Naturally Healthy Horse Treats
The growing trend of eating healthier despite long work hours and
perpetually crammed schedules has spilled over into the horse world.
As we become more conscious of how food dramatically impacts our health,
both positively and negatively, this knowledge correlates into seeking
out the best combination of food for our horses as well.
Horses love variety - especially in fresh, delicious, natural treats!
One area of interest, in particular, is treats. Gone are the days of just choosing between apples or carrots. Whether these treats are used for rounding out nutrition or for reward-based training, today’s horse owner can select from a myriad of treats that promise a chorus of nickers and neighs. But with the seemingly endless options comes the question, “What is safe?”
Dr. Ihor Basko, a holistic veterinarian practicing in Hawaii who is dedicated to equine, canine, and feline nutrition, provides some guidance by suggesting that the owner could consider the geographical location of the horse to determine what types of fruits and vegetables a horse would have available to him in the wild. Tuning into the habitat can help one decide what would be the best choices to feed.
The type of fruit you select to feed your horse can vary from the
common to the exotic. Much of what you feed will be determined by trying
various items and seeing what your horse prefers. Dr. Basko recommends
starting out with a sample of the fruit, and if your horse enjoys it,
the amount can be increased to one-half or one cup. He has had success
feeding watermelon, papaya, pear, mango (pits removed), and guava,
all in moderation. “Always wash fruit well to remove pesticide
and fungicide residues,” Doctor Basko advises. His standard practices
also include soaking vegetables and fruits overnight in vinegar and
then rinsing with water if the produce comes from third world countries
to ensure complete removal of foreign pesticides, parasites, and bacteria
that may be present and especially harmful if your horse has not been
exposed to these substances.
The type of fruit offered may also be determined by your intended purpose - because feeding certain fruits to horses can have a very practical purpose. Dr. Basko states that in the wild, “The horse would use the extra moisture from fruits to supplement its water intake and antioxidants.” He adds, “The watermelon rind and flesh can cool a horse down when hot or prevent heat stroke.” He has also had success with passion fruit having a calming effect on horses. Honey, although not a fruit, can be a potentially helpful remedy of certain ailments. “Honey can be used medically to treat constipation, malnutrition, weakness, and some allergies. In dry climates, such as the desert where the grass is very dry, honey can be used to improve digestion and evacuation of manure and possibly prevent colic.” Dr. Basko only uses honey, though, when he finds it to be necessary. Since horses in the wild would not have access to honey often, if at all, he uses small doses stating, “Because of the nature and physiology of horses, too much sugar, honey, fructose, corn syrup, even molasses given over a long period of time may make some horses susceptible to metabolic disturbances involving the pancreas gland, the digestive flora, and the circulation and health of the hoof and foot (i.e. laminitis).” He considers one to two tablespoons every couple of days a safe amount. If your horse seems constipated, one-half cup of honey mixed with bran can help improve gut function. In preventing or treating viral upper-respiratory infections, Dr. Basko mixes one to two tablespoons of the honey with some vitamin C and echinacea. Molasses, if given in small amounts, is a good source of minerals, and Dr. Basko recommends feeding it to horses eating poor quality hay. Molasses is very useful in masking the taste of herbs or other supplements that your horse may be less than willing to eat. He warns that the molasses should be organic, as the sugar industry often uses many chemicals when growing and processing the sugar which, in turn, will be present to some extent in the molasses.
Wholesome treats like mango, banana, grapes, broccoli, and green beans provide vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other nutrients.
Molly Carl, creator of Lucky Eddie’s Horsey Sweets, agrees. During her quest to create a natural and wholesome treat, she was determined to use human grade ingredients. After an extensive search for a suitable molasses, she was able to find one that did not contain chemicals or added sugar. She states, “The molasses is only there to add complexity and depth to the flavor of the treats, not to make them sweet.” In fact, she only adds ¼ teaspoon of the dried molasses crystals per every ten treats.
Also, like humans, fruits rich in antioxidants can help to destroy free radicals (which can damage DNA). Fruits especially rich in antioxidants that horses can eat safely include guava, apples, grapes, raisins, bananas, and cherries (remove pit before feeding). Also, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries can be tried and are all excellent sources of vitamins. Antioxidants can also be found in wheat germ oil, wheat germ, grape seed extract, and vitamin C. These are some of the easiest to find products that can be mixed into treats. Dr. Basko offers the following recipe as an example of a healthy and wholesome horse treat.
Homemade Horse Treats
Ingredients (organic in all cases, if possible):
2 cups rolled oats or Quaker Oats (original)
½-3/4 cup apple juice
2 apples chopped into small pieces
½ cup dried mango or guava
½ cup shelled raw unsalted sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons molasses
1 cup bran (wheat or rice)
Mix everything together. Drop on ungreased baking pan by teaspoonful. Bake for 20 minutes at 375 degrees F. Give one at a time.
But, not all treats are particularly healthy. Although they may illicit a hearty nicker, it can be likened to a child walking down a candy aisle. (It may taste good, but it lacks otherwise.) While researching in preparation for her own treat recipe, Molly also came across some startling facts regarding by-products. Molly found that much of the grain in horse treats (as well as in horse feed) is not whole-grain because its oils are extracted for various other commercial uses. “I did a lot of research concerning commercial pet food companies and was not happy with what I learned. I began to look at the ingredients on bags of horse feeds, and began to question just exactly what a ‘byproduct’ was. When I called the companies and asked what a byproduct was, they could not really say other than tell me that it could be a mixture of any number of grains and leftover hulls or remnants from the milling process.” This practice has led many to begin searching for a healthier diet for their horses (albeit more expensive).
Molly continues, stating, “The grain that is used in horse feed and horse feed products is deemed unfit for human consumption because of mold, contaminants, poor quality, or poor handling practices. This was simply unacceptable to me. I decided that I would rather pay more for human grade ingredients than allow my horse to eat what I felt were poor quality grain and ingredients. I guessed that many other horse owners would feel the same way.”
Offer fresh, clean produce items such as these regularly - for a healthy, happy horse.
Molly's dedication to the combination of natural and healthy treats for horses also led her to avoid using chemical preservatives. “The high level of naturally occurring propionic acid in the raisins creates a self-preserving product that naturally resists bacteria and mold without the use of chemical preservatives.” Through her research efforts, Molly found that raisins happen to be a good substitute for the chemical preservative, sodium nitrate, which is used frequently in beef jerky. She states, “Researchers at Oregon State University found that adding raisins to the jerky inhibited bacterial growth, especially the types in food borne illness such as E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Listeria.” This natural substitute is much healthier for horses, because their systems can better absorb and digest raisins, along with the added nutritional value raisins possess. However, Dr. Basko cautions that mold can be deadly to horses and any horse treats, whether containing chemical or natural preservatives, need to be fed on or before their expiration date. If you are making the treats yourself, make sure to check for signs of mold or any foul smell before offering it to a horse.
Vegetables are another source of vitamins and minerals for adding an extra boost to your horse’s diet, as well as adding variety to his palate. Besides carrots, Dr. Basko suggests beet greens, sweet potato greens, and plantain. Celery, peas, lettuce, and green beans are other vegetables to try. Some horses tend to be more cautious at first with vegetables because the sweetness is not there as it is in the fruits. After a little persuasion, however, many will try the vegetable (and like it too)!
A bran mash is another possible way of treating your hard-working horse. Although not recommended for horses that do a minimal amount of work or those that stay in a stall for extended amounts of time, an occasional bran mash can greatly benefit horses with large amounts of exercise and/or stress.
There are some horses, though, that despite the excellent benefits in fruits and vegetables, should not consume them. Dr. Basko recommends horses that have insulin resistance, have foundered, or are susceptible to founder should not be fed fruits or other horse treats unless your veterinarian has given the okay.
So, as you browse the supermarket produce aisle searching for your next meal, keep your horse in mind. He may enjoy (and benefit) from more than you think.
Special thanks to Dr. Ihor Basko and Molly Carl for their time and knowledge in contributing to this article.
For more information:
Dr. Ihor Basko, DVM
All Creatures Great & Small, Inc.
PO Box 159 Kapaa, Kauai, Hawaii 96746
(808)822-4229; Fax (808)822-5229
Lucky Eddie’s Horsey Sweets
410 Ravine Avenue
Lake Bluff, IL 60044