Wondering whether you can share your favorite human foods with your horse? Horses can safely eat a lot of the same foods that you can. But there are some exceptions. Because horses are herbivores, this list of safe and unsafe foods will focus mostly on fruits and vegetables. But we will also go over some other foods that are and are not safe to feed a horse.
Why Give Your Horse Human Foods?
Here are a few reasons you might want to share the food to eat with your horse:
- Fruits and vegetables make good treats. They are not everyday fare, so they can seem special. As such, they can be good for training, rewards, or just to shower your horse with a little extra affection.
- Your horse can benefit from the nutrition in these foods. Just as the vitamins and minerals and micronutrients in fruits and vegetables are healthy for you, they can offer similar benefits to your horse.
- Your horse might like how the foods taste. Some fruits and veggies are very yummy according to equine tastes!
- You both can bond and have fun sharing food. This is another way you can get closer to your horse.
One interesting thing to note about horses and diet is that there are significant variations from region to region. A lot of foods that are considered “off-limits” in one country may not be in another—so foods you may instinctually guess are unsafe may or may not be; you have to do your research.
On this topic, Sarah L. Ralston, VMD, Ph.D., dACVN at Rutgers University, writes,
Feeding practices around the world differ and horses in other countries are commonly fed things that average American horse owners would never consider offering to their horses. For example, European horses are routinely fed silage, horses in Saudi Arabia munch happily on dried fava beans, and Irish horses are offered a weekly pint of ale or stout!
There are some foods you should never feed your horse, but there are also some amazing fruits and vegetables that you can enjoy sharing with your beloved horse. When adding snacks to your routine, also make sure you keep in mind how much food a horse needs each day so you aren't overfeeding them.
These Fruits and Vegetables are Safe for Your Horse
So, which fruits and vegetables are safe for your horse to eat? Most horses should be able to safely eat the following:
Apples: The image of feeding a horse an apple is an iconic one, and for good reason: horses tend to really dig them. Horses like all types of apples, including green and red varieties. Remove the seeds before you feed your horse an apple.
Apricots: As with peaches, apricots are safe and tasty for horses, but only after you get rid of the pits.
Bananas: Horses can eat whole bananas without issues, peels and all. But you do need to make sure that the stem is entirely gone (just cut it off). Otherwise, your horse could choke on it. If your horse can’t eat sugar because of insulin resistance, you should not give him the banana flesh, but you can still give him the peel. As you cannot eat the peel yourself, this is an ideal snack to share between the both of you. You enjoy the fruit and your horse snacks on the peel. Also, bananas are a flexible treat in that you can freeze them or you can give them to your horse while they are fresh.
Beets: Horses can eat beets as well as beet pulp. Indeed, beet pulp is a popular feed product.
Berries: A variety of berries are safe for horses. Indeed, on a related note, if your horse likes chowing down on blackberry or raspberry bushes in the pasture, this should not be an issue so long as he is not overdoing it.
Bran: This wheat milling byproduct is appealing to horses, and generally quite affordable to purchase. Nutritionally, it will benefit your horse in a manner similar to oats. It is a particularly good source of B vitamins and phosphorus. Unlike a lot of the foods on this list, which is best served in small portions as treats, bran can constitute around 5-7% of your horse’s diet each day. Much as oats can be made into oatmeal, bran can be made into bran mash. You can even mix in some of the fruits and veggies on this list.
Cantaloupes: Take the seeds out of cantaloupe, and you can feed the rest to your horse (the rind as well as the fruit, according to some equestrians, but others disagree).
Carrots: Just as the image of feeding a horse an apple is iconic, so is the image of feeding a horse a carrot. This is a favorite go-to treat for many equestrians.
Celery: If you want to hydrate your horse while offering up a nice helping of vitamins and minerals, celery can be a satisfying choice. Along with the stalk, your horse can eat the leaves.
Cereal: Breakfast cereals tend to be safe for horses to eat. Just remember that if you are feeding your horse a sugary cereal, you should not offer too much of it.
Cherries: Horses can enjoy eating cherries. But the pits can cause problems, so remove them first. Stems also should be disposed of prior to giving cherries to your horse.
Coconuts: Horses can eat small amounts of coconut flesh. Do not feed your horse the husk.
Corn: The high starchiness of corn means that it should not comprise too large a part of your horse’s diet. But in moderation, the vitamin B-6, potassium, magnesium, and iron in corn can be very good for your equine companion.
Cucumbers: On a hot summer day, there is nothing quite like the refreshing crispy crunch of cucumber, is there? This refreshing snack is good for your horse, offering nutrition in conjunction with hydration. But do not overdo it; some horses get gas from cucumbers in large amounts.
Ginger: Is ginger good or bad for horses? Research to date points toward a mix of potential benefits and drawbacks.
Kentucky Equine Research says,
Go ahead, give Old Dobbin the slice of gingerbread or a couple of gingersnap cookies. Keep in mind, though, the research community has not done sufficient research on daily ginger supplementation to yea or nay its day-to-day use.
Grapes: Your horse may enjoy fresh or frozen grapes as much as you do. Not every horse is into grapes. You can try the green ones or the red ones, but you will have the most luck if the grapes you select are on the sweeter side. Don’t forget that some grapes have seeds in them. You should avoid these and stick with the seedless ones to be on the safe side.
Grapefruits: Grapefruits are okay for horses to eat in small amounts, but the peel should be removed prior to giving your horse the fruit.
Green beans: Horses enjoy eating green beans. Like most of the items on this list, you will want to keep portions small.
Honeydews: Unsurprisingly, just as horses enjoy watermelons, they also enjoy honeydews. Once again, take the seeds out and get rid of them, and then let your horse eat the flesh.
Lettuce: This is a nice, hydrating vegetable to feed your horse in small amounts.
Lime: Your horse can have small amounts of lime. But you need to remove the peel first.
Mangoes: After you remove the pit from a mango, you can feed the flesh of the fruit to your horse. These tend to go over well with a lot of horses, so enjoy sharing this treat with yours.
Nuts and seeds: A variety of nuts and seeds are safe for your horse. But some are not, so always look up any nut or seed before you feed it to your horse.
Oranges: You can give your horse small amounts of orange. But first, take off the peel.
Peaches: Your horse can enjoy a peach. Just makes sure you remove the pit and throw it away first.
Peas: Another tasty snack you can share with your horse is peas. With their small size, you can portion them as you want with ease. Your horse will enjoy nutritional benefits from peas such as vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B-6, magnesium, iron, and calcium.
Pears: The sweet flavor of pears is very satisfying to equines, so do not be surprised if your horse really enjoys this tasty treat. As with apples and other types of fruits, the seeds should be removed and thrown away before your horse eats a pear. The same goes for the stem.
Pineapples: Small amounts of pineapple can also be fed to horses. Make sure the rough skin is removed in full, and do not feed the pineapple core to the horse either.
Pumpkins: To serve your horse pumpkin, first cut off the stalk. Then slice opens the pumpkin and remove any seeds you find inside. You can then offer the flesh and the skin to your horse. Make sure you carefully check the pumpkin for mold before you do. But this generally will not be an issue so long as nobody carved into the pumpkin previously.
Raisins: You probably guessed it—your horse can eat raisins! Raisins are dried grapes. As it is safe for your horse to have grapes, it is also safe for them to have them in their dried forms as raisins.
Strawberries: It might not surprise you that a sweet berry such as a strawberry would be appealing to a horse. You can share these with your horse in moderation. Just do not go overboard.
Sweet potatoes: Despite the fact that you should never feed a regular potato to a horse, you can actually safely give a horse small amounts of sweet potato. They can be raw, or you can cook them first.
Watermelons: Another excellent hydrating treat for summertime is watermelon. You should remove the seeds before you give the fruit to your horse, but both the flesh and the rind are safe to consume.
Zucchinis: Similar to cucumbers, zucchinis make tasty, hydrating snacks. The entire zucchini is safe to consume.
Note that you can provide fruits and vegetables to your horse fresh or dried. Dried fruits can be convenient since they can be stored for longer periods of time than fresh fruits. Remember, these treats are just that, treats. Your horse should be eating hay regularly along with oats to truly sustain their bodies.
Other Foods That are Safe For Your Horse
There are some other human foods that most horses should be okay to eat. Here are some you can consider adding to your treat recipes:
Applesauce: Just as horses enjoy eating apples, they love eating applesauce! In fact, if you are trying to get your horse used to accepting medicine from a syringe, one way you can reduce anxiety about the syringe is to fill one with applesauce now and again as a special treat. Your horse will come to start associating the syringe with applesauce, not just medicine, and will probably not shy away from it as much the next time you do need to deliver treatment.
Beer: As mentioned previously, it is apparently common for Irish equestrians to share their favorite brew with their horses. But is it a good idea?
Sarah Ralston, VMD, PhD, Dipl. ACVN, says,
Many horses love the taste of beer, possibly because it consists of ingredients such as barley and hops, which resemble the grains in horse feeds. The alcoholic content is not a concern, as horses do not get drunk easily, if at all. Their livers process alcohol extremely rapidly because they naturally produce large amounts of alcohol dehydrogenase. This is an enzyme that breaks down the products of fermentation, which occurs in the horse’s large intestine during normal digestion. It quickly converts all forms of alcohol to carbohydrates to be used for energy.
On the linked page, you can read up on giving a horse beer in more depth.
Cinnamon: Not only is it safe to feed horse cinnamon, but there may even be nutritional advantages to doing it. Kentucky Equine Research states that there is research suggesting that cinnamon has antioxidant benefits, antimicrobial properties, and may even help to regulate glucose and insulin levels.
Nevertheless, the article says,
No controlled research on the benefits of cinnamon to horses, other than insulin sensitivity, has been conducted. Because of this, there is no clear directive about if and how much cinnamon to give horses and in what form.
Eggs: Here is a weird thing horse can eat. It’s weird because horses are generally herbivorous. You can feed horse eggs if you want to provide a nice helping of amino acids, protein, vitamins, and minerals. There are people who feed their horse's raw eggs with the claim that doing so helps bring some shine to their coats. But other people believe that this is an old wives’ tale. In any case, salmonella might be a risk with a raw egg. So, we suggest that you cook the egg before you feed it to your horse. What about the shell? Whether that is a good idea or not seems to depend on who you ask.
Flour (in a baked form): According to this resource,
Wheat is a grain not commonly used in horse rations due to price and concerns about potential problems with glutens in its raw form. Although wheat flour is the main ingredient in most bread, it is acceptable, especially in the baked, processed form of bread. Unless fortified with calcium, bread may not have good calcium to phosphorus ratio, but this would not be a problem in most cases if they were fed with good quality hay or pasture. In very old horses the lower calcium intake might actually be good. Day-old bread and bagels are commonly fed to horses in Europe as a treat or cheap supplement to their rations.
That also means that you can bake treats for your horse that use flour.
Graham crackers: With their sweet taste, graham crackers can make a tasty treat for a horse. Do not feed your horse too many, however.
Hard candies: Many hard candies are safe to feed a horse. In particular, peppermints seem to be a favorite. But just do not forget how much sugar hard candies contain. These treats are only appropriate in small amounts.
Honey: As another sugary treat, honey will go over well with many equines. Manuka Honey USA writes,
When bought for horses in a supplement form, honey is usually made with garlic oil, which is said to improve circulatory and respiratory function while also improving a horse’s feed intake. If respiratory and circulatory system function increase, this could lead to the improved passage of oxygen to muscle tissue, possibly benefiting performance. In conclusion, giving honey to a mature horse that doesn’t have a metabolic disorder can be helpful when trying to entice a picky eater or hide medication inside feed. However, remember to keep the amounts small in order to ensure all the sugar is absorbed fully in the horse’s small intestine.
Oatmeal: Both oatmeal and oats are good for horses to eat. That also means that you can bake oats into treats for your horse as well.
Pancakes: Love cooking up a batch of pancakes? If you find your pile of pancakes is a bit taller than you can get through on your own, maybe you would like to share a few with your horse.
Pretzels: Giving your horse pretzels in small amounts as an occasional treat can be fun and satisfying.
Marshmallows: Some horses really get into eating marshmallows, which is not surprising, since they are a sweet treat. You can give some marshmallows to your horse, but not too many. Sugary treats should always be kept to a minimum.
Molasses: Molasses can enhance your recipes, and it can also be a delicious treat for your horse. Do not give your horse large amounts of molasses, however, since it is comprised largely of sugar.
Sugar: It is okay to feed most horses sugar cubes or sugary treats in very small amounts. Clair Thunes, PhD, writes,
Feeding a healthy horse three or four sugar cubes is unlikely to cause a significant glucose spike; however, for a horse with uncontrolled IR, PSSM, or a laminitis history, feeding sugar cubes isn’t a risk worth taking. Skip the sugary treats, too, if your horse is overweight, especially if he has a cresty neck. After all, every calorie counts and calories from treats mean feeding fewer calories from “real” food. Human research shows that tissues in insulin resistant people are more sensitive to insulin after exercise. This may or may not be the case in horses, but if it is, then your horse might be better able to handle the sugar in these treats when they are given shortly after work.
Waffles: Just as your horse can enjoy sharing your morning pancakes with you, he also may like sharing your morning waffles. Just remember, whenever you are sharing your own food with your horse, always make sure the recipe is fully horse-safe first.
A Note on Allergies
Horses can potentially be allergic to a wide range of foods. Some common examples include oats, buckwheat, bran, barley, wheat, and beets. Even though some allergies are more common than others, any horse could potentially be allergic to any new food you are introducing. Sometimes food allergies also develop over time with exposure.
If your horse experiences an allergic reaction to a food, some possible signs and symptoms could include:
Sometimes, the hives may occur without the itching or scratching. Thankfully, horses rarely experience food allergies. So, this is something you probably will not encounter. But it is wise to err on the side of caution.
So, when you introduce a new food to your horse, do so in a very small amount first. Wait to see if there are any signs of an allergic reaction. If there are not, you can give your horse a larger amount the next time (if appropriate for the food in question).
You might want to also consider how you can make your horse more comfortable when ill if this happens. Just make sure you are paying attention and making sure your horse isn't having a reaction that you haven't noticed.
A Note on Health Conditions
Just because a food is safe for most horses, that does not mean it is safe for all horses. For example, if your horse has HYPP (hyperkalemic periodic paralysis), it will be on a low-potassium diet and may react poorly to fruits or vegetables that contain significant amounts of this nutrient.
So, always take any health conditions your horse may have into account when selecting foods. Don’t just look up if it is on the “safe” list—do research on its nutrition to make sure it will be appropriate. If you have any doubts, you can contact your vet and ask whether the food you want to share with your horse will be safe.
What About Colic?
Colic is always something you want to be thinking about when you modify your horse’s diet. Your horse may be at an increased risk for colic if his diet is too starchy.
So, if you want to feed your horse vegetables or other foods that are on the starchy side, it is important to moderate them. You can find additional tips for preventing colic here. We have also shared some tips about the different types of horse colic and how you can treat them.
These Fruits and Vegetables are Not Safe for Your Horse
As with a dog or a cat, horses do not possess great natural instincts for which foods they should avoid. If you give your horse unsafe food, chances are good he will dig right in. So, you need to take responsibility for learning which foods to never offer your horse.
The following fruits and vegetables are unsafe for horses. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list!:
Alsike clover: Generally speaking, horses can eat most types of clover with no ill effects. But Alsike clover (Trifolium hybridum) is an exception. Make sure that any pasture mixture you buy does not include this particular ingredient. If your horse eats it, he could have liver problems or might experience photosensitivity.
Michigan State University writes,
Long-term exposure to the alsike clover may lead to big liver syndrome, which is the progressive destruction of the liver.
As this clover also can grow in fields without deliberate introduction, you should learn what it looks like and be on the lookout for it if it is native to your region. If you find any, remove it. Your horse will eat it, and lots of it, if left to his own devices.
Avocados: The creamy flesh of avocado may be delicious to you, but that doesn’t mean your horse should be eating it. There is a substance called “persin” found in avocados. Exposure to this substance can lead to colic, respiratory issues, edema, irregular heartbeat, or neurological problems.
Cruciferous vegetables of any nature: There is a whole list of cruciferous vegetables that your hose should never eat. Some of these are broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. Any food in the cruciferous family can cause digestive problems for a horse.
Horseradish: You would think a plant with “horse” in its name would be safe for equines, but horseradish is toxic to horses. A compound called “sinigrin” found in horseradish converts to mustard oil when your horse consumes it. A horse that consumes horseradish will experience digestive problems, pain, and oral inflammation.
Mustard: Not surprisingly, horses are also not able to safely consume mustard. You can expect similar symptoms as you would see with horseradish poisoning, and also maybe shaking of the head and colic. Sometimes horses that are exposed to mustard also develop goiters or blindness. Pregnancies can be terminated as well.
Nightshades: This is a family of fruits and vegetables that includes tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplants, bell peppers, potatoes, and goji berries. You should not feed your horse anything within the nightshade family, whether it is on this list or not. It can damage your horse neurologically to do so because of the alkaloids found in this family of plants. Sometimes, nightshades can even be lethal to horses.
Onions: You may love to season your own dishes with onions, but you should never use them in anything you give your horse. Onions can lead to problems like blood in urine, fast pulse or breathing, weak pulse, and anemia. Consuming onions can be deadly for a horse.
Persimmons: If your horse eats persimmons, poisoning symptoms can include ulceration, impaction, and perforation. Your horse also might lose weight, be lethargic, and experience colic.
Old hay: If hay gets old, it can get moldy. So, make sure that you are keeping a fresh, safe hay supply for your horse. Here are some tips for storing hay long term to keep it fresh.
Rhubarb: You may enjoy rhubarb in your pie, but you should never try to share that joy with your horse. Eating rhubarb disturbs your horse’s balance of electrolytes and leads to kidney failure. There are numerous possible symptoms of rhubarb poisoning in horses. Some of these include trembling, jaundice, weakness, digestive issues, stiffness, depression, staggering, weight loss, lameness, swelling, problems chewing, and a rough texture to the coat.
Some nuts and seeds. There are certain types of nuts that are toxic to horses, including buckeyes (known ironically by the alternative name “horse chestnuts”), acorns, black walnuts, and sago palms. Some seeds are also toxic to horses, like boxelder seeds.
Winter Cress: Horses don’t like winter cress much, so if it is growing in your area, it probably isn’t as big a concern as some other plants that horses go wild for. But you should make sure it is not in any of the hay you purchase, and you should also not share your own winter cress with your horse.
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Note that there is some contention on this list. The Rutgers University link we shared previously, for instance, suggests that amounts under 2-4 ounces a day are “probably acceptable” for cabbage, broccoli, chard, kale, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, spinach, turnips, and some other items.
That said, we suggest erring on the side of caution and skipping these; there are other things you can feed your horse that are safer.
Other Foods That are Not Safe For Your Horse
Now that we have gone over fruits and vegetables that are not safe for your horse to eat, let’s go over a few other types of foods that you should not be feeding your horse.
Feed for cattle: You should not give your horse cattle feed.
Kentucky Equine Research explains,
Horses should not be given grain-based feeds designed for cattle. Even a small amount of some additives in cattle feeds can be fatal to horses, while other ingredients may not kill the horse but most likely won’t do it much good either.
Meat: Anecdotes suggest that in a pinch, a horse can get away with eating meat or fish. But generally speaking, you should avoid this. Your horse is an herbivore (generally speaking—there are exceptions). His digestive tract isn’t built for meat processing, so plants are a much more suitable choice.
Mold: When mold grows on hay, clover, or any other food, it can pose a health hazard for your horse. Be especially wary of mold during the cool, damp time of the year.
General Tips for Introducing New Treats to Your Horse
You know should have a pretty good idea about what human foods are safe and not safe to feed your horse. But we should go over some general recommendations for the safe and smooth introduction of new foods to your horse.
- Go slowly with little bits to start with. You never can be sure how your horse is going to react to a new food. Even if he devours it eagerly, it could get him sick if he has an allergic reaction or it just doesn’t sit well with his digestive system. So, it is best to be cautious in your approach. Once you can tell that your horse handled a small amount of food well (wait a few hours to be sure), you can introduce a larger amount.
- Carefully wash all fruits and vegetables before you feed them to your horse. It is common for plants to be raised with herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides. Just as you would not want to be ingesting these when you eat fruits and veggies, you do not want your horse to be ingesting them either.
- Purchase organic fruits and vegetables for your horse. This may help you to avoid a lot of pesticides and other chemicals, to begin with.
- Check for moldy parts of fruits and vegetables before you feed them to your horse. Again, mold is bad for your horse. If you find any dodgy spots, cut them off and discard them, and feed your horse the good part of the plant.
- If the fruit has a pit or stem, remove it and discard it. Do not give it to your horse. As for the skins of fruits or vegetables, whether or not a horse can eat them varies from one item of produce to the next.
- Fruits tend to be high in sugar. That is why we recommend that you keep the portion sizes of such treats small. Too much sugar is not good for your horse, just as it is not good for you. In particular, lots of sugar can be bad for dental health.
- Do not overdo it with starchy foods. If you do, your horse may be more prone to colic.
If in Doubt, Always Double Check Safety Before Feeding Your Horse a New Fruit or Vegetable
Now you know which of your foods you can share with your horse, and which you should not. You also have some tips for doing so safely and smoothly. Remember, even if food is on the “safe” list, you should always give your horse just a little bit at first to check to make sure there are no adverse reactions.
If that goes well, you can give your horse more of that food. Enjoy sharing your foods with your horse, and be sure to explore other posts on our site for more information about horse nutrition along with recipes for homemade horse treats.
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