A lot of horse owners give their equine partners carrots and apples as a treat or reward for a job well done (or in my case, to bribe my horse into letting me catch him in the paddock!) But did you know horses enjoy a wide variety of fruits and vegetables? Horses also benefit from the added vitamins and nutrients in fruits and veggies, and many are a low-starch/sugar snack.
Now that fall is upon us, your horse might enjoy nibbling on beets, turnip or parsnip (which just looks like a white carrot anyway), plus snow peas and various squashes. Most horses love pumpkin, which is certainly plentiful this time of year!
Unsafe and/or toxic vegetables: potatoes, onions, peppers, eggplant and rhubarb.
The potato plant is part of the nightshade family, known to be one of the most toxic plants that is found in many pastures and gardens in North America and can lead to serious illness such as colic and even death. Peppers and eggplant also belong to this family.
The onion is from the allium family, as are leeks, scallions, shallots and chives, and contain the chemical N-propyl disulfide which can destroy red blood cells and result in anaemia.
The leaves of the rhubarb plant contain toxins that adversely affect the kidneys, digestive and urinary tract and can lead to kidney failure and death in horses.
Cabbage and Brussels sprouts should be avoided as they can cause intestinal gas.
When it comes to fruit, watermelon, cantelope, bananas and even strawberries and raisins are perfect for a special treat, ans so are citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit. Peaches and plums might also be appealing to some horses, but ensure you remove the pit first because it’s a major choking hazard.
Unsafe and/or toxic fruits: tomatoes, avocado.
Tomatoes are from the solanaceae plant family (nightshade, like the potato) and no part of the plant is safe for horses. The plant itself contains atropine, which slows gut function resulting in colic. The tomato has a chemical called hyoscyamine, which “decreases saliva production and intestinal motility, increases the heart rate and causes constipation and/or hemorrhagic diarrhea.” Chili peppers and eggplant are from the same family and should not be fed to horses.
The avocado – so popular these days on toast – contains persin, a substance derived from fatty acids that can cause a litany of issues including colic and neurological problems.
As for other delicious edibles that we love but our horses shouldn’t have, chocolate and caffeine top the list. Caffeine is a stimulant, which is why we love our morning cuppa joe, but it can cause irregular heartbeat in horses. And like dogs, the theobromine in chocolate can cause severe colic, seizures, metabolic derangements and internal bleeding in horses.
Of course, not every horse is going to like everything you offer up, but it’s worth trying a few different types of veg or fruit next time you’re at the barn. Limit it to just a few pieces, though, as all treats add calories and the horse’s digestive tract contains a delicate balance of bacteria and other microbes that you don’t want to upset. Your horse will no doubt appreciate the change!