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How Do You Give A Horse Treats Without Losing Any Of Your Fingers?

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Are you unknowingly putting your fingers at risk when feeding treats to horses? Did you know that the way you hold the treat can make all the difference? Or that some horses shouldn't be fed by hand? Find out these hidden truths and more in our post!

Horses love treats! I like to give a treat to my lease horse when I come to greet him. When he has done something well. After I ride him.

And right before I leave. But he only gets them if he is polite about it.

Now if you don’t want to lose any fingers there are a few things you want to keep in mind.

The horse you are giving the treat to. How you are feeding the horse a treat. How you are holding the treat when you give it to the horse.

These factors will determine whether you are more or less likely to get your fingers bit. Though it is possible to lose a finger, the chances are not likely. It is more likely to get bruised, swollen, and maybe broken or fractured.

If you are anxious and don’t want to take any chances of losing a finger just don’t feed treats by hand.

Related Post: Best Selling Horse Treats On Amazon For 2020

Disclosure: Just letting you know that any product links to Amazon are affiliate links. “As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.” No extra cost to you. Thank you for any support!

What Should You Do Before You Feed A Horse A Treat?

Never just go up to a horse you don’t know and give the horse an apple or some other kind of horse treat. Some horse owners don’t want people feeding their horse treats.

If the horse is getting too many treats they can colic or get sick, become overweight, or become nippy and mouthy. There are horses that have Cushing’s disease.

This disease affects how the horse processes sugar, like diabetes but different. Make sure you ask the owner of the horse if it’s okay for you to give the horse a treat before you do.

If they say sure anytime, there you go. But they may say that they rather you don’t or not to because he is on a special diet.

So before treats always make sure you ask the owner first.

How To Feed A Horse Treat By Hand

handing feeding horse treat

There are barns that don’t allow you to feed treats by hand. But if you have permission and there is no rule against hand-feeding here is how to do it.

To give a horse treat safely, put it on the palm of your hand, while your fingers are together and flat. Bring the treat confidently up to the horse’s lips.

Be careful you don’t offer the treat and then jerk away out of being nervous. The horse may think you are teasing him and may try to grab the treat from you.

How Do You Feed A Carrot?

how to feed horse a carrot

The best way to feed carrots is to cut them up into pieces. Then feed them like described above, with the flat hand. This is so that the horse doesn’t gobble up the whole carrot and accidentally choke on it.

Yet, if you are feeding a whole long carrot, hold the tip at the end and let the horse take a couple of bites. Then the rest of the carrot feed with the flat palm of your hand.

How Do You Feed An Apple?

how to feed horse an apple

When feeding an apple it is also a good idea to cut it up into pieces. It is possible for the horse to get too much apple sloshing around in his mouth and choke.

If you don’t have a knife to cut up the apple you can always bite the apple to make pieces for the horse. Don’t worry the horse won’t mind he will still eat the apple. That way you can still feed with your hand flat with palm up and keep all your fingers.

What Owners Like To Feed Their Horses

Just for fun to see what a handful of owners liked to feed their horses. I created a pie chart from a poll done from in 2008.

Other Ways To Feed Horses Treats

Ways to feed a horse a treat

You don’t have to feed a horse a treat with your hands. That’s not the only way to do it.

If you are nervous around the horse and afraid you might jerk back. To a horse this isis teasing. Here are some other ways you can go about it.

Put The Treat On The Ground

Horses have a good sense of smell and you can even point at the treat on the ground. Horses are very food motivated.

I have done this more than once with different horses and they have found the treat most of the time. One time I had to go and pick the treat up because the horse was aloof and had no idea I even tossed it on the ground.

Just make sure you don’t throw the treat into mud or a pile of horse poop… just saying.

Put The Treat In Their Stall Feed Bucket

If the horse is in the stall and they have a feed bucket hanging up in the stall, just throw the treat right in the bucket.

Maybe you just brought them in and wanted to give them an incentive for coming in. Or maybe you finished riding and cooling down and you wanted to give them a treat for a job well done.

Putting the treat in their stall-feed bucket is a great way to still give them a treat. Plus this prevents them from becoming pushy or nippy.

Put The Treat In A Bucket and Hold It Up To Them

This is like feeding the horse with the stall-feed bucket, except it is easier using a small bucket. Maybe an 8 qt bucket or a small rubber feed pan.

A therapeutic barn I used to work at didn’t allow hand feeding. Instead, they allowed giving treats with a rubber feed pan. There was a rubber feed pan in the indoor arena and some up in the main barn where the horses got groomed and tacked up.

For those who want the more personal experience of physically feeding the horse. This is a good option because the horses don’t associate your fingers with treats. Instead, they associate the bucket with treats. Plus your fingers are much safer using this method.

Put Treats In There Hay

This can be like a surprise treat for your horse. I have a friend who used to have a Chincoteague Pony and she used to break up carrots and hide it in his hay.

She would do this before he came in for the night when she would set up his evening hay in his stall. So when he would be eating his dinner hay he would randomly find pieces of carrots throughout the hay.

I thought that sounded like a fun idea for him, some further enrichment.

Put Treats In A Treat Toy

Speaking of enrichment, treat toys can give the horses just that. If the horse is in at night, finishes his hay quickly, gets bored, or anxious, a treat toy can be a great distraction.

Think of a Cong for dogs. You can put treats in it and it keeps the dog busy for a while. Until he can get the treats out or he licks out the peanut butter. My mom would give our dogs Congs with peanut butter.

This treat toy I found out about from the therapeutic farm I worked at is like the Cong treat toy but for horses. The horse that uses it there is a big beautiful Percheron cross Andalusian. He has been overweight and is currently on a diet.

His hay is in a slow feeding hay net to make it last longer. He still eats fast. To help he uses the treat toy to keep him busy after he has finished eating his hay.

It is from the company Shires Horse Products. The treat toy is called the Shire Ball Feeder. The horse pushes it around till the treat comes out. It is a hard plastic toy.

Here is a video of the Shire’s Ball Feeder in action.

There are other similar treat toys you can check out if you think it might be something your horse might like.

Shires make another treat toy that can hang in the stall, that you can put carrots into. It is simply called the Shires Carrot ball. It made of rubber with holes to shove the carrots in.

I don’t have experience with this one. But I would like to try it out. You can put other things in it other than carrots. One person from reviews used parsnips instead of carrots.

Some people from the reviews used this as a paddock toy and others as a stall boredom buster. The only problem seemed to be with a cheeky horse.

He pulled the toy down off the rope, stepped on it, deflated it and was close to choking on the plug that came out. Oi, the trouble horses get themselves into.

Here is a video to get a better idea of the Shires Carrot Ball.

Should You Feed a Horse Treats If They Are Nippy?

Horses should have good manners if you are going to give them a treat by hand. Some horses and ponies get greedy for treats and become nippy and pushy. These horses should not be fed treats by hand.

So yes you can still give a nippy horse a treat but you want to do it in a way that won’t encourage that behavior. Any of the other methods for feeding treats above could work for a nippy, mouthy horse.

If the horse is dangerous and unpredictable and has the potential to lash out. That is different, let a professional handle that horse and give them their space.

This is another reason it is so important to ask first before giving a horse a treat. Especially when you don’t know a horse well enough.

How Not To Feed A Treat To A Horse?

How not to feed a horse a treat

There are so many things wrong with this picture! Let’s use this picture as an example of how not to feed a horse a treat.

Don’t Go Lady And The Tramp With The Horse

It would be bad enough if they were both biting the end of a long carrot but it is an apple. So her face is a lot closer to the horse’s teeth.

This is a bad idea. The horse can’t even see her face and could accidentally bite her or on purpose if they chose.

Don’t Stand Directly In Front Of The Horse

The horse can’t see directly in front of them, behind them or under them. You will be much safer staying in the horse’s line of vision

Not to mention if the horse gets excited about the treat and shakes their head up and down. There is a good chance of getting a hard bonk in the face.

I have learned the hard way and got hit by my horse’s head with force on my nose. It knocked me down to the ground. I thought I broke my nose but I was okay. This is not the horse I am leasing now but a horse I owned in the past.

So keep your face safe from getting bonked by the horse tossing his head. As well as prevent getting knocked down or run over if the horse bolts forward.

Unfortunately another experience in my book. You’ll soon find I learn the hard way a lot. Learn from my mistakes. You think it won’t happen to you until it does.

Don’t Close Your Eyes And Not Pay Attention

You need to stay alert. Horses can change on a dime. They are prey animals and even calm horses have instincts of a prey animal .

They can get spooked and if you are not being cautious and keeping that in mind, you can get hurt.

Don’t Feed A Horse With A Bit In Its Mouth

So mostly this is up to the owner whether this is okay or not. But this is why I am saying not to.

  • It is harder for a horse to chew with a bit in their mouth and it is not as comfortable as without the bit.
  • The bit gets slimy and icky, but it can be cleaned after.
  • If they eat grass or hay it can get wrapped around the bit and get stuck into a wad and make it hard to swallow.
  • People have said there is more of a chance the horse could choke but I am not sure about that.
  • Many owners like their horse to think work time when the bridle is on and not treat time. So the horse isn’t constantly trying to get a snack when riding. But it is up to you and the owner.
  • Other owners are okay with peppermint or a small treat while the bit is on.
  • A whole apple though like in the picture would be a lot harder with a bit in the horse’s mouth.

Don’t Feed A Treat While Holding It With Your Fingers

If you look at the way the girl is holding the apple. She is not holding it with a flat hand, palm up.

There is a likely chance she could accidentally get a finger nipped.

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Quick Review About Feeding Horses Treats

Horses love treats, but make sure you ask if it’s okay first.

Make sure you are feeding in a safe way. Flat hand palm up, bucket, on the ground, hidden in the hay or in a treat toy.

Don’t hand feed mouthy, nippy horses.

Don’t feed treats like the girl in the last picture.

If you don’t want to buy commercial horse treats check out this post from 7 Everyday Items That Make Fabulous Horse Treats.

Have fun and give the horses some loving!

Cheers, Kacey

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Disclaimer Notice: Please be aware that horseback riding and related equestrian activities carry inherent risks. The advice and experiences shared on this blog are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional training or advice. Ensure your safety and that of your horse by wearing appropriate gear, practicing safe horse handling, and consulting with certified equestrian professionals. Remember, each horse is unique, and techniques may vary accordingly. Always prioritize safety, respect, and patience in your equestrian endeavors.

Kacey Cleary Administrator
Kacey has been an equestrian since 1998. She was a working student at several eventing and dressage barns. She has owned horses, leased horses, and trained horses. Kacey received an A.S. in Equine Industries from UMass Amherst, where she rode on the dressage team. She was certified with the ARIA and is licensed to teach riding in MA. She has been a barn manager and has run her own horse farm.
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