Horses do not NEED treats. Repeat that five times fast. Then look at your horse. You don’t see the rounded belly. You see the starving deep brown eyes. You feel the mental telepathy urging you towards a treat, any treat. I can feel my daughter’s miniature horse trying to figure out how to unplug my computer at this point.
The reality is that most horses can handle an occasional treat (or two) and most owners are going to give their horses treats. With that established, what are the best and worst treats?
Years ago, horses got sugar cubes. You could buy boxes of these little cubes of pure consolidated white sugar at the grocery store. You were warned to hold your hand perfectly flat so you would not get bitten as your horse lipped the cube off your palm. I have not seen sugar cubes in any grocery store in decades. Sugar cubes would not be great for insulin resistant or equine metabolic syndrome horses anyway.
Next up come peppermints. The cute red and white striped hard candies. For some reason, these are the treats that Thoroughbred lovers seem to choose. Of course, any horse will enjoy them, but most TB owners have them in their pockets about 80 percent of the time. Horses like these too and they make a satisfying crunch as your horse eats them. If you foolishly give your horse peppermints with the bridle on, be prepared to clean the bit thoroughly. These candies are sticky! I could pretend peppermints have medicinal value since things like peppermint tea are recommended for people with upset stomachs but a peppermint candy will not really treat your horse.
Apples and carrots are natural treats that many horses enjoy. In fact, if your pasture has any apple trees either in it or bordering it, your horses will happily treat themselves. Our horses pick their own apples. I have tried the apples off those old trees and was not impressed, but the horses, deer and sheep all seem to like them. They like me to cut up apple slices in the winter too. Apple peels (without the meaty fruit) are suggested treats for horses with IR.
Most horses also love carrots. I have pondered how horses ever got into eating carrots since they are root vegetables but maybe they dug them up or carrots came up with frost heaves. These are also quite sweet vegetables and not ideal for IR horses.
All horses can enjoy beet pulp based treats quite safely in moderation. You can also use small alfalfa cubes or handfuls of your horse’s regular concentrate ration.
What about somewhat exotic treats? My first horse, a palomino half Arab, would steal my lunch at shows and even eat things like a ham and cheese sandwich. Both he and my TB mare enjoyed ice cream sticks – vanilla ice cream with a thin chocolate coating wrapped on a stick. I had to hold it carefully so the stick wouldn’t get chomped but on a hot day they thought those were excellent treats. The same for fruit-flavored popsicles. I can’t advocate either of those as good horse treats now as a veterinarian, but I admit, as a horse lover, they were favorites.
And then we come to Frodo, the miniature horse. Frodo competed at both our county and state fairs in the mini horse division with my daughter – driving, showing in hand, doing trail in hand and not jumping in the jumping division :) No one would ever mistake Frodo for a semi starved rescue mini. He is, shall we say, well rounded?
At the fairs we discovered Frodo’s favorite treat. I hope no equine nutritionists are reading this. He loves fried dough, preferably with cinnamon sugar. I mean he REALLY loves it! We had to watch out for small children (even adults) walking by with their fried dough not under close guard. Frodo would move much faster than you would have thought if he was trying to snag someone’s fried dough. He is limited to a small piece once or at most twice a year. And yes, he does not need even that much.
So time to confess up here. What treats does your horse love? I promise not to judge you :)