What human foods can and can’t be given to horses as treats?


We all like to have a treat occasionally, and of course to treat our horses – but what human foods are safe for horses to have? We put the question to an equine nutritionist to find out.

With horse treats, the saying ‘everything in moderation’ really does apply, especially for any equines requiring a low sugar diet, such as those prone to laminitis.


Human foodstuffs that should be avoided include anything which contains animal-by-products, along with bread, uncooked potatoes, too many mints or sugar cubes, and anything containing caffeine or chocolate. 

Although they are not a human food, grass cuttings should never be fed to horses either.

Something new

For a different treat, try bananas or celery, or if your horse is an unadventurous eater try low-sugar veg such as swede, parsnips and turnips. These can also act as boredom busters if you hang them in the stable. 

An apple a day?

While a healthy option for us, apples and carrots are higher in sugar so avoid feeding too many of these, especially to laminitics.

Prohibited substances

Ensuring your horse isn’t given caffeine or chocolate is particularly important for those participating in affiliated competitions as they are classed as prohibited substances.  

If they are found in your horse’s system it can lead to disqualification.

The level of affiliated competition doesn’t matter, even those competing in a BE80(T) class can still be asked to provide a sample for testing.

For more tips about feeding, see the full article in issue 450 – available here.

Don’t miss the latest issue of Your Horse Magazine, jam-packed with training and veterinary advice, horse-care tips and the latest equestrian products available on shop shelves, on sale now. Find out what’s in the latest issue here  

Helping horses gain weight

horse eating from a bucket

For many people it's getting weight off a horse that's usually the problem but this isn't always the case as some horses simply don't maintain their body weight that easily. Here the experts at Dengie offer some simple tips to help you tackle the problem.

If you own a horse that doesn't maintain weight easily, it can prove to be a real challenge. Ideally, your horse's ribs shouldn’t be visible, but they should be easily felt if you run your hand along their side.

We also want our horses to have good topline but a common complaint from horse owners is that their horse hasn't got enough. Building topline is achieved through the horse being worked correctly and his diet supplying the quality protein he needs to build muscle.

One solution can be to feed Alfalfa. Alfalfa provides the quality protein essential for improving topline, muscle condition and repair. Naturally low in sugar and starch, independent research has also shown that alfalfa is a natural buffer to acidity in the digestive tract.

Find the right fibre feed

Each of the feeds in the Dengie's conditioning fibre feeds are based on alfalfa

How to feed for condition - top tips!

  • Feed your horse little and often (choose high-fibre, non-heating feeds)
  • Ensure hay or haylage is of good quality, sweet-smelling, free from dust and mould spores
  • Try to allow your horse ad-lib access to a forage source such as hay or haylage, especially when stabled
  • Feed your horse a yeast culture to encourage efficient fibre digestion in the hind gut
  • Make sure vitamin and mineral requirements are being met. If necessary, top up with a broad-spectrum supplement such as Dengie Performance Vits & Mins or a balancer such as Dengie Alfa-A Balancer
  • If you're looking for a conditioning fibre feed that doesn't contain alfalfa then take a look at Dengie Meadow Grass range. Made from Lincolnshire's finest meadow grasses and oil grown by UK farmers

For advice from the Dengie nutrition team or to review your horse or pony's diet, call the Dengie Feedline on 0845 345 5115 (call charges may apply).

For more information visit the Dengie website

Feeding for Temperament

Discover how to best feed your horse for his temperament with this expert advice from Dodson & Horrell Nutritionist Sarah Kearney.

All horses have an embedded flight instinct and so in certain situations this can lead them to become stressed and anxious, sometimes leading to the development of unwanted behaviours such as barging, bolting, bucking, rearing or biting. This can be down to a number of factors including previous unpleasant experiences, management, feeding, genetic influences or environmental changes; however the key to solving the problem is to find the trigger point for your horse and take the appropriate steps to regain equilibrium.

Has your horse's behaviour changed?

Firstly take a step back and ask yourself some key questions such as ‘When did this behaviour begin?’ and ‘Did it coincide with any changes that I made to my management routine?’  Sometimes the answer can lie in a simple place, for example your horse does not like to live on its own, leading to increased anxiety levels and making them difficult to ride. Whilst this may not be quick to solve you can work with the issue as you know where the behaviour is stemming from.

Is his diet the problem?

Does your horse's change in behaviour coincide with a change in his management or e.g access to lush spring grass?

Does your horse's change in behaviour coincide with a change in his management or e.g access to lush spring grass?

It's also important to remember that your horse’s diet may be affecting its behaviour and that dietary needs constantly adapt throughout the year due to natural fluctuations in their forage source and therefore hard feed needs to be adjusted accordingly. Dodson & Horrell’s helpline often gets calls during the early spring months from people struggling with horses that are suddenly over excitable and a little difficult to handle and quite often it coincides with the beginning of grass growth.

The spring flush of grass is naturally higher in sugar and calories, which for example if you are feeding a conditioning mix to maintain the weight through the winter, all adds up to a high calorie and therefore high energy diet that may be exceeding the requirements of that horse, leading to exuberant behaviour. If this is the case then determine what you need from your horse at the current time, if workload decreases or they gain weight then drop down to a lower calorie feed or reduce the amounts of your current feed and ‘top-up’ with a good quality balancer, which offers lower levels of calories but ensures your horse is getting a balanced level of vitamins and minerals. It is also usually a good idea to look for a feed that is high in fibre, providing lower amounts of starch and sugar if your horse is prone to displays of exuberance.

Dodson & Horrell Brand Ambassdor Laura Collett trusts the nutrition advice she gets from Dodson & Horrell

Dodson & Horrell Brand Ambassdor Laura Collett trusts the nutrition advice she gets from Dodson & Horrell

For the hard working horse

If you have a horse that is working hard or needs to gain weight but is sensitive to higher levels of starch and sugar, a typical conditioning feed may not be appropriate for them.  Most feed companies offer a low starch alternative to a conditioning or competition feed.  These will typically contain oil (usually soya or linseed) and are a great way to include a real boost of slow releasing calories into the diet, providing over two times as much digestible energy as the same amount of a cereal. 

Can't find the root of the problem?

If there just seems to be no reason for the exuberant behaviour and all management and feeding options have been explored then feeding a calming supplement is usually a popular option.  There are an abundance of products on the market and so it is important to remember that what works for one horse may not necessarily work for another, leading to a little trial and error when finding the one for you. If you are thinking of adding in a calming supplement into your horse’s diet then do contact a helpline to discuss.

For further information please visit the Dodson & Horrell website www.dodsonandhorrell.com or call the free helpline on 0845 345 2627 to speak to one of our friendly, expert nutritionists.