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If you've got a horse or a passion for horse care, you know looking after them involves much more than just saddling up and hitting the trails. At the heart of their health and happiness is a horse’s diet. 

Horses are grazers by nature, thriving on good-quality hay and fresh pasture grass. Some might need extra energy from grains or pelleted feeds, while others rely on special supplements to meet their unique nutritional needs. 

Whether you're new to horse ownership or are keen to pursue a career in horse care, this article will walk you through what to feed a horse to keep them feeling their best.

Read moreYour Guide to Choosing the Right Horse Care Course Online

Horse’s Diet: What to Feed & What to Avoid  

Foods Horses CAN Eat

Foods Horses Should AVOID

Hay: Orchard, Timothy, Alfalfa

Chocolate: Contains theobromine, which is toxic

Grass: Fresh, well-maintained pasture

Avocado: Contains persin, which is harmful to horses

Grains: Oats, barley, corn

Caffeine: Found in coffee and tea, can cause colic

Vegetables: Carrots, celery, turnips

Onions & Garlic: Can cause hemolytic anaemia

Fruits: Apples, bananas, watermelon

Tomatoes: Contain solanine, harmful to horses

Treats: Peppermints, commercial horse treats

Bread & Bakery Products: Can cause digestive issues

Salt: Salt blocks or loose salt

Meat Products: Horses are herbivores and can't digest meat

Pellets & Concentrates: Commercially formulated pellets

Lawn Clippings: May contain toxic plants or chemicals

Mineral & Vitamin Supplements: Designed for horses

Mouldy or Dusty Feed: Can lead to respiratory and digestive problems

What Do Horses Eat?

Horses are grazers by nature, and their diet should reflect that. Here’s what they typically eat.

Forage (Hay and Grass)

  • Quality hay is the foundation of their diet if they can't graze. It’s rich in fibre and keeps their digestion ticking over nicely. Common choices include timothy, alfalfa, and orchard grass.
  • Fresh pasture grass is ideal if you have it available. Let them graze in a well-maintained field, and they’ll be happy campers.

Concentrates (Grains and Pellets)

  • Oats, barley, and corn can be good energy boosters, especially for active horses.
  • Commercial pellets often contain a blend of vitamins and minerals that can help round out a horse’s diet.


  • Salt blocks or specific vitamin and mineral supplements help fill any nutritional gaps.
  • Joint support, coat health, or digestive aids can sometimes be helpful too.


  • Horses love apples, carrots, and other horse-safe fruits and veggies in moderation.
  • There are plenty of horse treats out there with added nutrients or just for fun.

8 Common Feeding Mistake to Avoid

Feeding horses properly is crucial to their health. Here are some common feeding mistakes to avoid:

  1. Sudden Diet Changes: Horses have delicate digestive systems, so switching up their feed too quickly can cause colic or other tummy troubles. Make any changes gradually over a week or so.
  2. Overfeeding Grain: Too much grain can upset your horse's digestion and increase the risk of laminitis. Make sure your horse's grain portions are just right for their size and activity level.
  3. Insufficient Forage: Horses need plenty of fibre to stay healthy. Without enough hay or grass, they might end up with stomach ulcers or behavioural issues.
  4. Inadequate Fresh Water: Horses should always have clean, fresh water available. Dehydration can lead to colic and other health problems.
  5. Feeding on the Ground in Sandy Areas: If horses eat off sandy ground, they can end up swallowing sand, which can cause colic. Use feeders or mats to help avoid this.
  6. Ignoring Salt and Mineral Needs: Horses need free access to a salt block or loose salt. Not getting enough can lead to mineral deficiencies and health problems.
  7. Feeding Mouldy or Spoiled Feed: Old or mouldy hay and feed can cause serious respiratory and digestive issues. Always give your horse clean, fresh feed.
  8. Over-supplementing: Overdoing it on vitamins and minerals can be just as bad as not getting enough. Make sure supplements are really needed and suitable for your horse

Learn Equine Nutrition with an Online Horse Care Course 

Ready to level up your knowledge of horse nutrition and care? Enrol in an online horse care course today and gain the insights you need to keep your horse healthy and thriving. From understanding equine digestion to mastering the balance of forage, grains, and supplements, OCA’s horse care & equine courses will guide you step by step.

Why Choose OCA

  • Comprehensive Learning: Gain expert knowledge on horse anatomy, nutrition, and health.
  • Study Anywhere: Access video lessons, reading materials, and quizzes on your own schedule.
  • Expert Instructors: Learn from veterinarians, nutritionists, and experienced equine care professionals.

Take the reins of your horse's health and start your learning journey today!

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Horse Diet FAQs

What is the best thing to feed a horse?

The best thing for most horses is high-quality forage like hay or pasture grass. Horses thrive on plenty of fibre, which helps keep their digestive system healthy. You can add grains, pellets, or supplements if they need extra energy or nutrients, but forage should be the foundation of their diet.

What is toxic for horses?

Some foods that are safe for us are dangerous for horses. Avoid feeding them chocolate, avocados, caffeine, and any plants like onions or garlic. Also, be cautious with lawn clippings, as they might contain toxic plants or chemicals. Stale or mouldy feed can also cause serious health issues.

How can I learn more about equine nutrition? 

The best way to learn more about equine nutrition is to enrol in an online horse care course. Many offer expert guidance, reading materials, and quizzes that help you dive deeper into horse health. You can also ask your vet for advice or read equine nutrition guides for specific feeding tips.

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