My Horse Will Eat/Drink...

Although numerous books on equine nutrition list forages and concentrates as the primary food items for horses to eat, they don't usually mention the "human" foods horses also like to consume. Even though horses are primarily forage eaters, many also seem to like candy, soft drinks, potato chips, and even meat.

Yet the more important question to ask is if these human foods are safe for horses to eat. "Feeding practices around the world differ, and horses in other countries are commonly fed things that average American horse owners would never consider offering to their horses," says Sarah Ralston, VMD, PhD, Dipl. ACVN, associate professor in the department of animal science at Rutgers University. "For example, European horses are routinely fed silage, horses in Saudi Arabia happily munch on dried fava beans, and Irish horses are offered a weekly pint of ale or stout."

According to the following passage from Loudon's Encyclopedia of Agriculture in the 1907 text Diseases of the Horse, "In Arabia, because of the climate etc., horses are forced to subsist on milk, flesh balls, eggs, and broth from sheep's head."

Many readers of The Horse participated in a poll on when we asked about the strangest food people's horses had ever eaten. According to Ralston, "With domestication, confinement, and modern technology, we are often confronted with horses that consume some really 'odd' things with apparent relish." The following are those food items (and non-food items) you said your horses have dined on.


The thought of horses eating meat can seem unappetizing at first, but when you consider that horses consume bugs and even small rodents when grazing outside, it is not hard to imagine a horse chowing down on a burger. Ralston says, "Hot dog- and meat-eating horses are not uncommon. If the meat is safe for human consumption, it probably would not hurt a horse."

Machteld van Dierendonck, a biologist in the Netherlands, has said, "In Iceland in the winter, where horses are kept mostly at pasture with hay supplement, it is traditional for farmers to place salted herring in big plastic barrels out in the pastures. It's pretty funny when you see a horse take a whole fish at once, and you see the tail extending out through the lips as the head and body are chewed. You can hear the bones crush in their mouths. Afterwards, you see them licking their lips excessively. It is claimed the fish provide salt, as well as vitamins A and D and selenium, which are reportedly deficient in the native hay and silage."

Commercial horse feeds might contain fish meals made from cod and haddock, which consist of ground whole fish or parts that have been cooked and dried. Fish meal is high in protein, lysine, minerals, and B-vitamins.

Some of the foods the meat-eating horses owned by The Horse readers reportedly like include:

  • Brat on a bun with mustard
  • Bacon
  • Beef jerky
  • BBQ and sauce
  • Beef stew
  • Chicken McNuggets
  • Chicken noodle soup
  • Chicken salad
  • Coconut shrimp
  • Crawfish
  • Fried catfish
  • Fried chicken
  • Ham sandwich
  • Hamburgers
  • Hot dog
  • Meat pizza
  • Cheeseburgers
  • Pork pie
  • Tuna fish
  • BBQ chicken
  • Bologna
  • Scallop tacos
  • Shredded beef tacos
  • Italian beef sandwiches
  • Anchovies on toast
  • Sausage and mustard


Brewer's grains and yeast and distiller's grains are by-products of the alcohol-making industry, and are the remnants of the grains used in the fermentation process to make alcohol. When the alcohol is removed from the grains and they are dried, they become a useful and inexpensive protein supplement for horses. The grains are high in fiber and often mixed in with complete pelleted feeds for horses.

However, for those who choose to indulge before the alcohol is removed and offer your equine companion a nightcap after a tough day, just make sure he doesn't take to the road or show ring (where the alcohol might potentially show up in a drug test), or else you might have some legal bills on your hand if he fails his field sobriety test. In fact, Laurie Lawrence, PhD, professor of equine science at the University of Kentucky, says, "I am confident that enough alcohol would affect horses like people (except they probably don't become loud drunks)." She believes that the amount of alcohol would be relative to body size, and that a horse's blood alcohol content would be affected much like a human, as a percentage of its body weight.

Some alcoholic beverages The Horse reader's horses enjoy include:

  • Whole pitcher of beer
  • Bloody Mary
  • Champagne
  • Scotch
  • Cranberry cognac drink
  • Margarita
  • Beer
  • Wine cooler
  • Pina colada
  • Yukon Jack and Mt. Dew
  • Hot Damn schnapps
  • Jack Daniels and coke
  • Merlot
  • Pint of Guinness
  • White Russians
  • Captain Morgan and Coke


Grazing horses consume many bugs and animal parts as they meander across their pasture during the day. One major concern is that the insects could be contaminated with bacteria or toxins (such as rodents who have eaten D-con), which could potentially cause problems in the horse. Although it might be unappetizing to think that your horse eats dead animals and insects, they can be a good source of protein.

Some of Nature's creatures consumed by readers' horses include:

  • Dead bird, including bones and feathers
  • Mouse
  • Another horse's tail
  • Bird
  • Goldfish from horse tank
  • Snake
  • Cockroach
  • Caterpillar

Fruit and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables seem to be reasonable foods for your horse. However, some can be extremely hazardous. Avocado leaves should not be eaten in large quantities. Cabbage, broccoli, kale, chard, collard greens, brussel sprouts, spinach, rhubarb stems, turnips, and radishes are safe when fed in small amounts (two to four ounces per day). Toxicity can occur with rhubarb leaves and roots, tomato and potato plants, and the pits of peaches, cherries, or avocados. According to Lawrence, "Too much of a high-starch vegetable, such as corn and potatoes, could lead to a starch overload of the gastrointestinal tract, just like when a horse ingests too much grain."

Some fruits and vegetables enjoyed by The Horse readers' horses include:

  • Bucket of fresh picked berries
  • Blackberries (carefully picked by the horse himself)
  • Bananas
  • Banana peel
  • Frozen bananas
  • Whole oranges
  • Jalapeno peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Apricots
  • Apples and carrots soaked in apple cider vinegar
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Watermelon
  • Cherries
  • Tomatoes
  • Potato salad
  • Cantaloupe
  • Carrots dipped in honey
  • Pickles
  • Lemons
  • Potatoes
  • Melon
  • Mango
  • Tomato soup
  • Zucchini
  • Grapes
  • Garlic cloves
  • Clementines
  • Watermelon rinds


Soda and other sweet drinks are always interesting to watch a horse slurp down, especially if your equine is talented enough to use the straw. Again, these drinks are safe in small quantities, but sugary ones should be limited, and those planning on showing need to stay away from caffeinated drinks, such as sodas, coffee, and teas, which might contain herbs that could cause a positive drug test.

Beverages of the non-alcoholic kind enjoyed by The Horse readers' horses include:

  • Pepsi
  • Apple juice
  • Mountain Dew
  • Gatorade
  • Cappuccino
  • Caffeine-free Diet Coke
  • Coffee with cream and sugar
  • Iced tea
  • Root beer
  • Coca Cola
  • Coke Slurpee
  • Diet Coke
  • Dr. Pepper
  • Dunkin' Donuts Dunkaccino
  • Ginger ale
  • Orangina
  • Frappés
  • Hot chocolate
  • Lemonade
  • Snapple
  • Sunkist
  • Fruit juice through a straw
  • Hot tea
  • Water from hose

Dairy Products

Just as meat consumption in horses is not uncommon, so is eating dairy products. Some horse feeds even contain dairy products. Dehydrated skim milk is the most commonly used animal-source protein supplement fed to horses. Dried whole milk, dried whey, cheese rind, and dried buttermilk might also be made into milk replacers or creep feeds for youngsters that still need milk for their growing bodies.

Dairy products are safe for mature horses to consume in small quantities, but large amounts of lactose can lead to diarrhea because of the lack of the digestive enzyme lactase in mature horses, which is needed for lactose digestion and absorption.

Some of the dairy products consumed by The Horse readers' horses include:

  • Cheese
  • Creamsicle and a hot fudge sundae
  • Frozen yogurt
  • Yogurt
  • Ice cream
  • Chocolate milk
  • Ice cream sandwiches and an ice cream cake

Human Snack Foods

Whether your horse only has a palate fit for meals prepared by Emeril himself or is a junk food fan, it is important to consider what ingredients are in the couture cuisine in which he indulges. Foods that should be fed in limited quantities, according to Ralston, are sunflower seeds and sugar candies such as jellybeans, gummy bears, and peppermints. "Cushingoid horses should not be given high-sugar or -starch feed such as donuts or sugar cubes," warns Ralston.

She continues, "Hot pepper and chili flavored products will cause positive drug tests, as will cinnamon, nutmeg, licorice, and chocolate in any form." Thus, you should watch what your horse eats the night before competition.

Readers of The Horse said their horses have eaten:

  • Oreos
  • Blueberry Snackwells
  • Cake
  • Cheetos
  • Chili cheese fries
  • Blackberry and blueberry pie
  • Potato chips
  • Lemon dessert bars
  • Doritos
  • Pretzels
  • Oatmeal cream pies
  • Popsicles
  • Lemon shakes
  • Cookies
  • Peanut butter
  • Chex mix
  • Rice Krispies squares
  • French fries
  • Popcorn
  • Twinkies
  • Mints
  • Sour Patch Kids
  • Tic Tacs
  • Skittles
  • Sweet Tarts
  • Sour gummy worms
  • Trail mix
  • Hot Tamales
  • M&Ms
  • Green apple licorice
  • Jellybeans
  • Red hot jawbreakers
  • Gummy bears
  • Marshmallows
  • Molasses
  • Peanuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Chili
  • Red hot chili pods
  • Mexican food
  • Spaghetti, garlic bread, pesto
  • Pizza
  • Peanut butter and bananas
  • Peanut butter and jelly
  • Vegetable curry puff
  • Bagels
  • Banana nut muffins
  • Blueberry cake doughnuts
  • Pancakes
  • Blueberry muffins
  • Breakfast rolls
  • Cereal bars
  • Cheerios
  • Cheese Danish
  • Cocoa Puffs
  • Croissants
  • Donuts
  • Frosted Mini Wheats
  • Pop-Tarts
  • Chex cereal

Pet Food

Some pet food resembles horse feed, such as extruded feed or pellets, and it is safe to eat, says Ralston. However, some pet foods can cause a positive drug test. Notes Ralston, "Some dog and cat foods contain bakery waste as an ingredient, which may in turn contain chocolate."

The Horse's readers commented on some of the pet food their horses have eaten:

  • 20 lbs. of cat food
  • Dog biscuits
  • Dog food
  • Turtle food and fish food

Non-Edible Items

Keeping your barn safe for your horses means making sure fence boards are on tight, nails aren't protruding from stall boards, hoses are safely coiled, and machinery is put away to keep your horse from getting limbs and hide snagged on it. A truly safe barn also keeps lids on trash cans and clutter out of the way so curious horses aren't tempted to taste whatever is left out. Not only can horses become very sick from eating theoretically inedible items, but you might also end up with a very large veterinary bill when the item needs to be removed from your horse's intestinal tract.

If your horse does ingest something hazardous, The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has a 24-hour animal poison control hotline open for the public at 888/426-4435.

Some of the items The Horse readers say their horses have consumed include:

  • The Horse magazine
  • Wedding ring
  • Bread wrapper
  • Cigarettes (eaten, not smoked)
  • Chlorine tablet
  • Crushed limestone
  • Dirt
  • Thistles
  • Entire sapling pine tree (horse died of a punctured gut)
  • Fake leaf/flower
  • Feathers
  • Paint
  • Human hair off head
  • Fingers
  • 10% bleach water
  • Carrots, bag and all
  • Light bulb
  • Motor oil
  • Orange-flavored Metamucil
  • Tractor tires
  • Paper clips
  • Sock
  • Wild pot plants
  • Snotty Kleenex
  • Marker tape on electric fence
  • Vaseline
  • Plastic drinking straw
  • Milk jug lid
  • Rubber coating of broom handle
  • Rubber glove and a syringe
  • Sponge
  • Lead rope
  • Baling twine
  • Surveyor's tape
  • Blade from a disposable razor
  • Broomstick
  • Foil on yogurt cup
  • Clothes
  • Shavings
  • Hair clip
  • Halter
  • Seed corn
  • Paper tray
  • Tractor
  • Plastic streamers
  • Porcupine needles
  • Plastic Wal-Mart bag

The Doggie Bag

When deciding if a treat is safe for your horse, Ralston leaves us with these words of advice: "If we can eat it, most horses can eat it in relatively small amounts--less than one pound per day." Always use common sense when feeding your horses treats, because if you wouldn't want to eat it, then they probably shouldn't either.

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