Last Updated on February 24, 2022 by Allison Price
What images do you have of a horse enjoying a meal? Horses are happy herbivores who live off a vegan diet. You may have also wondered, “Can horses eat meat?”
Horses are herbivores because their digestive system is designed to process plant-based foods. There are exceptions to the rule, however, where horses have eaten meat.
Carnivores are designed to hunt. They can focus on prey by keeping their eyes on the front of the head. They have a stronger sense of smell. A horse is equipped with a almost 360-degree field which allows it to spot a predator from a distance.
Can they eat meat as a regular part of their diet? Their internal systems are not designed to eat meat. Some horses are more carnivorous than others, but in smaller amounts.
How horses’ digestive systems are designed
Horses will rarely eat meat from their own backyards, either wild or domestic. Horses are natural vegetarians and prefer to eat plants over meat.
A horse’s stomach is large and long. This happens because the plant matter takes longer to digest and break down in the body.
On the other side, When you compare it with a carnivore’s system, you’ll see that stomachs made for meat are smaller than intestines.
This is why meat should be digested and excreted from the body quicker. Carnivores have a special type of liver that removes toxins from various meats. Horses do not have this important function.
Digestive Health Starts With the Teeth
The teeth are another difference between horses, traditional meat-eaters, and horses. Horses have flat, molar-like, teeth that are designed for chewing and grinding, not tearing and ripping like carnivores.
These pointy canine teeth are only found in mammals that eat meat. Horses have twelve incisors which are used for cutting plants and twelve premolars . Twelve molars are used to grind on tough stems.
Animals who graze need a small stomach. Because they eat their food slowly, they only require a small stomach to store the feed. Horses’ stomachs are only part of the digestive process.
Horses are not able to vomit. Horses can become very ill if they consume indigestible or bad meat. Growing grass is not a problem. Growing grass doesn’t “spoil”.
A gall bladder is another thing horses do not have. Horses don’t have a gall bladder because their grasses are low in fat. Horses can adapt to higher fat levels (up to 20%), but they must be trained to do so. (source)
Just keep eating – Horse Nutrition
Let’s look at how horses need to survive. A horse with an average weight of 1000 pounds needs around 13,500 calories per day to sustain itself. Add in jumping and exercise. This number increases to about 16,200. (source)
Pasture grass has between 266 and 308 calories per pound. This is why many horses eat a diet that includes sweet feed, grain, dried hay, and other nutrients. (source)
Roughage is the main source of horse nutrients. It also contains a lot water. Horses have a lot of space in their stomachs because of the weight of roughage (grasses, hays) and its mass. Fresh pasture grass can contain up to 70% water.
Slowly eating food
As we have discussed, horses’ digestive systems are designed to eat food slowly. Colic can lead to serious health problems for horses if their stomachs and digestive tract are not properly functioning. (source)
Horses should eat a lot of low-calorie food.
Horses were created to eat that forage and the roughage they eat, so they don’t know what it feels like to feel empty stomachs. They feel gnawing and unsure of what to do with the grass. This can cause them to eat less out of boredom or habit.
Sand colic can occur. Horses that don’t want to sweep the ground may become bored and pick up other undesirable vices from boredom, such as chewing wood or cribbing.
Five Reasons Horses Will Eat Meat
Cold and harsh climates
Indian Mule was used by Captain Robert Scott to bring him back to life after he had failed to return to South Pole.
Some climates, particularly harsh winters, can also lead to more carnivorous tendencies. Horses in Iceland are fed dried fish during winter to increase their protein intake.
Tibetan horses also live in harsh environments and are fed a mix of blood and grains. It is not uncommon for horses to find enough food, especially protein, and maintain their weight.
These foods help to keep their bodies healthy and allow them to survive the harsh winter. They are also not eating meat but being fed meat derivatives. (source)Earnest Shackleton’s Siberian Horse Socks
For example, Socks is the famous meat-eating pony of Sir Ernest Shackleton. Source Socks is said to have eaten meaty meals while on harsh Arctic explorations in 1908.
Some historical accounts also mention horses eating meat in times of war and other troubles.
Rosalind Dalefield says that in desert lands, where there was little vegetation and frequent warring, people like the Bedouin, who are famous for their Arabian horse origination, fed their horses honey, dried locusts and dried camel meat. (source)
As a Supplement
Horse owners in Europe or America may add beef gelatin or bone meal to their horse feed. These are not for horses, but they can be added to horse feed to boost their intake of essential nutrients.
Pica can also be a problem in horses. They may eat anything they don’t normally eat, such as bones, cartilage, or antlers, to compensate for the lack of nutrients. (source)
What else could a domestic horse eat? They don’t know what the meat is but they know that you are eating it. Stories of curious horses snatching cheeseburgers from their owners and taking a bite.
They did not seek out meat because of a desire, but more simply because they saw you eat it and knew it was delicious, so they decided to take a bite. A small amount of meat (a quick bite) will not affect their digestion.
Because it’s salty
Cheeseburgers and dried fish are examples of things that may not be suitable for horses. are not suitable for horses because they contain meat.
Horses love salt licks. The Icelandic dried fish provided protein benefits and was more appealing to horses than the salty snacks.
Kills Don’t Always Mean Hunger
A horse that has killed a rabbit, mole, or other small creature is probably not doing it for food. Horses are herd animals and are very protective of their home and herd mates.
An unsuspecting, or perhaps ill-informed, critter may wander into their territory and attack it. This is different than them eating for food.
I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!