How to Hand Feed a Horse

Three Parts:Feeding a Horse By Hand SafelyFeeding the Proper TreatsDiscouraging Nipping Behaviors

Whether you own your own horse or just enjoy visiting them in pastures or stables near your home, it can be a rewarding experience to hand feed a horse. If you follow safety procedures and offer the horse the proper food or treat when hand-feeding, you and the horse can enjoy a bonding experience.

Part 1
Feeding a Horse By Hand Safely

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    Get permission to approach and feed horses that are not yours. If you see some horses grazing in a pasture on the side of the road, don’t assume you can simply approach the fence and offer them food. You must always as the owner’s permission before approaching or feeding any horses that do not belong to you.[1]
    • Some horses might be on a very specific diet, and offering them food outside of that diet could be harmful. Alternatively, some horses may have biting tendencies or aggressive behaviors, and you don’t want to approach any horse without being aware of these tendencies beforehand.
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    Approach the horse with caution. Never run at a horse. Do not come at him from behind, as you might spook him. Approach the horse from the front, and off to the side a bit. Approaching at a slight angle will allow him to see you a bit better.[2]
    • Don’t approach a horse directly from the front. Make sure you are coming to him from the side a bit as that is where his best vision is. Walk slowly and don’t lunge towards him or make any sudden movements.
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    Let the horse know you are coming. Talking softly, clicking your tongue, or speaking the horse’s name will let him know you are approaching. You might see his ears twitch as he hears your voice, and he may turn to look at you when he hears you. This will let you know he has acknowledged your presence and you haven’t startled him.[3]
    • Don’t make any strange or overly loud noises to let the horse know you’re there. Just speak quietly or make noises he is used to hearing.
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    Hold your hand out flat. When offering a horse food with your hand, you want to make sure your hand is flat with the food or treat on your palm. Doing this will keep your fingertips away from the horse’s mouth, and he will be less likely to accidentally nip you while taking the food.[4]
    • Avoid holding your hand too high. Let the horse drop his head down to take the treat from your palm. That way, he will be reaching down into your palm rather than coming straight onto your fingertips.

Part 2
Feeding the Proper Treats

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    Offer the horse fruits, vegetables, or manufactured horse treats. Horses particularly love apples and carrots, but you can also offer a myriad of other things, including melons, snow peas, pumpkin, and strawberries. You can also choose to offer treats made specifically for horses that can be purchased at horse supply stores.[5]
    • For a sweet treat, you can even offer the horse a few peppermint candies or sugar cubes. Make sure you only give these occasionally, and only a few at a time.
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    Break off small pieces to feed to the horse. Some horses might chew and swallow the treats you give them, while others might be more prone to swallow without chewing. Breaking up larger pieces will prevent anything from getting stuck in the horse’s throat.[6]
    • Watch the horse as he eats his treats to assure he doesn’t have trouble chewing or eating whatever you have chosen to feed him.
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    Avoid feeding horses any treats that may produce gas. Things like potatoes, onions, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage should be avoided. Horses are prone to bloat which could lead to health complications, so you don’t want to feed them things that could lead to excessive gas.[7]
    • Avoid giving your horse raw garlic. Garlic is sometimes given to horses in supplement form, or incorporated into certain kinds of feed, but should not be given raw as a treat.
    • Chocolate is also a bad treat choice for horses. The same chemical that makes chocolate toxic to dogs also makes it toxic to horses in large amounts. Still, a tiny piece now and then won’t do much harm.
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    Give treats in moderation. Overfeeding treats adds unnecessary calories and could disrupt the bacteria and microbes present in a horse’s digestive tract that are balanced to keep things working properly.[8]
    • As an alternative to treats, you can hand feed a horse his regular feed, or handfuls of the grass he likely spends most of his day munching on out in the pasture.

Part 3
Discouraging Nipping Behaviors

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    Incorporate a verbal command or cue. If you associate a hand-fed treat with a verbal cue, the horse will eventually learn to only expect a treat when the word is spoken, rather than all the time. This will discourage them from constantly nudging or nipping for treats.[9]
    • Speaking a word like “Treat!” when you want to give your horse a treat will help him wait for this cue to expect a treat.
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    Stand at the horse’s shoulder. Rather than standing in front of the horse and offering a treat to him outright, stand beside him and face in the same direction as him. Hold the treat in the palm of your hand and reach a little over to his other side. This will force him to turn his head slightly away from you to take the treat.[10]
    • Doing this will teach the horse to expect hand-fed treats in this manner, and the horse will be less likely to nip or nudge people for treats.
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    Avoid pulling your hand away as you feed the horse. Rather than pulling your hand back towards yourself as the horse takes the treat from your palm, guide the treat into the horse’s mouth and direct your hand toward him instead.[11]
    • Pulling your hand away might signal to the horse that you are going to withdraw the treat, which might cause them to lunge for it in an attempt to get it before you take it away. This could lead to an accidental nip or bite.
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    Feed the horse treats in a bucket or feeding trough. If a certain horse has particularly bad hand-feeding manners, stick to feeding that horse with a bucket or feeding trough. This will generally be the safest way to feed a horse.[12]
    • Hand feeding is sometimes frowned upon in the horse-owner community because of the nipping behaviors it can occasionally create or foster. If your horse has a tendency towards these behaviors, feeding the horse treats in a bucket or feeding trough is a safe alternative.[13]


  • Some horses like to be petted as they eat, depending on how friendly they are with strangers. Rubbing its muzzle or scratching its forehead (or neck if the horse is head-shy) is enough to make it happy.
  • Don't overdo it with the grass. The horse still has lots of pasture to eat, so only a few handfuls of grass from the other side of the fence is enough to give it a treat.


  • Do not stick your fingers in its mouth. This is a good way to get bit!

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Categories: Horse Feeding