Despite their size and how expensive they are, horses aren't terribly difficult to look after in the grand scheme of things. There are plenty of smaller and more cheaply-bred animals, like many reptiles, that have far more complex needs. One of the areas where people sometimes fall short, however, is in feeding their horses. Although horses are able to eat a large number of different things, that doesn't mean it's necessarily good for them or that it won't lead to health problems in the long term. To help you keep your horse healthy, here's a brief overview of their nutritional needs and some tips on healthy feeding.
Horses are what's known as 'obligate herbivores', which means they must be fed exclusively on plant foods. This has been widely studied and the findings are based on things like their teeth and digestive tracts. The trouble is that, like humans, many different foods smell and taste good to horses. This includes meat, which a horse will often gobble up without hesitation. If you're feeding meat to a horse, you might think you're giving them a special treat, but it can do serious damage to their health if you do it regularly.
Horses are horses
Horses, cows, sheep and other herbivores have pretty similar diets in the wild. They graze, largely on grass and other plants, eating throughout the day to obtain enough calories. Because of this, people often assume that one animal feed is pretty like the next, which is not the case. Horse feed is sort of like a supplement, giving them extra nutrients in addition to their main diet of grass and hay. These nutrients vary from one animal to another and, for example, cattle feed contains ingredients that can be toxic to horses. Always make sure your stock feed is specifically for horses.
There's such a thing as too much fruit
Horses love to eat fruit, and it makes a great treat to feed them. However, you should limit the quantities and avoid feeding too much. Excessive fruit consumption can cause digestive upsets, and the sugar content isn't good for horses either. Be aware of fruit trees in areas where horses have access.
Not all vegetables are the same
Because they're herbivores, you might think horses can eat any plants humans can. Unfortunately, this is not the case. There's an extensive list of vegetables that can be harmful to horses, including rhubarb, avocado, onions and potatoes. Cruciferous vegetables like kale, cabbage and Brussels sprouts can also cause excess gas and digestive upset. Before feeding anything, make sure you check it's safe.
Watch out for wild plants
Some wild plants are poisonous to horses—and, indeed, many other animals. You should regularly check any areas horses have access to so you can make sure they're clear of dangerous plants.