There are countless reasons why you should never, ever, EVER give treats or snacks to another person’s horse, unless, of course, you’ve first asked for and obtained the owner’s permission.
We’ve put together a brief list of the most common and logical warnings here;
1. Sugar can KILL.
If a horse is afflicted with HYPP (hyper kalemic paralytic paralysis), fluctuations in blood sugar and potassium levels can bring on an attack that can be FATAL. Symptoms usually first present with tremors and a glazed look in the eye, but often escalate (quickly) to paralysis and, if the organs shut down, death. NEVER EVER hand out sugar cubes or peppermints to horses that you do NOT own!!!
2. Weight may be a factor.
A horse’s owner may have that animal on a particular diet to help manage weight. While not a life-threatening situation as in item #1, you’re still altering a carefully laid-out plan and interfering with the owner’s ability to accurately monitor that horse’s condition.
3. Allergies often appear.
Certain horse cookies or treats could contain ingredients that a horse may have a reaction to. Should allergic symptoms appear, and the horse was given a substance that the owner had not authorized, it will be far more difficult for its handlers to diagnose and treat the resulting reactions and illness.
4. Some horses cannot process grains.
You may think a handful of natural grain or oats is healthy and harmless; not the case if a horse has a condition that inhibits its ability to digest these items. In those cases you can trigger colic which, again, can be life-threatening.
5. Even natural treats can impact energy.
Natural foods such as carrots or apples are generally considered healthy, but don’t hand them out unless the owner has given her okay. Both are relatively high in natural sugars that, while not concentrated enough to trigger an HYPP attack or allergic reactions, can alter energy levels – either up or down, depending on that individual (and many horse owners may not appreciate this)!
6. Getting nippy.
A few horses, if already uneducated regarding respect for people, can develop a tendency to nip if they are given treats by hand. While their intent is not generally malicious, a nip from a horse can still hurt and it’s an unfavorable habit. The horse owner, if they do grant permission for the sharing of a treat, may ask that you place it in a bucket, a feeder, or on the ground.
7. Training techniques.
Some old-school trainers believe that the sensitivity of a horse’s face is diminished if it’s often handled and touched round the muzzle or given treats by hand (the theory – antiquated as it may be - is that this reduced sensitivity could make the horse less responsive to the bit or hackamore). In these schools of thought, the training plan will likely dictate that treats are never given by hand.
8. Interfering with medications.
If a horse has a condition or illness that is requiring medical treatment, an unscheduled food additive could interfere with a prescription’s effectiveness. Unless you’re the one administering the medications, there would be no way for you to know this.
While most people imagine they’re being “nice” by sharing a treat with a horse, it’s really never okay to do so without directly asking that animal’s owner well in advance. Don’t be offended if they tell you, “NO”; they likely have a very good reason! Never ever share unless permission has been granted.