Sometimes it is good to give your horse special food. However, there are some things that it is better not to feed them. What should you not feed your horse? Below is a list of foods that probably should not be included in your horse’s diet.
Fruit in large quantities
Many of us like to give our horses apples as a reward. But too much fruit can be too much of a good thing. A full belly of apples or other fruit can lead to colic or other complications. You probably shouldn’t give your horse more than one or two pieces of fruit. The danger is that horses may have access to fallen fruit from a wild tree or someone may throw a basket of spoiled apples over the fence thinking they are giving the horse a “treat.”
Lawn clippings and garden waste
Lawn and garden clippings can pose several hazards. Freshly cut or half-worn plant material can be a problem in itself, even if it appears to contain only grass.
Clippings can contain toxic plants, and there are some common garden plants, such as stinging nettle, that fall into this category. Some weeds can also be toxic.
Anything sprayed on lawns and gardens for pest and weed control can also be toxic.
Since horses don’t have to graze and chew the material themselves, they can gobble it up much faster and get their fill. This can lead to choking and colic. Sugar from freshly cut or slightly wilted clippings can cause an imbalance in the horse’s intestines that can lead to laminitis. Dispose of lawn and garden clippings in your composter or manure pile, not over the fence in the horse pasture.
The book Deadly Equines, The Shocking True Story of Meat-Eating & Murderous Horses by CuChullaine O’Reilly, founder of the Long Riders’ Guild, gets to the bottom of the fact that horses can and do eat meat (and that some of them can behave quite violently to get it). However, the fact that they can and do eat meat does not mean that they should.
A horse can be trained to eat meat, or it can be driven to do so by necessity. This does not mean that a regular meat diet is a good thing in the long run. Your horse may like an occasional bite of your hamburger or tuna sandwich and be able to eat it without harm. However, since we don’t know the long-term effects on most horses, a high meat diet would be unwise (and expensive).
Our horses are likely to be healthier if they eat the foods their digestive systems evolved to eat.
You may know someone who feels unwell after eating cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, or other vegetables in the cruciferous family. Your horse may experience the same type of discomfort when eating “bubbly” vegetables like these. A few leaves or sprouts may not matter, but tossing old plants over the fence is probably not a good idea.
Moldy or dusty hay.
If good quality pasture is not available, good quality hay is the next best option. However, never feed dusty or moldy hay to your horse. This can cause respiratory illness. It is not okay to feed hay that is just a little dusty or moldy.
Many people will be surprised to learn that bran mashes are not recommended except as an occasional treat. Excessive consumption of bran mashes can lead to mineral imbalances, so they should not be offered more than once a week, and preferably even less often.
Consumption of sweet clover can cause very unpleasant sunburn, mouth sores, and problems such as colic, diarrhea, and large liver syndrome. Sweet clover is common in pastures. It can grow up to 76 cm tall and has a round, pretty pink flower head in addition to its clover-like leaves.
It differs from red clover in that it does not have the characteristic white “V” on the leaves that distinguishes other clovers. If your horse eats a few stalks of meadow clover occasionally, it’s probably fine, but prolonged consumption or a large amount at one time can cause problems.
Cattle feed contains additives that are good for cattle, but very toxic to horses. Drugs such as rumen medications are commonly added to cattle feed. These drugs can be deadly to horses. Therefore, it is a good idea to buy feed from factories that specialize exclusively in making horse feed.
Silage and hay
Feeding horses hay (also called baled feed) and silage are more common in the United Kingdom and Europe than in North America. Feeding horses silage and hay can be complicated. However, these feeds have some advantages, such as higher nutritional value and lower dust production.
The way hay is cut and baled can increase the risk of botulism poisoning. Horses are very sensitive to botulinum toxin and exposure or ingestion of botulinum toxin can result in paralysis and death. Since hay is baled with high moisture content and wrapped in plastic, this is an ideal environment for the toxin to grow. Soil containing the botulinum toxin can get into the hay, where the bacteria can continue to grow.
The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs point out both the advantages and disadvantages of feeding hay and silage to horses. Eight species of botulinum toxins have been identified. A vaccine exists against type B, which is the most common in horses. Care should be taken to clean up uneaten silage or hay. There is a possibility that frozen silage can cause colic, and we do not yet know if feeding acidic (and treated or conditioned) feeds to horses has long-term effects.