Too Many Treats

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Mini horse eating treats
Q. I have a tendency to spoil my horse with treats (carrots, apples, cookies, peppermints, et cetera). My friends tease me about it and say it’s not good for my horse’s health. Do you have general advice about feeding treats? My horse is healthy and in good weight.

A. No matter what a horse is fed, moderation is the best advice. A horse that is indulged in treats consumes extra calories, sugars and/or carbohydrates, depending on the food offered. There are two big problems with feeding treats:

1. Treats can contribute to obesity, and

2. spoiling a horse with hand feeding can make for a pushy, disrespectful individual.

Horses evolved to eat dried grasses and forage, not grains, peppermints, apples, carrots, cookies, horse candies, sugar, trail mix or PowerBars. The best recipe for digestive health is based on a high-fiber diet. High fiber comes in the form of hay, pasture, hay cubes and some pelleted feeds. Horse treats are often high in carbohydrates and sugars. Besides these things not being in the main equine food groups that promote nutritional health, once you start feeding treats you will have let the genie out of the bottle.

I can recall a client who spoiled his horse with treats, and one day while I was at the farm, the horse decided he wanted to get at the treat in this fellow’s pocket. The horse was insistent, but the owner wasn’t paying much attention. The only problem was that the pocket with the treat in it was attached to a pair of running shorts, short ones at that. The horse grabbed the shorts near his owner’s crotch and pulled, hard. Luckily he only ripped the guy’s shorts and not his body parts, but he did bare the poor guy’s lower anatomy. This makes a funny story, but it is a true story with worrisome ramifications. If the horse had taken a little deeper grab with his teeth, or if it had been a child or someone holding out a hand, there could have been serious physical consequences rather than simple embarrassment. I have also known of people getting kicked while trying to catch a horse in a herd that is jostling and competing for treats.

If you feed an extra treat to your horse, the best recommendation is to put it into a bucket rather than offering it from your hand. Don’t carry treats on you whenever possible. And, limit the amount of treats to just one or two of whatever it is, or offer only a portion of an apple or carrot. There is no reason to feed a pound of carrots or grain, or a bag of horse cookies, at one sitting. Remember, other than Trigger, horses can’t really count, so they don’t measure exactly whether you give them a pound or an ounce of a tasty thing. They will always beg for more. It takes strong willpower to ignore those baleful eyes, but your horse will be better off if you remain determined.

Nancy S. Loving, DVM

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26 COMMENTS

  1. Hi, I’m a 13 year old girl from Young Rider.I have ridden for years and I am looking for a horse to buy but I’m having trouble finding one. I’ve looking in the paper, around town, and I have asked my trainer to help me but after 4 months we haven’t found 1! Is there any other way to find a horse other then internet, paper, or at the riding school.(The riding school I go to isn’t selling right now.)

  2. I’ve spoiled my minis with treats.The apple chunk treats I use as rewards and it has worked well for me. I don’t experience any nipping or biting so I think I lucked out!

  3. I think a treat once in a while isn’t bad! I mean treats are just a good way to tell them they did a good job or they are being good!

  4. giving too many treats not only makes your horse pushy and disrespectful, but it can also turn him into a nipper and then a bitter. try pacience, repetition, friendly pats, encouragement, and calmness. It works way better than treats, it is also healthier for your horse!

  5. thank you, this is just what I’ve telling my wife…a little goes a long way. now all I have to do is get her to read this article……

  6. When it comes to treats it is not the horse that is the problem, it’s the person providing the treat.
    If an ownder hasn’t taken the time to teach the horse good manners feeding from your hand can become a problem. If, however, the horse respects humans and is taught to also respect their space then hand feeding shouldn’t be a problem. Most people tend to say, just don’t hand feed and the real problem isn’t addressed, it’s being avoided. Every person that brings a horse into their life should be responsible enough to educate themselves on how hores think, and also to know what to do to prevent a horse from becoming disrespectful. There are programs out there that can help any horse owner learn about their horse and how to communicate with them in a way the horse understands. Then if you choose to feed the horse from your hand (in moderation of course) it should be a non issue as the horse knows what is expected from him. We as humans need to learn more, the horse is not always at fault.

  7. i think that you should not spoil your horse because they could get used to it. also, spoiling a horse is like spoiling a kid. once they are used to getting what they want they will want it all the time.

  8. Thanks for putting this article on here. I know I am guilty of giving my horses too many treats sometimes and it makes them pushy and I get the feeling at times someone is gonna get hurt because they can get so agressive!

  9. my horse thinks he is the boss he will reer up when he is sure he does not want to do what ever i want to do. It is really hard for me to train or ride him i have spoild him and am trying to get me backk were i am in charge.I really dont no what to do with him???

  10. Thanks for the advice; I too feed my horse tons of treats (essentially carrots) but if can be a bag at a time. I will make a new year’s resolution to cut down on them.

  11. Try not to feed it too many treats. My friend’s cat ate to much and it fell and kinda exploded. It killed the cat. Ps. My friend didn’t feed it too much! The cat just ate too much.

  12. Ouch! That had to hurt that poor guy! Good advice! My horse Lefty LOVES treats and food! He is at a VERY healthy weight and not unhealthy at all!! He just likes his food! And after you give him a few treats he will sometimes nudge you and be like, “Hey give me more treats.” Even when I am all out of treats. What should I do to break this habit? Can someone please help me? Thanks!! If you want to help me just leave a comment here on this page, beginning: “Dear HunterJumperLOVERS<3" Thanks soooo much! I LOVE this article!!!!

  13. Dear HunterJumperLOVERS,3:
    I would start out by really limiting the amounts of treats given, and how often. FOr example, I only give my horses a small handful of grain or a piece of an apple when I call them up from the pasture, and they come into their stalls. If they were to ask for more, don’t give them any! If you live by this rule, it will teach them that asking doesn’t get them anywhere.
    What has also helped me is I rarely hand feed them treats. Instead, I put the treat in some kind of bucket and set it in their stall. Then, when they come up from the pasture and I open the stall door to go in, they know the treat is waiting. This keeps me out of their way to the treat, and now I am not the one associated with the treat – the bucket is. They can paw and bite the bucket, but the bucket will not produce more treats.
    Until you have your new treat routine down, every time your horse asks you for a treat say “no” and if they ask again, tell them to back up to get them out of your personal space. If he persists, as him firmer untill he is a good destance away. Then tell him good boy and leave to go do another chore.
    Hope this helps!

  14. Dear HunterJumperLOVERS <3,
    I always hear about no hand feeding and why, which makes sense, but at the same time I always have and instructed my kids to keep their hands flat when doing so.
    Make sure you are the only one feeding your horse treats, and when you do and you're out of treats, shoo him off. Be firm. Next time you ask him to come to you and he does, give him a treat then if he gets pushy, say no and shoo him off. He'll get the idea and then respect you because that is your issue-respect.

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