Please Don’t Feed The Horses: Why These Public Notices Exist.

Published by Guy Taylor on

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

Last Updated on 2022-12-29 by Guy Taylor

Not long ago, after spending some time with my surrogate family in London and visiting a public area that had some horses in fields I decided to write this blog for educational purposes for people who want to know why the equestrian fraternity do not like the public feeding their horses.

First off I just want to say that it is not because us horsy folks are being difficult or are being asses. It is for a genuine reason which could very much cost a horse its life and its owner a lot of money. I will use this blog to explain as plainly as possible why this is the case without dipping into too much science but as per usual I will insert hyperlinks at the bottom of this blog for those who want to know more about this horrible, often heart wrenching condition.

When most members of the general public, mostly city folks, see a horse they automatically want to go and say hello and with this comes the whole “ahhh, look at him/her, lets give it some of our sandwich’ or ‘a piece of our donut or other lunch or some chocolate”. It’s pretty self-explanatory. Who doesn’t want to feed that beautiful face or awesome character?

The thing is that this could potentially harbour some massive issues for both the horse and the owner by way of a potentially very serious, and sometimes deadly result. That is colic which is very costly, no matter how mild or severe the case is.

A few years ago I was told by a mother of a newborn child when I told her what not to feed a horse because it would most likely lead to colic she expressed her profound ignorance by proclaiming that only human babies get colic. Of course being a horseman I had to bite my tongue but after some thought and scratching my head in wonder at the sheer ignorance I came to eventually accept that a lot of people simply just do not know. They just want to feed the pretty horses and a horse being a horse wants you to feed him, or her. The reality is you cannot just feed the horse and this is why you see notices asking the public not to feed the horses.

Of course what makes this unhelpful for the unknowing is that unlike us humans a horse cannot tell you what it can and cannot eat but it would definitely help if people got a little knowledge. If someone can read through a book on what causes a baby to colic why not do a little research as to what would cause a horse to colic?

What is Horse Colic?Β 

There are 70 different types of intestinal problems that can cause a horse to colic which range from mild which can be treated to the other end of the spectrum, severe which is generally life threatening. It is one of the main causes of death in horses, even though the prognosis for horse colic is better today than it once was due to the advancement in veterinary practice and science and most horse owners knowing what to look for and do to initiate very basic steps of treatment in case a vet needs to intervene. It is plainly an issue caused in the gastrointestinal tract when a horse is unable to digest something.

What Causes Colic?

Colic can be caused by a number of factors, such as not being watered, contaminated water, overfeeding, and feeding the wrong foodstuffs. Although watering a horse has nothing to do with the public but for instance a new stable hand could forget to water a horse or overfeed a horse which could cause it to colic. Sure, horses do eat a lot (hence the saying “eat like a horse”Β but overfeeding can definitely be a cause of colic. Of course the main issue here is the public and what they tend to feed horses which is what could cause a horse to colic

What Not to Feed a Horse:

  • Chocolate.
    Horses, like dogs cannot consume chocolate due to the theobromine which is in the cocoa. Cocoa is a no go for horses, regardless of the quantity.
  • Perssimons.
    This I have actually seen a person feed a horse but it was too late to do something about it but I did encourage them not to give the horse anymore as both the fibres and seeds can cause a sticky mass in the horses digestive tract. So it is generally a no go.
  • Dairy Products (yoghurt, ice cream etc)
    Horses are not able to digest lactose so will cause the horse to get a case of diarrhoea Β and whilst it is not colic it is not pleasant for the horse.
  • Bread (and other baked goods).
    Bread is another thing I have seen used and much like everything else that could cause a horse to colic it is to be avoided at all costs as the dough causes a doughy mass which leads to colic.
  • Potatoes Etc.
    Β Potatoes and other plants are not suitable for horses due to the atropine contained within and although it does not cause colic it does effect the nervous system. This could even cause the horse to fit and die, painfully.
  • Fruits With Pips and Stones.
    This could lead to a horse choking. Considering the fact that they are not poisonous for a horse if one was to remove the stones they are fine.
  • Lawn Clippings.Β 
    Are a big one because people will automatically assume that because it is grass it is fine but to the contrary it is not. Lawn clippings will come with its own hazards due to pesticides and fertilisers which are harmful for the horse. So do not even think of mowing your lawn and thinking it is fine to treat the horses that you saw on a walk just yesterday because it isn’t.
  • Avocado.
    Whilst avocado is generally not toxic to a horse everything else is. So again it is best to just avoid it altogether.

What Horses Can Eat.

Horses are fine with carrots, apples and treats designed for horses. The problem is the public have been asked to not feed the horses and whilst it can be appreciated why people want to do it I do not think respecting horse owners wishes would go amiss, even if they are treats that are fine for horses. Please do not feed the horses means do not feed the horses, literally. Furthermore this gives the horses bad habits.

Of course what I do not think Β will be a problem is if you pluck a handful of grass from their paddock to feed them by hand then I don’t see there being a problem.


So the next time you are in a public area that has horses and even if there is no sign that says please don’t feed the horses just take into consideration what a horse and their partner could go through should you feed them the wrong thing as the pain a horse will go through is unbearable, it is a pain that would kill us mere human beings, also though it costs a lot of money to treat a horse with colic, even if it is only a mild case and even if the horse is insured.

Lastly, please remember that most horses are family to their owners. There is a bond and a partnership that is unlike any other, the connection is often immeasurable and incomparable. So that is the reason these requests exist.


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