Horse treats are one way to offer a reward for good behavior. Some horse owners simply enjoy “spoiling” a horse. But for some horses, treats can lead to temperament changes and can add unneeded calories to a diet.
Horses evolved to eat dried grasses and plants other than grasses called forbs, not grains, peppermints, apples, carrots, cookies, horse candies, sugar, trail mix, or Powerbars. The best recipe for a horse’s digestive health is based on a high-fiber diet in the form of hay, pasture, hay cubes, or some form of balanced pelleted feed.
Horse treats are often high in carbohydrates and sugars, neither of which is a healthy horse food ingredient, especially if fed to an already overweight horse.
Besides these foods not being part of the horse’s natural food groups, once you start feeding treats, you might let the genie out of the bottle.
A horse grabbing for treats can inadvertently bite beyond the treat, producing serious physical consequences like nipping a child’s hand or a person’s leg beneath their pants where cookies are often carried in pant or coat pockets. It can increase a person’s chances of being kicked or run over while trying to catch a horse in a herd where the horses are jostling and competing for treats.
Feeding treats in a bucket rather than offering it from your hand reduces the chances of injury. Refrain from carrying treats on your person whenever possible. Use treats that are high-fiber based, such as something made from compressed hay or alfalfa. And, limit the number of treats you give, perhaps giving just a portion of an apple, or one carrot or one or two horse cookies. No matter what a horse is fed, moderation is the best advice.
By Nancy S. Loving, DVM