safe treats for horses guide

Safe Treats for Horses Guide

Latest posts by Tanya Taylor (see all)

I’m a horse care specialist with over 25 years of experience. I’ve worked with many horses in my career, and if there’s one personality trait they all share, it’s a love of treats, particularly sugary ones. 

I like to feed horses treats because they are an effective training aid and a fantastic way to bond. However, if you don’t give treats correctly, they can be incredibly damaging to a horse’s health. If you want to know the safest way to reward your equine friend, look at my guide to safe treats for horses below.

Bottom Line Up Front

In this guide, I’ll tell you the essential things to know about feeding treats to horses, including:

  • The benefits of horse treats
  • How to feed treats safely
  • The different types of horse treats
  • Safe treats for horses

The Benefits of Feeding Horses Treats

There are many reasons why I feed horses treats, but like most owners, I mainly do it because it makes horses happy and improves my relationship with them. There are many other benefits to feeding horses treats, including: 

  • Improves Nutrition – Natural, healthy treats provide horses with fiber, antioxidants, and essential vitamins and minerals,  
  • Helps With Training and Motivation – Most horses are highly motivated by treats. They are a fantastic way to provide positive reinforcement during training. 
  • Deepens Your Bond – As I mentioned, rewarding a horse with treats is the ideal way to deepen your relationship. 
  • You Can Use Them As A Distraction – Treats are an excellent way to distract a horse in a stressful situation such as a farrier or vet visit, traveling or in the show ring. 
  • They Can Be Boredom Breakers – I like using treats as a boredom breaker if horses are confined for long periods. I hide carrots around their paddock or stable and use treat-dispensing toys to keep them busy. 
  • An Easy Way To Give Medication – Not many horses willingly eat medication, and hiding it in a treat will make it more palatable. 

What Are the Different Types of Horse Treats?

Feed Horse In The Farm

There are many types of equine treats, and I find that each horse has their personal favorite. Some horses go crazy for natural ones, such as fruit and vegetables, while others prefer the concentrated flavor of commercial treats.  

Here’s a list of the most common types of horse treats:

  1. Commercial Treats – These are pre-made processed treats which come in a packet and often contain preservatives, flavorings and lots of sugar. Horses love them, but they can be unhealthy, so always choose a high-quality brand and feed them in moderation.
  2. Homemade Treats – These are ones you can make at home. Common ingredients include oats, apples, and molasses. 
  3. Herbal Treats – Some commercial treats contain beneficial herbs for horses, such as chamomile for calming or biotin to help hoof health.  
  4. Natural Treats – Natural treats such as fresh fruits and vegetables are the healthiest treats for horses.

How to Feed Treats to Horses

I find that the best way to feed treats to horses is from a bucket on the floor, but I also give them by hand during training or put them with a horse’s cereals. I’ve learned the hard way that you shouldn’t offer treats regularly every day. It can lead to undesirable behavior, such as barging or bolting to get at the snacks waiting for them in the stable. 

Instead, I offer treats randomly, as a surprise, to keep their life interesting. Horses appreciate treats more when they don’t expect them. 

Below, we’ll look at three ways to feed treats to horses.

Method #1 – By Hand

Feeding treats by hand isn’t the best way to reward horses, but it’s the most convenient, especially with training. Feeding by hand can lead to behavioral problems such as nipping, shoving, and forcefully rummaging through your pockets with their big soft muzzle. 

When I feed horses treats by hand, first, I hold my hand out flat, palm side up, and place the item in the middle of my palm. I keep my hand steady and flat – and let the horse take the treat from my hand. I never pull my hand away quickly because this may startle the horse or teach them to snatch. 

Method #2 – From a Bucket

Feed Bucket Horse

Feeding horses treats from a feed bucket on the floor is the best way to prevent bad habits because they won’t associate your hands (or pockets) with treats. Feeding from a bucket is also beneficial because it encourages the natural eating position.  

Method #3 – With Regular Food

Giving horse treats with regular concentrated food has the same benefits as feeding them from a bucket. I like to add them to a horse’s regular meal as a reward if they worked hard that day. 

A List of Safe Treats for Horses

We all know that horses love apples and carrots, but they can also safely eat many other fruits and vegetables. Each horse is different, and while some will love all the items on the following list, others may be more selective. Try your horse with a variety to see what they like the most.

 The listed treats are generally safe for horses, but I never feed them to horses with metabolic health issues such as laminitis, Cushing’s, HYPP, Equine Metabolic Syndrome, or overweight horses. I always ask for the owner’s permission before feeding treats to a horse. 

So, without further ado, here’s a comprehensive list of safe treats you can feed to horses:

  1. Apples – The seeds contain trace amounts of cyanide but are safe for horses to eat in small quantities. Some owners like to remove the core as an extra caution. 
  2. Apricots – This fruit is high in vitamin A and beta-carotene, so it’s fantastic for eye health. Horses can eat the flesh and skin of apricots but not the pit. The pit contains cyanide, and horses may choke on it. 
  3. Banana – Banana is full of potassium and fiber, and horses can eat the fruit and peel, but I always cut the peel into bite-sized pieces to prevent choking. Don’t be surprised if a horse doesn’t like the peel because it tastes bitter. 
  4. Beets – Are safe and incredibly palatable to horses and contain many vitamins which promote healthy circulation. I always remove the peel and leaves before feeding. 
  5. Blueberries – These are a tasty, low-calorie, vitamin-rich treat for horses. 
  6. Cantaloup – Horses can eat the flesh and peel, but I like to remove the peel because it’s hard to clean and not very palatable.
  7. Celery – Celery is the perfect low-sugar and calorie treat for horses. Most horses enjoy celery due to its crunchy texture. 
  8. Cherries – Are high in antioxidants, and most horses love them. I always cut them in half and remove the pits before feeding. 
  9. Citrus – Citrus fruits such as orange, lemon, grapefruit and mandarin are full of vitamin C and are fantastic for the immune system. Horses can safely eat the flesh and peel, but not all horses enjoy citrus fruit. 
  10. Coconut – This is a nutrient-dense, high-fiber treat, and most horses love eating the flesh, which is high in potassium, iron and magnesium.
  11. Cucumber – The flesh and peel are safe for horses to eat, and makes a refreshing summer treat.
  12. Grapes/Raisins  – Horses love grapes and raisins because they are high in sugar.
  13. Lettuce – This is a refreshing summer treat but isn’t very nutritious.
  14. Mango – Is high in vitamin C and folate and is a delicious snack for horses. I remove the pit and peel it before feeding it.  
  15. Parsnip – Parsnip is low in sugar and high in fiber, which helps with digestion and is a fantastic alternative to carrots. 
  16. Peaches – Are high in vitamin A and potassium and are a favorite among equines. But you must remove the pit before feeding.  
  17. Pears – Most horses love sweet, juicy pears. They’re high in folate and antioxidants. 
  18. Peas – Peas are an ideal treat for horses because they’re nutrient dense and don’t pose a choking hazard.  
  19. Pineapple – This is a super sweet, vitamin C-rich treat that most horses love. I remove the core and peel before feeding, and I never give horses canned pineapple because they contain too much sugar. 
  20. Plums/Prunes – These are delicious equine treats, high in vitamin C and potassium. Always remove the pit before feeding plums or prunes to horses.
  21. Pumpkin – Most horses love pumpkins, and instead of throwing used ones away at Halloween, I feed them to horses so long as they don’t contain wax, glitter, paint or mold. 
  22. Radishes – Radishes are a low-calorie, high-fiber crunchy treat, and horses can also safely eat the leaves. 
  23. Strawberries – Horses love the taste of sweet strawberries, which are high in vitamin C and antioxidants. 
  24. Sweet Potato – This is an excellent source of beta-carotene, and horses can eat it raw or cooked.
  25. Snow Peas – Most horses love crunchy, fresh, highly nutritious snow peas.  
  26. Turnip – Contains many vitamins and minerals which promote skin and hair health. I like to remove the peel before feeding because it’s difficult to clean. 
  27. Watermelon – Horses love eating juicy, refreshing watermelon. It’s a hydrating treat in the summer, and I like to remove the tough peel before feeding it to horses – it’s not toxic, but it may pose a choking hazard. 
  28. Zucchini – Horses can eat the flesh and peel of zucchini, though, in my experience, not all horses enjoy it.  

Safe But Unhealthy Treats – Feed With Caution

  1. Bread – Bread isn’t toxic to horses, but it’s not a healthy treat, especially store-bought bread with many preservatives. I feed horse bread in moderation, and ideally, I let it dry first so it’s crunchy, easier to digest and less likely to clump in the esophagus or gut. 
  2. Peppermints – I find that most horses go crazy for peppermints, and while they are a rewarding treat, they are usually high in sugar and unhealthy. 
  3. Sugar Cubes – Horses love sugar cubes, but they are one of the most unhealthy treats. 
  4. Peanut Butter – This is safe for horses to eat, but you must choose a natural one without extra sugar or flavorings and feed it in moderation. 
  5. Chocolate – As a rule, I don’t feed horses chocolate, but an occasional tiny piece won’t harm them. I would never feed chocolate to a competition horse because they may test positive for caffeine and theobromine. 

A List of Unsafe Treats for Horse

Unrecognizable Woman Taking Grains To The Horses

Horses can eat most fruits and vegetables, but there are some things you must never feed them. If you give a horse unsafe treats, the results can be catastrophic and result in colic or poisoning. 

Here’s a list of the things you must NEVER feed to horses: 

  1. Acorns – Are toxic to horses, and if they eat too many, it can cause kidney failure. 
  2. Animal products – Eggs, milk, cheese and meat will make horses ill. Horses are herbivores and can’t digest meat, and are lactose intolerant. 
  3. Avocado – Contains persin, which is highly toxic to horses.
  4. Brassica Vegetables – Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, kale and cabbage cause excessive gas, which leads to colic.
  5. Canned Fruit – Canned fruit often contain syrup which is too sugary for horses.
  6. Garlic – Is a popular equine supplement, but you shouldn’t feed it raw as it can cause gastric upset. 
  7. Grass Clippings – These may contain harmful plants and weeds, mold quickly and can also ball up and cause an obstruction.
  8. Moldy or Rotten Food – Bacteria can make horses incredibly ill.
  9. Nightshade Plants – Tomato, bell pepper, eggplant and potatoes are poisonous to horses.
  10. Onions, leeks and shallots – Contain a toxin called N-propyl disulfide, which is toxic to horses. 
  11. Persimmon – Horses can’t digest the fibers and seeds, and they can cause a blockage in the digestive system. 
  12. Processed Human Food – Cakes, cookies, and chips are incredibly unhealthy for horses because they contain preservatives and are often high in sugar. 
  13. Rhubarb – Contains several toxic ingredients for horses and can cause severe poisoning. 

How to Feed Treats Safely to Horses

Horses love treats but have a delicate digestive system, and if you don’t prepare treats correctly or feed too many, it can harm their health.

To prevent health issues associated with treats, I never feed horses too many because this can cause obesity, metabolic illnesses and colic. I always prepare treats correctly before giving them and introduce new ones slowly to a horse’s diet.

Below, I’ll tell you more about how to feed treats safely to horses:

Safety Tip #1 – Introduce Them Slowly

A Gray Horse Takes Food From A Mans Hand

It’s crucial to introduce treats slowly to prevent horses from getting colic. Before feeding a horse a new treat – I give them a test sample to ensure it agrees with their digestive system. To do this, I give them a small piece and monitor them for 24 hours. 

If they show signs of digestive discomfort, I don’t feed them more of that treat. But, if the horse is fine after 24 hours, I will give them more, gradually increasing the portion size over a week or two. 

A Note About Colic

Horses can’t vomit, so when they have a stomach upset, it causes painful colic. Colic is common in horses and can be mild or severe. Though colic rarely kills horses, they can suffer from a twisted gut if they roll around too much in pain, which can be deadly. 

Signs of colic include:

  • Not passing droppings
  • Pawing the ground
  • Kicking or looking at their stomach
  • Sweating
  • Excessive rolling

If I suspect colic, I keep the horse upright and walk them around with a halter and lead rope. Walking them around stimulates the digestive system and prevents them from rolling. If they are in severe pain or the colic doesn’t pass, I will call the vet to the barn for treatment. 

Safety Tip #2 – Prepare Them Correctly

Woman Feeding Horse Near Stall

If you don’t prepare treats correctly, a horse may ingest harmful things like bacteria, insecticides and dirt. Treats also pose a choking hazard if you don’t cut them into small pieces.

Here’s how to prepare treats in 3 easy steps:

  • Step #1– I always wash fruit and vegetable treats to remove harmful pesticides and dirt before feeding them to horses. I detach any stickers and rotten parts because mold can make horses ill. 
  • Step #2 – If the fruit has a hard rind, I remove it because it poses a choking hazard. I also remove large pits and stones. Pits are the perfect size to lodge in a horse’s esophagus, and are usually poisonous.
  • Step #3 – Finally, I cut the treat into small, bite-sized pieces around an inch squared. I never feed larger chunks because they may become lodged in the esophagus and cause choke, which you can find out more about below. 

If I care for older horses lacking in the tooth department – I don’t feed them chunks. I blend or shred treats for them to eat. Old horses hugely benefit from fresh fruit and veg and the extra nutrition.

What You Need To Know About Choke

Choke occurs when food gets lodged in a horse’s esophagus (food pipe), and it usually happens when they rush their food and don’t chew properly. As I mentioned earlier, horses can’t vomit because the esophageal muscles only push food in one direction, towards the stomach.  

Although choke looks incredibly distressing, it isn’t immediately life-threatening because the horse can still breathe

The signs of choke include: 

  • Nasal discharge – sometimes it contains bits of the lodged food. 
  • Foaming at the mouth or hypersalivation
  • Coughing
  • Unable to eat or drink – water often comes back through the nose.
  • Repeatedly extending the head and neck

Choke is an emergency. If I suspect a horse is choking, I call the vet immediately. I keep the horses nice and calm and don’t let them eat or drink. The vet will often sedate the horse and flush the blockage with a medical tube.  

Safety Tip #3 – Feed In Moderation

Horse Feeding

I always feed treats in moderation because too many are bad for a horse’s health. If you give too many treats, you will disrupt their balanced diet, which may result in colic, obesity or laminitis. 

I’ve learned that feeding too many treats can also cause behavioral problems. If a horse expects treats all the time, they will become bad-mannered when they don’t get them. As much as I enjoy feeding horses treats, I never overdo it because I hate it when horses beg. 

Treats should only account for a tiny part of a horse’s diet, meaning you should only give them around one piece of fruit or vegetable daily. I consider a horse’s size, body condition and exercise level to determine how many treats it can eat. I’ll feed small horses, ponies and donkeys fewer treats than large active horses, for example.  

Safety Tip #4 – Limit Treats For Horses With Metabolic Issues

I’ve cared for numerous horses with metabolic conditions, and in most cases, they need a restricted diet and can’t eat the same treats as healthy horses. Feeding them the wrong treats can dramatically worsen their condition.

Common metabolic diseases in horses include:

  1. Laminitis – A painful foot condition often caused by a rich diet, and severe cases result in euthanasia.  
  2. Cushing’s – Affects the pituitary gland and disrupts hormones and body functions. Horses with the condition need a low starch and sugar diet.   
  3. Hyperkalemic Periodic Paralysis (HYPP) – Causes muscle spasms and tremors, and horses with this condition can’t eat excessive potassium. HYPP only affects Quarter Horses and Quarter Horse cross breeds, Appaloosas and American Paint Horses.
  4. Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) – Affects overweight horses and ponies and leads to insulin resistance, similar to type 2 diabetes in humans.

If you have a horse with a metabolic condition, ask your vet for advice about giving them treats. 


Question: What are the healthiest treats for horses?

Answer: The healthiest treats for horses are natural ones like fresh fruits and vegetables. Commercial treats are the least healthy because they are often high in sugar and contain preservatives. 

Question: Are carrots or apples better for horses?

Answer: Apples and carrots are both healthy, beneficial treats. However, apples contain more sugar than carrots. Most horses love both, so I feed them according to a horse’s preference and always in moderation. 

Question: Can horses eat banana peels?

Answer: Horses can eat banana peels, but most don’t like the bitter taste. Banana peel is packed with essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B and potassium and is fantastic for horse health. If I feed a horse banana peels, I always cut them into bite-size pieces before feeding them to horses to reduce the choke risk.


Horses love treats, especially sugary ones, and they can safely eat many fruits and vegetables. Offering treats is a fantastic way to bond with horses, enrich their diet and reward good behavior. However, it’s easy to spoil a horse and put its health at risk if you feed too many. 

To feed treats safely, I prepare them as necessary before feeding them. I introduce them slowly to the diet and give them in moderation – no more than one piece of fruit or veg daily. I always get permission from an owner before feeding a horse treats because they may have an underlying health issue, and treats can worsen their condition. 


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