The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care.
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Caring for a horse is no easy task and, more often than not, it requires the patience and care of someone who is dedicated to making sure that their horses live the best lives that they can.
Horses are known for having extremely sensitive digestive systems and because of this, you need to be very mindful of what you feed them.
For the most part, most people are aware that horses are herbivores but most people may not be fully aware of just how delicate a horse’s diet needs to be. Horses have very long, but very sensitive, digestive systems, which means that they need to eat frequently but they cannot eat much when they do eat.
This is one of the main reasons why it is so important for horses to have an ample amount of hay and fresh grass to eat; they can eat the small amounts that their digestive systems can handle but there is enough of it that they can graze frequently.
With that being said, there are times when you may want to give your horse a treat but you may not know what kind of vegetables you can feed a horse safely.
This might lead you to think about the various kinds of vegetables you could feed your horse as a treat, with one of the most common vegetables that is easy for people to obtain is broccoli. Can your horse safely eat broccoli and, if it can, how much can it eat?
Horses and Cruciferous Vegetables
As a whole, you should not feed your horse cruciferous vegetables in the first place. Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts, and any other vegetable within the cabbage family.
You might notice that some people develop gastrointestinal distress after eating a cabbage-heavy meal, right? The idea is quite similar with horses. Cruciferous vegetables contain certain compounds that are very hard for most digestive systems to handle.
Because of this, they produce a lot of gas within the intestines. For people, this will come across as a gassy and bloated evening, which is uncomfortable, but far less dangerous than how it is for horses.
Intestinal gas in horses is a severe and dangerous problem and can lead to pain, discomfort, and distress in your horse if you are not careful. This will lead to a problem known as equine colic, and if you are not careful about how much broccoli (or any other cruciferous vegetable your horse may get into) your horse has eaten, it can cause lasting damage to your horse.
Horses and Colic
Colic, when referring to horses, is a broad term that is used to describe gastrointestinal distress in horses and there are many different causes and types of colic out there.
There is a form of colic, known as gas colic, that refers to when the intestines and stomach become distended because of the amount of gas buildup in them. This is what eating broccoli can do to your horse.
Your horse’s digestive system is long and sensitive, which means that when there is a gas buildup, the gas will not have much of anywhere to go. It will end up causing the gut to expand and distend.
To your horse, this will be considerably painful and discomforting, and will occasionally need a vet’s assistance to physically relieve the pressure that the gas is putting on the horse’s digestive system.
Signs of colic in horses are very different than that in people; in humans, it is mostly seen in babies being particularly fussy. In horses, colic can come across in the form of pawing the ground, rolling around, being bloated, sweating more than usual, a general distress and uneasiness, and abnormal gut sounds.
If you suspect that your horse may have gotten into some broccoli, you should make sure to stay on the lookout for signs of colic in your horse so that you can get in touch with the vet as soon as possible so that you can help your horse feel okay again.
Typically, a single leaf or floret isn’t going to cause significant colic in horses but feeding enough broccoli that would be considered a “treat” can absolutely cause this kind of distress.
Preventing Horses from Eating Broccoli
Unless you have a garden with broccoli in it that your horse would have access to, it is pretty easy to keep your horse away from broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables. All you really have to do is make sure that you do not feed these vegetables to your horse and that your horse doesn’t have an opportunity to eat them.
A mistaken leaf or tiny amount of broccoli is not enough to cause significant distress in most horses, aside from cases where your horse is actually allergic to broccoli, so if a tiny miniscule amount gets into your horse’s feed or into a place where your horse could eat it, then you don’t have to worry too much.
It’s cases where your horse eats a noticeable amount of broccoli that you will have to take some time and observe your horse for signs of colic.
If you begin to notice those signs of colic in your horse, you should then contact your vet. A vet is the only person who is equipped with the materials and the expertise needed to relieve a horse of its colic, and you should never try to relieve a horse on your own unless you know exactly what you are doing.
Aside from this, you don’t have to pay too much thought to the idea of your horse eating broccoli aside from simply making sure that your horse does not have access to it and that everyone in your family knows not to feed the horse broccoli, even if they are offering it as a well-meaning treat.
There are many other treats that are far better for horses.
A Horse’s Natural Diet
Speaking of what you should be feeding your horse, you may want to make sure that your horse has everything it needs to be happy and healthy. There are a few ways to do this.
First things first; you will want to make sure that your horse has a natural diet that works with the horse’s special and sensitive digestive system. As mentioned above, a horse’s diet should consist predominantly of horse feed, hay, and natural grass that the horse has free access to graze on.
At an absolute minimum, 50% of your horse’s diet should consist of forage, or natural grass and hay that your horse can enjoy whenever it pleases and at its own pace. This is going to make up the bulk of what your horse enjoys throughout its days.
You should make sure that the grass your horse has access to is fresh and clean, and not something akin to discarded lawn clippings.
Your horse should also have some grain feed, and the amount that it eats will be dependent on the amount of work that your horse does. Horses that do more work will need to have more grain feed in their diet so that they can keep up with the demands on a nutritional level.
Horses that do next to no work, or no work at all, don’t necessarily need grains in their diet, although you can still feed them as a supplement or a topper to their food.
Horses that do light or medium work should have a small amount of grain in their diet, typically about one to two pounds of grain per hour of work, with horses that work all day having about two and a half pounds of grain per hour of work done.
This type of diet will help your horse stay healthy and happy. Keep in mind that because most commercial feeds will have supplemental nutrients and vitamins in them, you may want to make sure to supplement anything that your horse may be lacking if you are making your own feed for your horse.
Horses and Treats
Everyone loves to give their pets treats, no matter if the pet is a working animal such as a horse on the farm or simply just an equine companion. Because of a horse’s special digestive system, you will need to be mindful of what you feed it as a treat, but in general, your horse will appreciate the occasional treat from you.
Treats for horses will often come across as a list of everything a finicky child won’t eat. These treats can include peas, green beans, squash, beets, celery, pumpkin, cucumbers, and so on.
Always make sure to test your horse’s reaction to new vegetables before adding it to your horse’s meals or regular treats simply to make sure that your horse doesn’t have an intolerance or allergy to the new food. Some horses may react badly to certain types of foods, even if they are supposedly safe for horses.
Some horses will even take quite the liking to dried vegetables as well, especially beans and chips (as long as the chips aren’t too heavily salted).
Horses enjoy their treats and feeding them to your horse can quickly become an enjoyable bonding session to help your horse appreciate you more and you to appreciate your horse even more than you already do.