What Do Horses Eat?

When it comes to horses, people tend to feed them carrots and mints as they walk by, but there are many reasons why you should not feed somebody else’s horse, but we will get into that later.

Horses have a long digestive tract due to them being herbivores, as well as very specific dietary needs. Whilst we enjoy 3 square meals a day, it just will not do for a horse.  

What Do Horses Eat

They need a lot of fibre which is consumed all day, but in small amounts.

If you think about it, a horse spends most of their day eating. When you see them in a field, they are normally chewing on pasture grass and nibbling at plants. That is because grass includes a lot of the nutrition that they need every day, such as silica which is great for their teeth. 

So if you are wondering what horses eat, then you have come to the right place. Let us take a look in more detail.

Pasture Grass

What Do Horses Eat

Grass is the main source of food for a horse because they spend most of their time eating it. If they are not used to being in an area that contains a plentiful amount of rich nutritious grass, then this can actually cause serious issues. They will need to be introduced to it gradually or avoid it altogether.

When a horse is left to eat grass, you will need to take sure that there are no toxic plants or weeds hiding amongst the greenery. You want it to be a place where they can eat without any problems that may cause your horse to become unwell.

Grains Such As Oats

What Do Horses Eat

Grains can be fed to horses, but there are limitations that should not be ignored. Whilst you might want to feed them human-grade grains which are over-processed, it is best not to do so. Instead, opt for something natural like the seed head of grasses, because it is just like what a horse would eat in the wild.

You can also feed a horse some oats which is the most common choice. Whilst grains are a popular method, avoid overdoing it. They do not require the horse to chew and have no dental health benefit unlike grass which as we noted before contains silica. 

Also, overeating of grains may cause the horse to become unwell by causing colic or founder.


What Do Horses Eat

Because horses do not always get to graze on a lovely pasture throughout the full year, hay is a good alternative. Just like with rich grass, some horses may find nutritious hay troublesome, so it might be best to make sure they avoid it altogether. 

Hay also might not provide a horse with enough minerals and vitamins, so it is a great idea to test it before adding it back into their diet. If you find that the hay does not give them what they need, you can always add supplements alongside the hay.


What Do Horses Eat

Whilst salts and minerals can be added into a concentrate mix, they can also be available on their own. This can be via a salt block, or added loosely in a pasture or stall. When a horse needs it, they will consume the salt.

Because a horse, just like humans, sweats more during the summer, they tend to need more salt during that time of the year.


What Do Horses Eat

If you find that your horse does need extra nutrition, then a concentrate mix can do a great job of adding in things they are missing. Some of these can include flaxseed, grains, molasses, and beet pulp, as well as added minerals and vitamins. 

You can either buy them commercially which are readymade, or have them made up to your own particular specifications.

Treating A Horse

What Do Horses Eat

It is always nice to treat a horse, but you also have to be wary of giving them too much of the good stuff. A carrot, a sugar cube or grains might seem like a lovely thing to do, but if given in large quantities it can have a long-term effect on the horse’s health.

You might not see the results straight away either, especially if it is affecting their digestive tract or gut. Odd food and things they should not eat (like meat) can all have a negative affect on their overall health. 

Also, whilst we can figure out what food has impacted our health, a horse will not. So even if the hotdog you fed him gave him gas, he will eat it again because he cannot make the connection like a human would.

What Horses Should Not Eat

There are a number of things that should never be fed to a horse. If they do happen to eat anything on the list below, then it can risk them becoming ill or obese, especially when some of the items are given to them over a long period of time. 

This can also become a problem when passers by feed somebody else’s horses with a treat such as a carrot. If you own a horse, put up a sign saying ‘Do not feed’, and always keep an eye on your horse’s wellbeing.

Meat, Chocolate And Sugary Foods

What Do Horses Eat

Meat is an item horses do not need to eat, as it gives them no nutritional value. There is also a potential that it could be harmful to them in the long-term if it has become a part of their diet.

Sugary foods would most certainly be enjoyed by a horse due to the sweetness, but doing so can lead to obesity and general health problems.

Too Many Treats

What Do Horses Eat

It is fine to give a horse a wedge of fruit, say an apple or a couple of carrots, but giving them too much in one day can lead to health problems such as the painful foot issue laminitis. 

It is also helpful not to have the horse graze near an orchid where fruit may fall, and as mentioned above, put up a sign to deter people from feeding them treats. Having strangers feed your horse is a sure fire way of them over indulging in high sugary treats. 

Also, avoid any fruit that has a stone in it. If not removed, your horse may choke and it could be fatal.


What Do Horses Eat

Along with cake can cause a blockage in the digestive system so should be completely avoided.

Tomatoes, Potatoes And Cabbage Vegetables

What Do Horses Eat

Tomatoes and potatoes should not be fed to a horse at all, whilst anything like cabbage, broccoli, turnips, kale and brussel sprouts – amongst many more – would cause digestive discomfort if fed to your horse. Yes, this does mean they will be gassy, so avoid it like the plague!

Brans, Including Rice Bran And Wheat

What Do Horses Eat

Unless your horse has been given a specialized diet, avoid feeding them any type of bran as they are generally not good for a horse to consume. This is because it can cause your horse to have a mineral imbalance.

Moldy Hay

What Do Horses Eat

Just like with us humans, horses should not be exposed to mold. If the hay is dusty or moldy, then it could affect their lungs and cause damage. Always make sure it is in good condition.

Garden Waste

What Do Horses Eat

Even though it is hard to believe anyone would feed their horse garden waste, it has to be noted how dangerous it can be. 

Garden waste has the potential to poison a horse due to their being possible weeds, plants and general toxins included that they should not digest. 

This means that it is best not to give horses freshly cut grass either, because they will eat it faster than if they were grazing which could result in colic. 

Final Words

A horse’s diet is made up of simple food that gives them all the nutrients they need to lead a healthy life. Whilst we eat 3 square meals a day, a horse will enjoy grazing and chewing on pasture grass all day, taking in small amounts of food rather than being fed during mealtimes.

Whilst a horse will enjoy treats like a carrot or apple wedge, it is always best to feed it to them in moderation to avoid illness. Also, there are many things a horse should not eat, and these items should be completely avoided.

Catherine McDowl
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