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What Do Horses Eat in the Wild and as Pets?

Oliver Jones

If you’ve always loved horses and have finally decided it’s time to adopt one of your very own, you’ve probably wondered what those same horses eat in the wild compared to what you should feed your horse as a pet.

Wild horses like to roam wherever they can find plenty of grass and plants. Pet horses, of course, have a little more leeway when it comes to what they can find to eat. However, all horses have particular dietary needs because they are herbivores.

Because of their super long digestive tracts, horses need a high fiber diet and need to eat many small meals a day instead of the large meals a few times a day we eat as humans. In fact, you’ll find when you look after your pet horse that he might spend most of his time eating. But, what do horses usually eat? And how does it differ from horses that roam free? Read on below to find out.

new horse shoe divider

Tender Plants and Pasture Grass

The natural diet for both wild and pet horses is tender plants and pasture grass. This combination gives the horses the nutrients they need to stay healthy. This type of natural horse food also contains silica, something that horses need for good dental health.

Wild horses have to live on what they can find, which is why diseases like obesity, laminitis, equine metabolic syndrome, and other issues aren’t present in wild horses the same way they are in pet horses. That’s also why it’s essential to limit the number of lush pasture visits your pet horse makes for his health and well-being.

horse eating grass
Image Credit: Qwas, Pixabay

Hay

According to the climate you live in, you might not have the luxury of putting your horse in a lush pasture to feed off tender plants and grass. In these instances, hay is a great substitute. However, you do want to let your horse feed in a pasture as often as you can.

When feeding hay to your horse,  you need to be careful to purchase only the high-quality and rich hay, which can sometimes be tricky to find. If possible, have the hay tested so that you know if it lacks the nutrients your pet horse requires to be healthy. You can also run into the same problems with rich hay as you do with pasture grass, so it’s better to limit their time at the feeding trough with some pet horses.

Grain

Sometimes none of the above foods are easy to come by or readily available, so grains are your next option. Oats are the most common horse grain, but you can feed your pet horse small amounts of grains such as corn as well. There are, however, some grains like wheat that aren’t good for your horse.

However, the grains you can buy in the feed store aren’t natural foods for horses, so you have to be careful how much you feed your horse. Horses in the wild, of course, don’t get these grains. It’s easy to overfeed your horse when you’re giving him grains, and since grains don’t require chewing and don’t contain silica, they can cause ulcers and dental problems in your horse. It’s best to only give your horse a small number of grains at a time if that’s possible.

horse-eating-corn_maddas_shutterstock
Credit: Maddas, Shutterstock

Concentrate Mixes

A concentrate mix can be made up of a number of different things. Some include beet pulp, grains, flaxseed, vitamins, minerals, molasses, and other ingredients as well. As with grain, concentrate mixes should be used just to give your horse that added boost of minerals and nutrients he’s getting from his regular food. Concentrates are also a way to give your horse a quick burst of energy when needed.

Minerals and Salts

Supplements to give your horse, such as minerals and salts, can be gotten in some concentrate mixes or purchased on their own. Placing a salt block or salt in a stall or pasture is an excellent way to let the horse eat them himself when he has a craving. Many horse owners find that their horses consume more salt during the hot summer months than during the winter.

salt
Image Credit: Rupert Kittinger-Sereinig, Pixabay

Treats

Many owners of pet horses like to feed them treats on occasion, and of course, the horses love it. It’s best to avoid feeding your horse meat and a bunch of sugary treats, however, even a bunch of fruit. The occasional apple, carrot, or sugar cube is fine. You just don’t want to go overboard with the practice of giving your horse treats.

Water

While your horse doesn’t eat water, it still bears mentioning. You want to keep a trough of fresh, clean water available for your equine friend at all times, especially in the heat of the summer months. This is obviously an essential part of wild horses’ diets as well.

two horses drinking water
Image Credit: Emilian Robert Vicol, Pixabay

Toxic Plants to Avoid

Just as with any animal, there are things that are toxic to your pet horse as well. Plants such as bran, including wheat and rice bran, are not recommended to add as a major part of your horse’s diet, as they can cause mineral imbalances to occur.

Refrain from throwing lawn and garden clippings or compostables where your horse can get to them as well, as they can contain plants that might be toxic to your pet horse.

This concludes our guide on what horses eat in the wild and what you should feed them as your pet. Remember, it’s important not to overfeed your pet horse as it can lead to health issues. If you feel your horse is becoming obese or aren’t sure if you’re feeding him properly, contact your vet for an appointment and health with your horse’s dietary needs.


Featured Image Credit: Alexas_Fotos, Pixabay

Oliver Jones

Oliver (Ollie) Jones - A zoologist and freelance writer living in South Australia with his partner Alex, their dog Pepper, and their cat Steve (who declined to be pictured). Ollie, originally from the USA, holds his master's degree in wildlife biology and moved to Australia to pursue his career and passion but has found a new love for working online and writing about animals of all types.