This question seems more pressing, especially during the winter. So, how do they survive, and what do wild horses eat in the winter? That said, what about wild horses? How do they survive out in the wild, and where do they get their food?
Owning a horse comes with great responsibility. From ensuring their safety to providing shelter and food throughout the year, no matter the season.
An important aspect of maintaining their quality of life is availing adequate and appropriate food. Their diet has to be catered to so that they can have enough nutrients and energy to survive and continue serving you.
Wild horses survive the winter by eating grass and other available vegetation around them. They dig through the snow to reach this vegetation. They also have to worry about clean water, and as such, they find a stable source and stick by it for the winter.
Considering how harsh the winter season is, you may still worry about these wild horses. So, we’ll highlight a few details concerning this subject in this article.
Comparing Wild and Domesticated Horses
Let’s first make the distinction. How are the horses we keep different from the wild horses?
The answer lies in the fact that the wild horses are out of our control. They aren’t living under direct human supervision on a daily basis.
That said, recall that horses had to be domesticated for them to co-exist with humans. Domesticated horses still have their wild instincts deeply coded in their DNA, and that’s why they require training and supervision before being used for any activity.
Another point worth noting is that true wild horses aren’t around much anymore. This situation could be a result of many factors. e.g. dying out naturally, poaching, or getting domesticated.
The only real wild horse that still exists is called the Przewalski’s horse. It’s found in the Mongolian region of the Asian continent. Their numbers are low, and they are considered an endangered species.
Today’s Wild Horses
Having mentioned the term true wild horses, what does that imply about the horses we see roaming around in protected areas?
They’re referred to as feral horses. That term describes how they are indeed wild at present, but have their roots in domesticated horses.
This means that these horses were at one point domesticated. They managed to escape out into the wild, or their earlier lineage did so, and that’s how they became wild again.
They could have also been willingly set free into the wild by their owners. Either way, the fact is that they were never always wild.
These feral horses have managed to adapt to living without human supervision and now live on their own. They reproduce, roam the lands, and feed on whatever they can, based on what their instinct directs them.
Food Requirements of Horses
Getting to the meat of the topic at hand, let’s first find out how much food a horse requires on a daily basis.
As a general rule of thumb in the equestrian world, you should provide your horse with feed measuring approximately 2% of the horse’s total body weight.
Considering that the average weight of an adult horse is about 1000 pounds (around 500 Kg), it should eat at least 20 pounds (around 10 Kg) of food each day.
When it comes to water, an adult horse can drink up to 10 gallons per day. Freshwater is an absolute necessity for any animal’s survival.
The same standards have to apply to wild horses as well. The difference here is that they find all their food on their own. They must manage to do so for their continued survival.
What Wild Horses Feed On
We feed our horses a variety of foods. Things like hay, grass, processed supplements, and so on. The feed is delivered to them, or they come to have it at specified points within your farm.
Eating for them also follows a schedule, so they’re always relaxed, knowing they’ll get a meal when it’s time for one.
Unlike the domesticated horses we keep in our stables, however, wild horses have to actively search for their food daily. They don’t enjoy the same luxury we afford the horses we own and house within our confines.
Wild horses survive by grazing on grass. Grass makes up a substantial amount of their diet. They also eat other edible plant matter that is around them.
To enjoy freshwater, they have to find areas in the wild that have it. Remember, water is integral to survival, so when they locate a source of freshwater, they never wander too far off from it. That’s because finding such a resource isn’t so simple in the wild.
When it’s winter season, the heavy snowfall covers a lot of the vegetation that wild horses rely on for survival. Despite that, all the horses have to do is dig out the snow using their feet, and they can once again reach the vegetation and feed on it.
Some of the plants they eat don’t get entirely covered by the snow, so they can easily access them just like in any other season.
Their animalistic instinct has helped them develop a sense of what vegetation is good for them and which ones aren’t. You don’t have to worry about them eating poisonous plants since they can discern what they shouldn’t have.
Is it Okay to Feed Wild Horses?
As noble as your intentions may be, feeding wild horses isn’t a good idea. Feeding feral horses is actually discouraged by law, meaning you can face charges for doing so.
This fact isn’t meant to be particularly punitive for the people wanting to do so, but rather, it’s a protection measure for the feral horses. Why? You may wonder.
The reason is simple. Wild horses have a very different diet compared to domesticated horses. This fact implies they aren’t used to eating the same food.
As such, these foods can be harmful to their well-being and, in extreme cases, can prove fatal for the wild horses. Something as simple as a watermelon could be lethal to them!
Being an equine enthusiast, take caution in what you dispose of in an area known to be populated by wild horses. Also, educate others to avoid feeding them no matter how harsh things seem. They always find a way to survive!
Foods that are Harmful to Wild Horses
Continuing from the point raised above, I think it’s important that we highlight a few foods that cause harm to wild horses.
The thing is, these wild horses can easily mistake these foods as being safe if they are availed to them. It’s because they don’t know or haven’t learned better, and some foods may seem similar to what they’re used to.
So, if you come across a wild horse, or you’re near a wild horse population, make sure not to be careless with these foods:
Most cruciferous vegetables
E.g. Brocolli, Cabbage, and Cauliflower. When consumed in significant quantities, they can cause colic disease for the wild horse.
Consuming bran and its associated byproducts can result in stomach issues for feral horses.
Horses are naturally herbivores. So, when you feed them any form of meat, including processed meat, know their digestive system isn’t evolved enough to handle it.
Plants from the entire allium family (which includes onions, garlic, leek, and chives) can cause serious health problems.
Things like bread and doughnuts are dangerous for them. They’re a choking hazard first of all before creating other issues in the digestive tract.
Is Surviving Winter Only about Finding Food?
It’s no doubt that food and water are important for survival, especially during winter. However, winter presents wild horses with other challenges aside from having to work a little harder to find food.
Below we highlight two of the biggest problems and how they adapt to handle the problems.
The winter weather is cold and unforgiving. Even the occasional snowy or cold and rainy days can’t match winter. This fact implies that wild horses require extra heat or warmth to see them through the cold.
They achieve this by growing a long winter coat. This winter coat is longer, thicker, and better shields them against the cold.
Even though it’s winter, insecurity remains a challenge. The reason is that there are winter predators (remember horses are prey animals). There’s also possible competition for resources from other rival herds.
By moving around as a group, led by a hierarchical system, the numbers and structured order raise the chances of surviving attacks. It also means they can have lookouts available when part of the herd is taking a rest since they don’t all sleep at the same time.
Wild Horse Winter
Winter brings with it several challenges for wild horses. As we’ve seen throughout this post, however, they are more than capable of coping with this harsh season.
Remember to take care of what you litter around wild horses and don’t try to feed them anything you may have. They have a diet of their own, which they have to follow even in winter.