We all want the best for the animals in our lives. Researching what is and isn’t safe for them food-wise is something we all do or should do as loving humans. Diet is of such key importance and making sure horses get the right treats and avoid the bad or toxic is crucial. Many fruits are fine for horses to eat, but can horses eat watermelon?
Great news for watermelon-loving horses and owners – it’s perfectly ok to feed watermelon as a treat. Kentucky Equine Research mentions that you should be careful with the rind, though. You’re probably best to cut that into small pieces to avoid choking.
But what about other fruits and vegetables? What foods are good and bad for horses? Let’s explore this in a bit more depth, beginning with some basic biology.
Are Horses Herbivores, Carnivores or Omnivores?
Horses are herbivores. Their digestive systems are built for plant material, not for meat. Deidre M. Carson, in her article on equine dentistry for VCA, mentions that horses have twelve incisors in total. There are six upper incisors and six lower incisors that help horses to “grasp and tear herbage”.
Horses also have “cheek teeth” — teeth further back in the mouth that grind down the herbage. The herbage is basically grasped by the incisors and sent back to the cheek teeth to be ground down for digestion. Horses have evolved to possess jaws and teeth suitable for grazing — something herbivorous animals do.
Herbivores’ long digestive tracts allow their systems more time to absorb all of the nutrients they need from plants. Horses have complex digestive systems and while we might think that all plant materials are okay for them, some aren’t.
Do Horses Eat Meat At All?
You can read more on this in our article, “Do Horses Eat Meat?”. In short, horses are not supposed to eat meat and there is no need for it to be a part of their diet. If your horse has a minor nibble on something meaty now and then, it’s unlikely to harm them. That said, they should not be offered meat as it doesn’t fit with their dietary requirements.
What do Horses Eat?
Horses eat roughage, like grass and hay. Many owners choose to give their horses a special horse feed fortified with vitamins and minerals to help boost their nutritional levels. Horses need a great deal of fiber to keep their digestive systems healthy.
Wild horses and horses that spend a lot of time outside can spend all day grazing. It is estimated that horses can graze for 15-17 hours. They also need unlimited access to fresh water.
What Treats Are Okay For Horses?
Now, onto the fun part. What kind of treats can you give to your horse without any ill effects? Let’s investigate.
Side note: remember to introduce these slowly, in small portions and use them only as treats to avoid upsetting your horse’s stomach. This is not an exhaustive list of safe foods.
Who doesn’t like a nice piece of freshly cut watermelon on a hot summer’s day? Your horse is no exception to this rule. Watermelon is full of vitamin C, potassium and magnesium. Now you know watermelon is safe for horses, get ready to feel obliged to share your favorite summer snack from now on!
Grapes and raisins
Grapes and raisins are safe for horses to eat as a treat. They are fibrous fruits that help with digestion, but it’s best to feed them to horses in moderation. This is because grapes have high sugar content, so too many aren’t great health-wise.
Ah, the old favorites! One of many a horse’s favorite treats is carrots. Carrots are packed full of vitamin A and play an important role in maintaining good night-vision and reproduction. They’re also a great antioxidant. Many horse owners use carrot sticks or pieces as a training aid, especially when teaching horses how to stretch.
Apples are another popular horse treat, but as with all fruits, exercise caution. Too many apples can cause an upset stomach, so cutting apples into small pieces and feeding in moderation is likely your best option.
Some horses are very fond of pumpkin pieces. As well as being high in potassium, pumpkins are rich in vitamins C and E. Just like with apples, small pieces and feeding in moderation is key to avoiding your horse getting sick.
As many people know, bananas are a fantastic source of potassium so there’s no reason your horse can’t enjoy them, too. They can also eat the peel, though some might avoid it due to its bitterness.
A lovely crunchy and safe treat for horses is celery. Celery is a low-calory, high-in-fiber snack to share with your horse. Cut celery into pieces as a motivational aid for groundwork and stretching! You could even try dipping a piece in peanut butter as this is also safe for horses.
Sugar cubes and peppermints
Horses are known for loving the occasional sugar cube or two and peppermint candies. A few of these sweet treats now and then are fine as long as your horse is otherwise healthy.
What Can’t Horses Eat?
Now, for the not-so-fun part — let’s take a look at some foods that are bad or toxic for horses. This is not an exhaustive list.
Nightshade family vegetables
The nightshade family includes tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplants. These vegetables are toxic to horses. In the mildest cases, a horse may become constipated and in the worst case can experience seizures or even cardiac arrest. Steer clear of this vegetable group.
Cabbage can cause gas in horses, which though it might sound not so bad, can be quite dangerous. Horses with gas are very different from humans with gas. It can be extremely painful for horses due to the way their digestive tract is set up. Avoid cabbage on all counts.
Give brussels sprouts, turnips, kale, and broccoli a miss too, for similar reasons.
Horses are simply not designed to consume dairy products — in fact, they are lactose intolerant. This means that they cannot digest lactose found in dairy products such as milk, cheese or yogurt. Dairy should be avoided at all costs.
Theobromine is the chemical responsible for chocolate being harmful to horses. It can cause some pretty nasty conditions including internal bleeding, severe colic and seizures. On the bright side, you get to keep that well-earned chocolate bar all to yourself!
Caffeine is a no-no because it can cause heart rhythm problems, so take a step away with that cup to avoid a sneaky over-the-shoulder slurp.
Fruit with stones or pits
If you feed your horse cherries, plums or peaches, be sure to cut them up and remove the stone/pit. These are toxic to horses. It’s also a good idea to cut off any leaves on these kinds of fruits.
This one is likely to be a relief to some. Imagine your horse chomping down on an onion and then enduring that smell as you tack them up? In all seriousness, eating onions can lead to anemia in horses. The same goes for raw garlic, though garlic supplements for horses are okay.
This one might seem strange, given the amount of time horses spend chowing down on grass in fields and pastures. The difference between regular grass and lawn clippings is that lawn clippings immediately enter a state of fermentation. If ingested, the gases released can bloat horses so much that they end up with a ruptured stomach.
According to Kentucky Equine Research, bread is not necessarily toxic to horses as there’s nothing toxic in it. That said, it’s not nutritious either so should not be used as a substitute for horse feed.
Can Horses Eat Watermelon?: Sum-Up
- Watermelon is fine for horses to eat and many horses really enjoy it. So next time you go for some fresh watermelon juice, save a few pieces to offer your horse as a treat!
- Moderation is always the best policy when it comes to treating your horse. Remember that many fruits, while healthy in moderation, are still high in sugar.
- Other safe treats for horses include grapes, raisins, pumpkin, celery, carrots, apples, sugar cubes and peppermints.
- Foods to stay well away from include nightshade family vegetables, cabbage, meat, dairy products, chocolate, caffeine, onions, raw garlic and lawn clippings.
- Always introduce new treats gradually and feed in small amounts to avoid digestive problems.
Can Horses Eat Watermelon?: Final Thoughts
There are so many delicious treats you can feed to your horses that won’t harm them. On the other side of the coin, there are a lot of foods that are harmful. Your best bet is to always research or run by a professional any new foods you’re thinking of introducing to your horse.
We hope that our guide has been helpful in giving you an idea of what your horse can and can’t eat. Have fun exploring the multitude of safe treats for horses!