples - Horses love the sweetness of an apple, but they can contain a lot of sugar. As a result they should not be given frequently.
- Banana - As well as tennis stars at Wimbledon, horses love bananas. Containing potassium, it is a very healthy treat and can be fed with the peel on.
- Grapes - these tiny bursts of juice are particularly enjoyed, although some horses may want them peeled. Make sure you buy seedless varieties.
- Black Oil Sunflower Seeds – as well as a feed supplement, it can be given in small amounts as a treat. Make sure not to purchase striped sunflower seeds. Black Oil seeds have a thinner husk that is easier to digest.
- Swedes – before horse-treat balls, there was the swede. It can be put on the stable floor or hung on string to relieve boredom. Great for horses who are on box rest or get easily bored.
- Oranges, grapefruits and watermelon – never feed a horse or pony any food they wouldn’t find in the wild. Research has shown in hot countries that equines love these refreshing fruits, with watermelons (including the rind) helping horses avoid heat stroke.
- Chaff – this is chopped up hay, which a number of companies add flavours to such as honey. It is a very messy treat, so should be fed in a bucket rather than by hand. Sprinkling in amongst hay also adds a different flavour and texture to their usual grazing.
- Horse Cookies – you can make your own healthy cookies for your horse or pony. Oatmeal with shredded carrot is extremely appetising for a horse, and is great for children to make. There are many recipes available on trusted equine forums and blogs.
- Hay cubes – these hard little biscuits are easy to carry and won’t go out of date quickly like a lot of fruit. They come in many flavours, and add natural fibre in a horse’s diet.
- Flavoured pellets – there is a growing range of grain and herb based, organic treats coming onto the market. Always check the ingredients to make sure there isn’t too much sugar. Flavours include: honey; apple and cinnamon; mint; garlic; even Stout.
What shouldn’t I feed my horse?
- Fruits with a stone in – as with humans, the stones can get stuck in the throat.
- Grass clippings – although horses live in the wild on fresh grass, cut grass can cause colic as it is hard to digest. The clippings may also contain plants which are poisonous to equines, such as buttercups or ragwort.
- Meat – as herbivores, horses are not built to digest meat. It can in fact result in violent behaviour.
- Tomatoes and potatoes – horses react differently to these members of the nightshade family, some will have issues and some wont. It is best to avoid them just in case.
- Cruciferousvegetables – These include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and kale. As with humans, they can give your equine horrible gas.
- Alsike clover – finding a clover patch to let your horse pick on it a great treat. Avoid this species however as it causes mouth sores, diarrhoea and liver problems.
- Dough products – bread can form a mass in the digestive tract, causing it to get blocked.
- Chocolate – they may love it, but sugar is very bad for horses.
Preparing your treat
Always make sure all fruit and vegetables are washed before feeding them – pesticides and bacteria should not be given to horses. Mouldy fruit at the bottom of the food bowl is also a no-no. The treats should be cut lengthwise or in quarters to stop choking. If your pony has never tasted the fruit before, don’t offer them too much. They will let you know which they prefer. Keep them in zip lock bags, and feed them fresh.
Don’t put treats in trouser or Jodhpur pockets. Horses have a good sense of smell, and it will be too tempting for them to bite through the material.
Be sensible when giving your horse treats
Top horse trainers are divided on the use of treats. Most agree that you should not give your horse treats too often. If they expect it all the time it can lead to bad habits such as biting and barging. Their favourite treat in the bucket you use to catch them, or added to their feed inside the lorry once they have loaded helps them associate the activity with a pleasant experience. After a good effort in a class or schooling session, you will see many top riders give their horse a treat as a reward. This is usually a single treat rather than a whole banana or five carrots – after so much effort, getting them cool and watered is more important for the health and wellbeing of their mount. Treats in moderation are however perfectly acceptable.
Make sure you always keep your palm flat when feeding from your hand, as it is too easy for them to accidentally grab a finger. Praise them with pats and with a calm tone of voice, so they also learn to associate the sound and feel as praise, so treats aren’t always needed to say “well done.”
If your horse is obese or prone to laminitis be very careful what treats you offer them. Seek advice from your vet or a qualified equine nutritionist. Ideally obese horses and ponies should be placed on strict diets, with no treats and a set schedule of exercise. Young horses should also be given treats sparingly, with good activity reinforced by verbal encouragement. Always associating treats with good behaviour will make it more difficult in the future to train them.