Sunday 9th of June 2024
Horse Nutrition

Treats are they always a bad thing?

Giving treats is a common way to form a bond with our horses as they can be useful in many training situations. The behaviour and learning experiences of horses continue to be scientifically analysed and do require some understanding to ensure we give treats in the right time and situation.

Currently we know that all horses and ponies are habitual; therefore, the feeding of treats, and even meal times should be given at the right time. The timing is important to prevent unwanted behaviours that may be encouraged as the horse tries out different activities to get our attention. We have all seen the horse that kicks the door, or dominates the field and once a behaviour is learned it is often very difficult to change it, even if the treat is no longer used or fed.

So, when should you feed them? For a positive reward, feed immediately. Do not be slow about fiddling around for the treat. This also applies to bucket feeding – get on with it, and try not to keep your horse anticipating or waiting. 

There are many treats on the market. Look for the low-sugar varieties if you are looking to feed a good number per day. Always check the label as some may be fed in reasonable amounts and others will have a set number to feed per day.

High Fibre Nuts are also a useful treat that can be fed in a larger amount as part of the total diet plan. It makes sense to weigh out the amount allocated for the day so this is included in your horse s diet plan.

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Alternatively, Equi-Bites which are a low-calorie, multi-vitamins treat are an ideal way to provide additional goodness for both horses and ponies.  A set number can be fed per day to provide a balance of vitamins and minerals.

How do you feed them?  Treats can be fed by hand or by putting them in a bucket or feed trough. Be careful as horses that are incorrectly hand-fed treats might become nippy. Using a bucket is probably safest.  To feed by hand, put the treat in the middle of your flat hand with all fingers and thumbs closed and out of reach. Place your flat hand slightly toward the mouth and front teeth. Do not withdraw your hand if he reaches toward it (this inadvertent action by the owner is often what causes the horse to lunge for the treat), just keep your hand flat and push it gently and slowly toward the horse’s mouth. Take your hand away as he picks up the treat. A horse normally uses his lips to softly pick up the treat.

A concern for some owners is the sugar content. Apples and carrots, can be considered high in sugar. Potentially this is more likely to be an issue with overweight horses or horses that have Cushing’s disease, Insulin Resistance or Metabolic Syndrome, as these horses require low sugar and starch intake.  Whilst carrots and apples technically have a high level of sugar on a dry mater basis, they are also very high in water, so the actual sugar per item is low. One or two carrots per meal provides a tiny amount of sugar and is certainly not a concern. Dietary advice should be sort if you wish to feed significant amounts of carrots and apples per day.

Safe treats, when fed in small amounts, include: carrots, swedes and apples.  Vegetables such as onions, potatoes, tomatoes, cabbages, brussel sprouts and any other food that tends to produce intestinal gas should not be fed to horses. Always check out any field plant before you offer it and as many garden plants are poisonous they should not be given.

By Pauline Smith.  Dodson & Horrell Nutritional Advisor, BHSAI Int. SM

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