If you go to any feed or tack shop, you will find shelves full of horse treats, and it is rare for a horse owner to resist giving their horse an occasional treat.

Horse treats can be used for a number of purposes:

  • To reward a specific behavior as part of the training process
  • To encourage a horse to perform a certain behavior
  • Because it makes us (the humans) happy to give our horses treats as a way to show our affection

There are some downsides to feeding treats, though. Some horses can become mouthy or pushy if given too many treats. Perhaps you also have concerns over how feeding treats impacts the carefully crafted nutritional plan you have created for your horse.

As with many things, the key to incorporating treats into your horse’s diet without causing issues is to use moderation. For a number of horses, like those with insulin resistance or prone to hyperactivity, we focus on keeping non-structural carbohydrates (NSC; sugar + starch) in the total diet low. While there are low NSC treat options on the market, you don’t need to be overly concerned about giving a higher NSC treat like a peppermint or sugar cube, if you stick to moderation and only feed one or two per day.

The list of things that you can potentially feed your horse as a treat is practically unending and you will often find that horses have their own individual preferences on which treat is the tastiest.

Commercially manufactured treats come with the assurance that the ingredients used are safe for horses. They come in a variety of different texture types and flavors. For example, Tribute® Treats are available in peppermint, apple and banana flavors (my own horses are obsessed with the banana flavor!).

Some commercially manufactured treats have added ingredients that are meant to provide health benefits, like added vitamins or joint support. With this type of treat, you should ensure that the amount of added ingredients is included in a sufficient concentration that your horse would get the health benefits when receiving the treats in moderation.  

Outside of commercially manufactured horse treats are a whole world of things that we can feed horses as treats. Carrots, apples, peppermints and sugar cubes are all things that have been fed to many generations of horses. If you want to get a little more creative in your treat giving, you should keep a couple things in mind to ensure the safety of your horse. The first is that you are offering treats in a size and shape that reduce the likelihood that a horse will choke on it. You also need to be cognizant of avoiding certain things that are poisonous to the horse or that they cannot digest.

Many fruits and vegetables are acceptable to feed to horses. Some that you should avoid include anything from the nightshade family, which includes tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes and peppers. A frequent point of confusion is sweet potatoes, which are okay to feed to horses because they are not part of the nightshade family. Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli or cabbage, should be avoided because they can cause excess gas when they are fermented in the hindgut of the horse. Stone fruits, which have pits in the center, can be fed, but the pit should be removed before offering them to your horse.

Horses are herbivores, so they don’t have the digestive enzymes to break down dairy or meat and, therefore, these should not be given as treats to horses. Amongst the many acceptable things to feed your horse as treats, you are sure to find one that your horse enjoys, just remember to feed it in moderation.

For questions about incorporating treats in your horse’s diet or any other topic, please reach out to us at any time!

Nicole Rambo, Ph.D.