If you’re anything like me you’ll have sat down for Thanksgiving and wondered if your horse would like any pumpkin too, or possibly even considered giving them an old jack-o-lantern after Hallowe’en. Every year I ponder this so decided to find out once and for all if horses are okay to eat pumpkins. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found and I’m sure you will be too.
Can horses eat pumpkins? Horses can, and do, regularly enjoy eating pumpkins although they should only eat orange pumpkins (sometimes known as field pumpkins) and should avoid all other autumn gourds.
With Hallowe’en carvings, pumpkin pie and a whole variety of other dishes pumpkins are a real treat when the weather starts to get a little colder so it’s no wonder that many of us have thought about sharing a little bit of festive cheer and seasonal food with our beloved horses. The good news though is that not only are pumpkins okay for horses to eat but they also have a huge range of other benefits, read on to find out more.
Are pumpkins okay for horses to eat?
If you’ve ever looked at a pumpkin and thought to yourself ‘I wonder if my horse would like this’, then you’ll be pleased to know the answer is most definitely yes. While some gourds (such as green, yellow, white, and striped ones) are toxic to horses, the good old orange ones we enjoy so much are perfectly okay for your horse to eat. It’s not just the flesh that horses can eat though, the seeds and rind are also okay as are the leaves.
It doesn’t matter either whether you feed it raw, cooked, puréed, or even from a can (just as long as it’s natural pumpkin with no added ingredients such as sugars, spices, or flavors).
Are pumpkins healthy for horses?
It’s easy to underestimate just how good pumpkins can be for horses, before you even take into account all of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients they contain they’re low in calories which is never a bad thing, especially when you consider the appetite of the ‘average’ horse. Then of course there’s the water content which, at around 90%, means they can help to keep your horse properly hydrated.
Now sure how much horses should be drinking? Equine hydration: how much horses need to drink
Now back to the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients I mentioned, pumpkins have enough goodness in them to help keep your horse in tip-top condition. The table below highlights those nutrients, along with the benefits they have for horses.
|Nutrients found in pumpkins||Good for|
|Carotene||Eyes, and vision in particular|
(Omega 3 and 6)
Movement of joints
|Dietary fiber||Healthy digestive system|
Keeping gut feeling full
Reducing parasites in the digestive tract
|Iron||Boosting immune system|
Giving horses energy
Reducing insulin resistance
|Calcium||Strengthing bones, teeth, and heart|
Aids proper muscle and nerve function
Increasing melanin production
|Phosphorus||Managing horse’s energy|
Increasing effectiveness of kidneys
Helping muscles and nerves work properly
|Vitamin A||Eyes (and reducing cataracts)|
Boosting immune system
Aiding with digestion
Red blood cell health
|Vitamin C||Boosting immune system|
Repairing tissue and cell damage
|Vitamin E||Building muscle|
Enhancing nerve and muscle function
Boosting red blood cell growth
Is there a lot of sugar in pumpkins?
Even if your horse isn’t on a low sugar diet it’s still important to make sure they not consuming too much sugar which is one of the reasons why pumpkins can be such a great snack for horses (even those with insulin-resistant conditions). Pumpkins have such a high water content that there really isn’t much room left for ‘bad’ ingredients such as fat or sugar. To put a figure on it there’s around 2.8g of sugar per 100g of pumpkin (the average horse can easily consume 2000g of sugar a day just from grazing). [source]
Can horses eat pumpkin rinds?
If you’ve ever tried to carve a pumpkin (let’s be honest who hasn’t) then you’ll know just how tough their rind can be but that doesn’t mean to say they shouldn’t be fed to horses. While it can take more work for a horse to eat the rind they can still enjoy it.
The only issue is if the horse has any dental issues that can make it painful for them to chew. If this is the case for your horse don’t worry, you can still give them the rind but just make sure you bake it (at 400°F for around 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the pumpkin). This will soften it up and make it much easier for the horse to eat.
Can horses eat pumpkin seeds?
Whether it’s part of a meal or as an occasional snack, we all know just how delicious pumpkin seeds are but what you may not know though is that they’re just as tasty to horses. Not only that but they’re super healthy for them too. It doesn’t matter how you feed them either, raw or roasted, they’re just as tasty and healthy, just don’t put any salt or seasoning on them though.
As well as a generous helping of vitamins, minerals, proteins, and fibers they also have a lot of fatty acids that are great for keeping your horse’s digestive system healthy and in good working order. On top of this, they’re good for your horse’s nitric oxide levels which will, in turn, help with the development of blood cells and improve overall vascular health.
The only downside to feeding pumpkin seeds to your horse is that they will generally pass through the horse unharmed which means that if you don’t clear up the manure you could end up with your own patch of pumpkins next year!
Can pumpkin seeds be used as a dewormer?
You may have seen a variety of deworming products containing pumpkin seed oil or heard your vet talk about it but there’s good reason for this. Pumpkins, and in particular their seeds, are high in a biochemical compound known as cucurbitacin which, as well as repelling some animals is famed for its anti-parasitic properties.
An amino acid, cucurbitacin works to paralyze any (and all) parasites in the digestive tract which allows them to pass through the horse easily and without further attachment. This is good as a natural dewormer but can also be highly effective in horses that are resistant to ‘common’ dewormers.
Can all horses eat pumpkins?
Some horses are on calorie-controlled diets or have to watch their sugar intake but the good thing about pumpkins (regardless of whether you’re feeding the flesh, seeds, or rind) is that it can even be fed to horses on this type of diet.
While, at 75, they do have a high glycemic index (which demonstrates how fast carbohydrate food can be digested and released as glucose into the bloodstream), they also have a low glycemic load of 3, which means that the chance of food producing an increase the horse’s blood sugar is low. To put it simply, pumpkins are a perfect treat for horses with equine metabolic syndrome, Cushing’s, or polysaccharides because, when fed in small amounts, they won’t increase the horse’s blood sugar level. With this in mind, they’re also good for horses that are suffering from laminitis or are insulin resistant.
That said though, pumpkins are high in potassium (340g per 100g of pumpkin flesh or 919g per 100g of seeds) which means they shouldn’t be given to horses that are suffering from hyperkalemic periodic paralysis (HYPP).
Can you feed old jack-o-lanterns to horses?
It might seem like a strange question but believe it or not, I’m often asked if it’s okay to give a horse a jack-o-lantern but the answer isn’t quite as straightforward as you might think. It would be easy to say that you should never do this but that’s not quite correct. In most cases, jack-o-lanterns should be composted rather than fed to horses but there are a few occasions when this is okay.
The most important thing is to make sure there’s no candle wax in them at all and to only use ones that haven’t been painted and don’t have any glitter, glue, or other decorations on them. If you’ve done all of this then you need to make sure the pumpkin isn’t starting to rot, if the flesh (or rind for that matter) is starting to look and feel soft or saggy or if there’s any mold at all, discard it.
It’s also worth pointing out that it doesn’t take long at all for microbes to descend on the flesh of a carved pumpkin which is why I would personally throw it away if it was carved more than a couple of days ago, regardless of whether it was a house decoration or left outside.
Feeding your horse pumpkin for the first time
Horses have delicate digestive systems that aren’t happy with sudden changes so it’s always better to introduce any new feeds slowly over a long period of time, even if they’re treats. Try your horse with a small bit of flesh or a few seeds to start with, if your horse likes them then next time give him a few more. Generally horses like the sweet taste of pumpkins but if your horse doesn’t don’t worry, like us they all have their own tastes.
It’s also important to say that you should never give a horse anything to eat without the owner’s permission, even if your horse is okay eating it. Some owners don’t like their horses to have treats while some horses may have medical issues that mean pumpkins could harm them.
How should you feed pumpkins to horses?
As long as you make sure the pumpkin is clean, has no mold and you’ve removed the stalk it doesn’t really matter how you feed it to your horse.
Probably the easiest way of feeding it is to cut it into small chunks and either put a few in with your horse’s food or give them as treats by hand. If your horse has dental issues that make it difficult for him to eat the rind you could mash the flesh to a pulp and then mix it with his feed instead. You can even add them to oats or barley to make healthy treats for your horse.
Want to make some treats for your horse? 7 healthy homemade recipes for horse treats.
How many pumpkins can horses eat?
I’m sure like me you’ve grown up with the saying ‘moderation, moderation, moderation’ but this couldn’t be truer when it comes to feeding treats to your horse. There’s nothing wrong with giving your horse a cup or two of pumpkins each day but anything more is a bad idea and could lead to digestive issues such as colic.
Want to feed treats safely? The do and don’ts of feeding treats.
Pumpkins as boredom busters
Okay so this might sound like a strange one but pumpkins can also be used to encourage your horse’s natural foraging instincts as well as to help keep them occupied.
To encourage your horse’s natural behavior simply cut them into small cubes and either scatter them around his stall or mix them with hay and distribute it around their field. The smell (and taste) will spark your horse’s interest and will stimulate its desire to forage.
If your horse is stalled for a long period of time or is on stall rest then cut the top off of the pumpkin and stuff it with hay, oats, other fruits (such as watermelon or apple chunks) other vegetables (like sweet potato or carrots). Once you’ve done that put the lid (minus the stalk) back on and give it to your horse. You’ll be amazed at the time he’ll spend playing with it.
I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.
Over the years I have tried hundreds of different horsey products, from various blankets and halters to different treats. Some I’ve loved, others I’ve hated but I thought I’d share with you my top all-time favorite products, the ones I never leave the yard without. I’ve included links to the products (which are in no particular order) that I really think are great.
- Horse Knots by Reference Ready – If you’re like me and enjoy pocket reference guides then you’ll love this knot tying guide. These handy cards can easily fit in your pocket or attach to the saddle for quick reference. They’re waterproof, durable and are color coded to make them easy to follow.
- Mane ’n Tail Detangler – Even if you never show your horse you’ll need to detangle his tail from time to time (and possibly his mane too) which is always a challenging chore! I’ve found that if I run a little bit of detangler through my horse’s tails every few days it stops them from getting matted up and makes combing them easy, even if they’re coated in mud. I don’t know if I should admit to this or not but it also works wonders on my hair.
- TAKEKIT Pro clippers – Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different clippers and while some were obviously better than others I found these to be by far the best. They are heavier than a lot of other clippers but for me, that’s a good thing, it makes them feel more sturdy and hardwearing. On top of that they have a range of speeds so are just as good for clipping your horse’s back as they are his face. I also like the fact that they come in a handy carry case but that’s not for everybody. The company that makes them is super good and incredibly helpful too, a real bonus these days. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the fact that it doesn’t come with any oil, but that’s not a major problem as it’s not difficult to buy lubricant.
- Shire’s ball feeder – There are so many boredom buster toys out there but I like to use these every day, regardless of whether or not my horses are bored. I find that it helps to encourage my horses to problem solve by rewarding them with treats (or pieces of fruit) but it also mimics their natural grazing behavior which helps to keep them calm and de-stressed.
- Horse safe mirror – This is a strange one that many people are surprised about but I like to put horse safe mirrors in the trailers as well as in the quarantine stalls. It helps to prevent the feeling of isolation by giving the impression of other horses being around. Being herd animals horses can get extremely stressed when they feel that they’re on their own but with these stick-on mirrors, they believe that at least one other horse is with them.
- Rectal thermometer – I know this isn’t glamourous at all but it’s vital for your horse’s well-being to be able to check their temperature and a rectal thermometer is the easiest way of doing this which is why I’ve added it to the list.
I’ve also put together a few shopping lists of essential items that I’ve found helpful over the years. I’ve broken the lists down into different categories rather than put everything in one massive list 😉