The Treats We Eat
The docs are often asked, “is [fill in the blank] is a good treat for my horse?” The answer is actually a bit more complicated than you would expect, and is highly dependent on which horse we are talking about. I personally am not picky about treats- I will eat anything, from the last bite of your tuna sandwich, to that slightly out-of-date lunch meat in the fridge. Teanie, on the other hand, insists on those little crunchy square cat treats exclusively, and they have to be salmon flavored. She is such a diva! Don’t tell her I said that.
Which treats are best?
In general, anything labeled and marketed as horse treats at a reputable feed store/tack shop/ag supply location will be safe for your horse (in moderation). Additionally, fresh fruits and vegetables such as apples, carrots, bananas, oranges, and watermelon are also perfectly safe for your horse. Now, whether or not your horse is adventurous enough to try them is a different story!
The treats you need to be careful of are the sticky ones covered in so much molasses that they might drip if you squeeze them hard enough. These are NOT the ideal cookie of choice for overweight or insulin resistant horses, but they may be fine for your 30 year old skinny thoroughbred with no teeth.
How many is too many?
If your horse is in normal body condition (Body Condition Score of 5 out of 9), he or she can easily have several treats, even a few handfuls of treats a day. You should not be feeding BAGS of carrots, apples, or horse cookies on a daily basis, and treats should never be offered free-choice. Horses don’t self-limit their food intake, and they can easily colic if given free access to goodies like these.
When should you give your horse a treat?
The behavior component of treating horses is also something to consider. Treats should be a reward for your horse when he or she does something good. For example, while getting a shot from the vet, when they come to you in the pasture, once they have politely loaded onto the trailer, or as a reward after a hard ride. If your horse gets accustomed to receiving treats from you every time you walk into the barn, they can become “mouthy” or start nipping.
Horses, like other animals, can also be trained to work for their cookies. You can teach them to do stretches, to bow, or any number of impressive tricks to show off when your friends come to visit. I recently trained the techs to give me a treat every time I lift my paw in the air. They are very fast learners.
Remember, our vets and technicians are here for you, and they are a great resource for these and other questions about your horse’s nutrition! Feel free to stop by the clinic anytime, and I will direct you to the right human for your specific needs…in exchange for a treat, of course!