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Home > Horses > What Do Horses Eat in the Wild and as Pets? Diet & Health Facts

What Do Horses Eat in the Wild and as Pets? Diet & Health Facts

three horses eating

If you’ve always loved horses, you’ve probably wondered what they eat in the wild compared to what you should feed a horse as a pet.

The natural diet for wild and pet horses alike consists of tender plants and pasture grass. Wild horses like to roam wherever they can find plenty of grass and plants. Pet horses, of course, have more leeway when it comes to what they can find to eat. However, all horses have particular dietary needs because they are herbivores.

Due to their long digestive tracts, horses need a high-fiber diet and multiple small meals a day instead of the large meals a few times a day that we eat as humans. In fact, you’ll find that when you look after a pet horse, they might spend most of their time eating.

So, what exactly do pet horses usually eat? How does it differ from horses that roam free? Read on to find out!

new horse shoe divider

Tender Plants and Pasture Grass

The combination of plants and pasture grass 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 their health and well-being.

horse eating grass
Image Credit: Qwas, Pixabay


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 high-quality and rich hay, which can sometimes be tricky to find. If possible, have the hay tested so you know if it lacks the nutrients that 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 some horses’ time at the feeding trough.


Sometimes none of these 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 also feed your pet horse small amounts of corn. However, some grains like wheat aren’t good for your horse.

The grains that 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 them grains, and since grains don’t require chewing and don’t contain silica, they can cause ulcers and dental problems. It’s best to only give your horse a small number of grains at a time if that’s possible.

Image 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 with grain, concentrate mixes should be used just to give your horse a boost of minerals and nutrients in addition to their 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, are 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 lick it themselves whenever they have a craving. Many horse owners find that their horses consume more salt during the hot summer months than during winter.

Image Credit: Rupert Kittinger-Sereinig, Pixabay


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 fruit. The occasional apple, carrot, or sugar cube is fine. You just don’t want to go overboard with the practice of giving treats to your horse.


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 too.

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. Plants like 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.

Also, refrain from throwing away lawn and garden clippings or compostables where your horse can get to them, as these can contain plants that might be toxic to your pet.



Remember, it’s important not to overfeed your pet horse, as it can lead to health issues. If you feel that your horse is becoming obese or if you aren’t sure that you’re feeding them properly, contact your vet for an appointment to talk about your horse’s dietary needs.

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Featured Image Credit: Alexas_Fotos, Pixabay

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