Horses are magnificent creatures that have roamed the earth for centuries, and understanding what they eat is vital to their health and well-being. In the wild, horses consume a varied diet that includes hay, grass, grains, and occasionally vegetables and fruits. This diverse diet ensures they receive the necessary nutrients for their daily activities.

It is important to be mindful of what horses should not eat, such as toxic plants, high sugar foods, processed foods, and meat and dairy products, as these can have detrimental effects on their health. The quantity and frequency of their meals play a crucial role in maintaining their optimal health. Therefore, it is essential for horse owners and caretakers to understand how much and how often horses should eat based on their body weight and activity level. In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of a horse’s diet, discussing what they can and cannot eat, as well as providing tips for feeding them to ensure their well-being.

Key Takeaways:

  • Horses should primarily eat hay, grass, grains, and select vegetables and fruits.
  • Horses should not consume toxic plants, high sugar foods, processed foods, or meat and dairy products.
  • The amount and frequency of horse feeding should be based on their body weight, activity level, and grazing vs. meal feeding.

What Do Horses Eat in the Wild?

In the wild, horses primarily consume a variety of grasses, forages, and roughage found in their natural habitat, providing essential nutrients and sustenance for their well-being.

Wild horses exhibit distinct grazing habits, often spending hours each day seeking out various grasses and forages to satisfy their dietary needs. Their foraging behavior is characterized by constant movement, as they carefully select and nibble on different types of grasses and roughage throughout the day.

This natural diet is rich in fiber, which aids in digestion and promotes gut health. The nutritional benefits of consuming grass and hay allow wild horses to maintain strong, healthy teeth and overall well-being. This ensures that they receive the essential vitamins, minerals, and energy required for their active lifestyle.

What Should Horses Eat?

Ensuring that horses receive a balanced diet is crucial for their overall health and well-being, encompassing a combination of hay, grains, and essential supplements to meet their nutritional requirements.


Hay plays a fundamental role in the equine diet, serving as a vital source of roughage that supports healthy digestion and reflects the impact of domestication on horses’ feeding patterns.

As herbivores, horses have evolved to thrive on a diet high in fiber, making hay a crucial component. Its fibrous nature not only aids in maintaining proper gut function but also helps prevent issues such as colic and digestive disturbances. Throughout history, the availability and quality of hay have influenced the health and performance of equines as they transitioned from foraging in the wild to being domesticated animals.


Grass forms a substantial component of a horse’s diet, especially when grazing in pastures, providing essential nutrients and forage that cater to the natural dietary preferences of equines.

As a primary source of forage, grass plays a crucial role in the equine diet, providing a balance of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Grazing on lush pastures allows horses to obtain these essential nutrients in their most natural and easily digestible form, promoting overall health and well-being.

Pasture environments offer a diverse array of plant species, including clover, ryegrass, and fescue, which contribute to a varied and nutritious diet for horses. This diversity not only enhances the nutritional intake of equines but also supports their natural grazing behaviors and digestive processes.


Supplementing the equine diet with grains and concentrates can provide additional energy and nutrients, but excessive intake may lead to feeding problems and potential health issues such as colic.

Grains and concentrates play a crucial role in providing the necessary energy for the high-demand activities that horses are often involved in. They serve as supplementary sources of essential nutrients, including proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Overfeeding these components can disrupt the delicate balance of the equine digestive system, potentially causing digestive disturbances and even colic – a serious and sometimes life-threatening condition. It’s essential for horse owners and caretakers to carefully monitor the intake of grains and concentrates to maintain their equine’s health and well-being.

Vegetables and Fruits

In moderation, certain fruits and vegetables can serve as occasional treats for horses, but careful consideration is essential to manage their weight and prevent dietary imbalances.

When incorporating fruits and vegetables into a horse’s diet, it’s important to focus on nutrient-rich options such as apples, carrots, and beetroot. These treats provide essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber, offering a healthy alternative to traditional horse feed.

Excessive consumption can lead to weight gain and nutritional imbalances. Therefore, it’s crucial to limit the quantity and monitor the equine’s overall diet to ensure proper weight management.

Some fruits and vegetables, such as grapes and onions, can be toxic to horses if consumed in large quantities. It’s imperative for horse owners to research and understand which fruits and vegetables are safe and appropriate for their equine companions.

What Should Horses Not Eat?

Understanding the foods that horses should avoid is essential to safeguard their health, encompassing the avoidance of toxic plants, high-sugar foods, and processed food items to prevent potential health risks.

Toxic Plants

The presence of toxic plants in a horse’s environment poses significant risks to their health, potentially leading to various feeding problems and adverse effects on their digestive systems.

Equine are particularly susceptible to the harmful effects of ingesting toxic plants, which can lead to serious health complications. Some common toxic plants include bracken ferns, oak trees, and nightshades. Ingestion of these plants can cause symptoms such as colic, diarrhea, and in severe cases, organ failure. Equine caretakers should be vigilant in identifying and removing toxic plants from pastures and feeding areas to ensure the well-being of their horses.

High Sugar Foods

High-sugar foods can predispose horses to health issues such as choke and may contribute to weight management challenges, necessitating caution and balance in their dietary inclusion.

The potential impact of high-sugar foods on equine health is a matter of substantial concern for horse owners and caretakers. The risk of choke arises from the sticky nature of sugary feeds, which can cause blockages in the esophagus. The excessive consumption of high-sugar foods can lead to weight management challenges, potentially resulting in obesity and related health issues. Hence, a balanced and thoughtful approach to equine dietary choices is crucial to maintaining their well-being and preventing these adverse effects.

Processed Foods

The consumption of processed foods, including silage and other technologically modified feed items, may pose potential risks to equine health and digestion, necessitating careful evaluation of their inclusion in the diet.

Processed feeds are often formulated to meet the nutritional requirements of horses, yet the ingredients and production methods can significantly impact their quality. Silage, for instance, is preserved through anaerobic fermentation, which may lead to the growth of harmful microorganisms. The use of artificial additives and preservatives in processed feeds raises concerns regarding their long-term effects on equine well-being. It’s crucial for horse owners and caretakers to assess the suitability of these products in consultation with equine nutritionists or veterinarians.

Meat and Dairy Products

The inclusion of meat and dairy products in a horse’s diet can lead to issues such as quidding and bolting, highlighting the potential risks associated with these unconventional dietary components.

Quidding, which refers to the phenomenon where a horse drops partially chewed or balled-up masses of food, can occur when horses consume meat or dairy products that they struggle to digest properly. This can result in discomfort, reduced nutrient absorption, and potential choking hazards.

The ingestion of unfamiliar protein sources like meat and dairy may lead to bolting, causing the horse to eat too quickly or ingest indigestible portions. This can increase the risk of colic, digestive disturbances, and metabolic imbalances.

How Much Should Horses Eat?

Determining the appropriate quantity of food for horses is influenced by factors such as body weight, activity level, and the nutritional requirements essential for maintaining their overall health and vitality.

Based on Body Weight

Tailoring the feeding regimen based on a horse’s body weight is essential to ensure that they receive adequate nutrition while addressing digestive considerations and mineral requirements.

By adjusting the feeding quantities according to horse’s body weight, one can help prevent digestive issues such as colic, which can be caused by overfeeding. A horse’s body weight directly affects its mineral intake, affecting overall health. For instance, overweight horses may require less feeding to prevent excessive mineral intake, while underweight horses may need more to meet their nutritional needs.

This tailored approach also contributes to achieving the optimal nutritional balance required for a horse’s well-being. It ensures that they receive the right amount of essential nutrients, supporting their overall health, energy levels, and performance. Customizing feeding quantities based on body weight can assist in managing weight and preventing obesity or malnutrition, thus promoting long-term wellness.

Based on Activity Level

The activity level of horses directly influences their dietary needs, requiring adjustments in feeding to manage weight effectively and provide the necessary minerals for optimal health.

For horses with high levels of activity, their energy requirements are notably higher, necessitating a diet rich in protein and essential nutrients to sustain their performance and support muscle development. Conversely, horses with a sedentary lifestyle must be fed with caution to prevent excessive weight gain, often requiring a controlled intake of calories and prioritizing roughage to maintain digestive health.

Monitoring the mineral intake in correlation with the activity level is crucial for overall well-being. High-performance horses may require additional supplementation of electrolytes to mitigate the effects of intense sweating, while those with lower activity levels may need targeted doses of vitamins and minerals to compensate for potential deficiencies arising from limited grazing and movement.

How Often Should Horses Eat?

Establishing the appropriate feeding schedule for horses involves considering factors such as grazing habits, meal feeding, and the provision of essential minerals to support their nutritional needs throughout the day.

Grazing vs. Meal Feeding

The choice between grazing and meal feeding for horses encompasses considerations related to their access to roughage, the intake of essential minerals, and the fulfillment of their dietary requirements throughout the day.

When horses are allowed to graze freely, they can naturally fulfill their need for roughage by consuming grass, which aids in maintaining proper digestion and gut health. Further, grazing provides them with mental stimulation and exercise, contributing to their overall well-being.

Conversely, meal feeding enables precise control over mineral intake and dietary balance, ensuring that horses receive specific nutrients tailored to their individual needs. It requires careful consideration of portion sizes and frequencies to mimic their natural grazing behavior and support digestive function.

Both feeding methods have their unique benefits and drawbacks, necessitating careful assessment based on individual horse circumstances and healthcare preferences.

Recommended Feeding Schedule

Establishing a recommended feeding schedule for horses involves considerations related to water intake, digestive health, and the intervals at which their nutritional needs should be met throughout the day.

First and foremost, ensuring access to a clean and plentiful water source is crucial for horses. The general guideline recommends providing about 10-12 gallons of fresh water per day to fulfill a horse’s hydration needs. It is also important to ensure that horses have access to water during feeding times to aid in the digestion process.

Regarding their digestive well-being, horses are natural grazers, and their digestive systems are designed for small, frequent meals. Providing access to high-quality forage throughout the day or through pasture turnout is essential to mimic their natural feeding behavior and prevent digestive issues such as colic or gastric ulcers.

In terms of their nutritional requirements, a balanced diet consisting of quality forage, concentrates, and supplements should be offered in appropriate amounts and at consistent intervals. Many experts recommend dividing the daily feedings into multiple smaller meals to prevent digestive disturbances and maintain a steady supply of energy. For most horses, dividing their daily ration into three to four meals can be a practical approach.

What Are Some Tips for Feeding Horses?

Implementing effective feeding practices for horses involves considerations such as addressing feeding problems, managing weight effectively, and ensuring the provision of essential minerals and nutrition to optimize their health and vitality.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Can Horses Eat?

Horses can eat a variety of foods including hay, grass, grains, and fruits. However, it’s important to know the right types and amounts of food to give them in order to maintain their health.

Can Horses Eat Fruits?

Yes, horses can eat fruits such as apples, bananas, and watermelon. These should be given in moderation as treats, as too much fruit can upset their digestive system.

What Type of Hay is Best for Horses?

The best type of hay for horses is high-quality grass hay, such as timothy, orchard, or brome grass. Alfalfa hay can also be given in smaller amounts, but it is higher in protein and calcium.

Can Horses Eat Grains?

Yes, horses can eat grains such as oats, barley, and corn. However, these should not make up the majority of their diet and should be given in proper amounts according to their activity level and body weight.

What Foods Should Horses Avoid?

Horses should avoid foods that are high in sugar and starch, such as sugary treats, molasses, and sweet feeds. They should also not be fed any human foods, as these can be harmful to their digestive system.

How Often Should Horses be Fed?

Horses should be fed at least twice a day, with access to hay or pasture throughout the day. The amount of food they need depends on their size and activity level, but they should always have access to fresh, clean water.

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