“Treating” Your Horse Right: Sweet Treat Recipes & Tips

By Deb M. Eldredge, DVM

Most horse owners love to feed their horses treats. After all, it’s a great way to reward your horse and tell him that he’s appreciated. Feeding your horse treats not only rewards good behavior, but can also help in teaching your horse new things – See “Click” with your Horse: The Basics on Clicker Training. Learn how to make your own delicious treats for your horse, but remember to follow a few simple treat-giving guidelines.

 

Woman with Horse

Gimme, Gimme, Gimme!

Although treat giving is fun, there are some caveats to feeding too many treats. Some horses will get nippy if they’re hand-fed treats or will try to mug you if they know you keep treats in your pocket. For these horses, you should simply put the treat into their feed tubs. They still get to enjoy the tasty morsel and you get to keep all your fingers! When offering a treat by hand, follow the age-old advice about holding your hand with your palm up and flat (with the exception of carrots; they can be held by the end as you offer it).

Don’t Call Me Sugar

Before feeding your horse treats, be cognizant if he has any health concerns that may restrict sugar intake. For horses with these types of dietary concerns, you need to avoid treats with sugar, molasses and other sweeteners (no sugar cube habit!). Treats with a beet pulp base are a good alternative, or giving him an extra handful of alfalfa pellets or small hay cubes can make your horse feel that he’s getting something special and still encourages the bonding process.

Horse getting fed an apple

Going All Natural

Horses love natural treats, such as fruits and some vegetables. Apples and carrots are probably the most common natural treat given and are traditional horse favorites. Depending on your horse’s taste and texture preferences, you may also try pears, oranges or bananas, which are commonly fed to horses as well. Slicing them up will make your horse feel like he’s getting more of this special treat, as well as keeping him from choking. Never feed your horse fruit with pits, such as peaches, unless you slice them up and remove the pits. Steer clear of choking hazards! Some horses also enjoy watermelon, pumpkin and a variety of squash. Try smashing them open in the pasture; your horses will come to investigate and snack. Carrot tops and corn husks (free of herbicide sprays) can also be fed to horses as treats.


Baby, it’s Cold Outside

On a cold winter day, a warm treat will be most appreciated by your horse. Most horses will be excited to receive a warm bran mash, possibly with some unsweetened applesauce mixed in, or you can soak some beet pulp in warm water. If your horse is reluctant to try the beet pulp at first, try adding a few carrot or apple slices to peak his interest.

Mother slicing apples with daughters

Made with Love

Instead of store-bought treats, you can always try baking some homemade goodies. This can be a fun activity for the entire family and a way to show your horse how much you love him. You can stick to the recipes your horse likes, try new published recipes or even experiment with different ingredient combinations that you know your horse will like. Here are a few recipes to get you started. Just remember that some of these recipes may not be appropriate for horses with sugar sensitivity.


Recipe #1: Sweet Apple Slices
Ingredients:
2-3 apples (cut into thin slices)
1 cup molasses
1 cup rolled oats

Directions: Dip the apple slices into the bowl of molasses, then cover each slice in the bowl of rolled oats. Chill in the refrigerator so they harden and are less messy. Best fed directly in your horse’s feed tub due to their potentially sticky nature.

Recipe #2: Baked Carrot Crisp Horse Treats (provided by Saratoga Stalls)
Ingredients:
2 carrots, shredded
1 ½ apples, shredded
1/3 cup molasses
¾ cup flour
½ cup water
¾ cup bran
¾ cup oatmeal

Directions: Preheat your oven to 400°. Generously grease the muffin tin. Mix carrots and apples into a bowl with the molasses, bran, water, flour and oatmeal. The mixture should have a thick and doughy consistency, if not, more bran can be added. Scoop the dough into the muffin tin holes and bake for 30 to 50 minutes, or until well cooked.

Recipe #3: Pumpkin Oatmeal Horse Cookies (provided by Saratoga Stalls)
Ingredients:
4 cups whole oats
1 can pumpkin
2 cups water
2 tsp baking powder
1 ¾ cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
1 tbsp honey or molasses (optional)

Directions: Preheat your oven to 350°. Mix the pumpkin and water together well. Add the baking powder, flour, oats, spices and optional honey or molasses ingredients. Drop spoonfuls of the mixture onto a greased cookie sheet. Add a peppermint to each scoop if your horse can have them. Bake at 350° for about 20 minutes.
NOTE: this recipe should be OK to feed your sugar-challenged horse if you eliminate the honey or molasses

Recipe #4: Frozen Banana Mash (provided by Saratoga Stalls)
Ingredients:
4 chopped frozen bananas (no need to peel)
4 cups shredded carrots
2 cups grain
2 cups oatmeal
1 cup honey (optional)
Ice

Directions: Chop the bananas and freeze for at least 1 hour. Shred the carrots and mix all ingredients in a bowl for another round of freezing. Divide into small frozen treats and store them in plastic containers. Pry the frozen treats from the bowl and offer to your horse on a warm day. This treat can be served frozen or thawed. If you feed the thawed version, it can be a good delivery system for medication.

With some imagination, you may be able to come up with some more recipes that include your horse’s favorite ingredients.

Equine Health