Which treats are safe for horses? Horse & Hound explains…

  • When humans think of “treats”, a chocolate bar tends to take priority over one of our five-a-day. Thankfully our horses have a much healthier attitude when it comes to treats and are more than happy to munch on an apple or carrot. But did you know there are a whole host of other options available that make safe treats for horses, when fed in moderation? We spoke to nutritionists to find out what makes a good treat and what should be avoided.

    Interestingly, the humble banana is a popular choice among a number of elite dressage horses, including Lara Butler’s Rubin Al Asad and the Eilberg’s Marakov and Royal Concert. Bananas can be fed to horses with the skin on and are known to be very high in potassium.

    “Studies have shown that horses prefer banana over traditional mint, carrot and apple flavours,” explains equine nutritionist, Olivia Colston MSc.

    Independent equine nutritionist Fiona Watkins BSc (Hons) Pro Dip highly recommends celery as a healthy treat for your horse.

    “Celery is really low in sugar and a great alternative to carrots, which are 20% sugar,” she explains. “It is good because the texture in celery is high in cellulose, which makes it very good for chewing. The more the horse chews, the more saliva it generates. Saliva is alkaline and can guard against things like gastric ulcers”.

    Other safe treats for horses include:

    However, not all fruit and vegetables make suitable treats for horses.

    “Foods that tend to produce intestinal gas or that belong to the nightshade family should be avoided,” advises Spillers’ nutritionist Clare Barfoot.

    Foods that should be avoided include:

    • Onions
    • Potatoes
    • Tomatoes
    • Cabbage
    • Brussel Sprouts

    Like humans, of course, the occasional horse might have a guilty pleasure!

    “A few years ago I gave my horse Zodiac Z some Marmite and he loved it!” says international showjumper Yazmin Pinchen.

    H&H amateur of the year award winner Alice Goring’s travel companion Teddy the Shetland pony particularly enjoys an ice lolly on a hot day.

    “He loves Fab ice lollies and watermelon!” says Alice.

    Whatever treats you choose should always be fed with sugar content in mind.

    If you compete in affiliated competitions or under FEI rules, then you need to take extra care to ensure your treats will not cause your horse to return a positive test for a prohibited substance.

    “Some people like to share a little piece of chocolate or biscuit with their horse, but riders competing in affiliated competitions should be aware that this could lead to a positive test for a prohibited substance,” advises Olivia Colston.

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