What You Should Know Before Feeding Apples to a Horse
If you ask someone, horse person or not, what a horse’s favorite treat is, many will likely say “apple.” Along with carrots, apples seem to be the gold standard when it comes to horse treats. You may assume it is safe to feed a bushel of apples to a horse, but does that mean it’s true?
Can horses eat apples? Yes, apples are a favorite treat among horses, and they offer beneficial vitamins and minerals that your horse can benefit from. But as is the case with every treat, moderation is key. A horse shouldn’t be eating more than a couple of apples per week, and care should be taken to feed them safely so as not to present a choking hazard.
Keep reading to learn more about the benefits apples provide to horses, why some horses should not be given apples, and how to safely feed them.
How Often Should Horses Eat Apples?
A healthy adult human would be wise to eat an apple a day; humans require a varied diet high in numerous different fruits and vegetables. On the other hand, horses have a vastly different anatomy than we do and require a diet consisting mostly of grass or hay. An apple is not a normal part of a horse’s diet and is therefore considered to be a treat.
While some people will say that a horse can eat an apple every day without issue, in my experience, it is wise to limit sugary treats even further than that. I would not feed a horse an apple more than two to three times per week. Apples are high in natural sugars, which can upset a horse’s digestive system in excess.
In addition to the nutrition aspect, some horses can become mouthy when offered treats daily. When I first learned to ride, the stables I visited had many horses, and many riders. They were frequently given treats, and though they were fed safely and from a bucket, a few of them started to become pushy and demanding. These types of behavior can become dangerous to a human, especially a young one.
How Can Apples Benefit The Health Of Horses?
As far as treats go, you could do a lot worse than apples. Apples are high in multiple vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that our bodies need to thrive. Three of those nutrients that will benefit your horse are:
- Fiber: getting enough fiber is vital to the health of every mammal. Fiber not only improves digestive health, but it also aids in the control of blood sugar levels, healthy cholesterol levels, and weight management.
- Vitamin C: famous for its infection-fighting abilities, vitamin C is also integral to the function and development of blood vessels, muscles, collagen, and cartilage.
- Antioxidants: antioxidants help to protect the body from free radical damage, which can include inflammation and diseases, including cancers.
When You Shouldn’t Feed Your Horse Apples
While most healthy horses will appreciate apples in moderation, some health conditions should prevent your horse from eating apples.
If your horse is overweight, they shouldn’t be eating apples. Apples are high in natural sugars; while this isn’t a problem for a horse that is at a healthy weight, it can undermine efforts to get an overweight horse back to a healthy weight. Obesity causes numerous problems in horses, including laminitis, joint problems, insulin resistance, hoof problems, and muscle strain. Horses, especially those used for riding, suffer from the effects of obesity more so than many other animals.
You should proceed with caution if considering feeding apples to a horse with Cushing’s Disease. Because these horses can have problems with insulin resistance and blood sugar regulation, they should not eat foods high in starch or sugars, including apples, carrots, and even rich pasture.
How To Feed Apples To A Horse
While some people feed their horses whole apples without issue, I always cut them up to prevent them from becoming choking hazards. I like to cut my apples into bite-size pieces or strips before feeding them; you can feed these bites to your horse either from the palm of your hand with your fingers stretched back and together to avoid your horse confusing them for apple slices, or you can feed the apples from a bucket or pan.
Cutting your apples into bite-size pieces is not the only way to feed apples to your horse. If you’ve just baked a pie, or you have a child who will only eat “peeled apples,” you can offer those peelings to your horse instead of throwing them away or into the compost pile. You can also find several recipes online for baked apple treats using horse-safe ingredients, including muffins, “cookies.” and pancakes – just omit any added sugars.
If you have an older horse who can no longer safely chew bites of apple, you can either shred the apple using a food processor or cheese grater, puree it, or boil or bake apple slices until soft – just make sure they are completely cooled before offering them to your horse.
Don’t feed someone else’s horse without permission
This may seem obvious, but it happens too often. You should never feed someone else’s horses (or pigs, or dogs, etc) without first getting permission. You won’t know whether or not someone else’s animal has a health condition, special dietary restrictions, is on a weight maintenance regimen, or has already had ten apples that day. Aside from these reasons, there are many others that may lead to someone wanting to keep treats, or apples in particular, away from their horse.
One should never feed another’s horse without permission. This includes a neighbor’s horse (even one that you know well), a fellow boarder’s horse, your lesson horse, or the horse that you are leasing from someone else. Unless you are directly responsible for the health of a particular horse, you need to get permission before feeding treats.
Are Apple Seeds Harmful To Horses?
You may have heard that apple seeds contain cyanide, and they should not be eaten. This is not untrue; apple seeds contain a substance called amygdalin, which turns into hydrogen cyanide when it is crushed or chewed and then metabolized. While this sounds concerning, you have to eat a lot of apple seeds to see any effect of poisoning, and your horse has to eat even more.
The average apple contains less than 20 seeds at the core, and a 200-pound adult human would need to eat between 250 and 300 apple seeds to experience serious effects from the hydrogen cyanide. If you feed an apple to your horse a few times a week, there is no reason to be concerned about the seeds.
Horses And Apple Orchards
One way to get the most out of your land is by planting an orchard on it. This can allow your land to serve multiple purposes if you are also using the area as pasture for your horse. Use caution though, if this is your plan. Keeping your horse in an orchard of any kind is generally advised against, though many ranchers do it without issue.
It is not only the fallen fruit that a horse can get into, but a horse can also reach the fruit in many of the lower branches. This can be like the proverbial kid in a candy shop, and whether or not your horse will be able to control himself will depend entirely on his individual personality.
Anecdotally, many keep their horses in orchards. Some say that their horses will ignore the fruit entirely, only eating it when picked by their humans. Others say that their horse will eat a few apples and will then move on to grazing. You can also, anecdotally, find many who say that their horses have not done well in orchards. They may overeat, consuming apple after apple while ignoring the grass. Or in more serious situations, they may overeat and colic.
Whether or not you want to try turning out your horse into an orchard is up to you. If you do decide to try it, keep a close eye on your horse, especially during harvest season.
Apples: Horse’s Favorite Treat
Apples are one of the horse treats, and almost all equines love them. As is the case with any treat, providing them in moderation is what’s important. You will want to limit your horse to only a few apples per week, for health reasons, and also for some horses, behavioral reasons. An apple for a horse is like a candy bar is to a child – it is perfectly acceptable (in most cases) to provide this treat in moderation, but it should not be a part of the child’s, or animal’s, healthy daily diet. After all, “treat” is defined as “an item that is out of the ordinary and gives great pleasure.”
Does peanut butter make a good snack for horses? To learn more, visit my article Can Horses Eat Peanut Butter? Read Before Trying.