There are hundreds of horse treats out there to choose from, but many commercial products just aren’t good for him. Here are some tips to keep in mind when searching for or making the perfect treats for your horse.

I learned to ride not long after I learned to walk, and one of my most treasured memories is of my father scooping me up to give out horse treats when we got back to the barn. It may have been a freshly cut apple, or a big orange carrot, and sometimes my father would reach into his jacket and pull out a sugar cube or even a roll of peppermints.

Times have sure changed. Now, there are well over 50 companies in the United States alone that produce commercial horse treats! With so many to choose from, how do you know what is best for your horse? We can learn how to select the best treats by following a few important steps.


1.Read the labels before you buy, and identify all ingredients. If you can’t pronounce it, don’t buy it!

2.Know the source of all ingredients when purchasing commercial treats. Look for “Made in Canada” or “Made in the USA”.

3.Say no to chemicals and preservatives. If you see BHA or BHT, put the treats back on the shelf, and look instead for products that use vitamin E as a preservative.

4.Monitor horse feed recalls. They don’t happen often, but they do — and if it can happen to a feed product, it can happen to horse treats too, just as with dogs and cats. An example is the monensin sodium recently found in a 14% equine feed. This is a potentially fatal drug for horses that is often found in cattle feeds. The Western College of Veterinary Medicine receives at least one call about monensin poisoning nearly every month.

5.Be aware that there are some things horses simply can’t have, like chocolate. Just like our canine companions, horses are sensitive to theobromine. Stay away from regular milk products as well, because lactose intolerance can lead to loose stools and even diarrhea.

6.Choose to treat your horse with whole foods, like apple slices and carrot chunks, or get more adventurous with pitted apricots, bananas, melon, squash, sweet potatoes, and even roasted peanuts.

7.Remember that some horses have special needs. If your horse has been diagnosed with insulin resistance or Cushing’s, choose treats with a low sugar and starch content. Try an alfalfa cube or apple peels, or even watermelon rinds. If you are making your own treats, it is easy to choose hemp or chia over whole cereal grains, and go for the sweetness of cinnamon instead of sugar.

8.Monitor horse treats for herbs, because some herbs can change substance test results for competitive horses. In 2010, the USEF (United States Equestrian Federation) stated: “Trainers, owners, exhibitors are cautioned against the use of medicinal preparations, tonics, pastes, powders, and products of any kind, including those used topically, the ingredients and quantitative analysis of which are not specifically known, as they might contain a forbidden substance. This is especially true of those containing plant ingredients. The plant origin of any ingredient does not preclude its containing a pharmacologically potent and readily detectable forbidden substance.”

9.Maintain the 10% rule for treats. Horse treats aren’t a replacement for a balanced diet, so don’t overfeed them!

10.And the best tip — make horse treats yourself (see below)! There is nothing better than homemade treats filled with ingredients you could feed to any member of your family.

Treating your horse is easy — he doesn’t even need commercial treats. Whole foods like apples and carrots will do just fine! However, if you do want to purchase treats, be sure to follow the tips above. Or just make your own — it’s easy and fun, and you’ll know exactly what is going into your horse’s treat bag!

Suzi Beber has been successfully creating special needs diets for companion animals for over two decades. She is the founder of the University of Guelph’s Smiling Blue Skies® Cancer Fund and Smiling Blue Skies® Fund for Innovative Research, and is the proud recipient of a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. She was also was honored with the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, for her work in cancer, from the University of Guelph/Ontario Veterinary College.