what do wild horses eat

What Do Wild Horses Eat?

Written by: Annemarie Dutton

Horses are herbivores and thrive on a diet of grass and other plants.  From this foliage, they extract the nutrients needed to grow healthy and strong. Therefore, a wild horse has a somewhat different diet than domesticated horses. 

What Do Wild Horses Eat?

Wild horses eat differently than domesticated horses. Instead of carefully cultivated pastures, hay, pelleted food, and other treats, wild horses eat what they can find and when and where they can find it.  

It means grass but sometimes also a variety of weeds and shrubs. Since wild horses are scavengers, they do not always meet their nutritional requirements, especially in winter. 

Wild horses don’t have most of these modern “delicacies” available to them that domesticated horses do. Over the ages, horses in the wild developed the ability to eat many different foods and plants that their domestic counterparts won’t eat today.

Here’s a list of some of the foods and plants that horses in the wild eat. 

Grasses

When you see the word “grass,” don’t think of the pretty, well-maintained lawns. Wild grasses, in many cases, look more to you like weeds. 

There are dozens of different grasses in the wild, and horses can eat many of them for great nutrition. Of course, grass species can differ depending on the climate and continent where you find them, but many are nutritious and delicious for the wild horses.

Bushes And Shrubs

Bushes and shrubs are sometimes harsh, prickly, and woody and are difficult for domestic horses to digest.

Wild horses, however, have adapted to eating different kinds of shrubs and bushes. However, these types of plants are wild horses’ least favorite, and they will usually only eat them if there is nothing else to feed on in the area or if they are starving.

An example of one type of bush or shrub that wild horses eat is sagebrush in the American west. It can be dry and tough in the drier months, but you can sometimes find lots of fragrant sage with small, tender “leaves” and flowers that are easier for horses to eat during the spring.

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Wild Forbs

Forbs are net-shaped veins in the plant leaves and bright, attractive flowers. When you look at a wild meadow with lots of flowers, you probably see examples of plants that you can categorize as forbs.

It would be difficult for horses in the wild to survive by only eating forbs, but most wild horses do eat them, which come packed with vitamins, minerals, and moisture.

Weeds

Horses will eat weeds in the wild if they are hungry enough.

Interestingly, many plants we would consider weeds can sometimes be very nutritious options for eating in the wild. Of course, a few types of plants might be poisonous but wild horses know which ones to avoid.

Wild Apples And Other Fruit

It is not very common for wild horses to find edible fruit in the wilderness.  If they are lucky enough to come across a wild fruit tree or berry bush, they will eat as many as possible.

What Do Wild Horses Eat In Winter?

During the winter season, heavy snowfall covers much vegetation that wild horses rely on for survival. But the horses have dig out the snow with their feet, where they can reach the vegetation and feed on it.

They also have to look for clean water, and as such, they find a stable source and stick by it for the winter.

How Much Food Does A Horse Eat?

A horse should eat approximately 2% of its total body weight per day.

Considering that the average weight of an adult horse is about 1000 pounds (around 500 Kg), it should eat at least 20 pounds (approximately 10 Kg) of food each day.

An adult horse can drink up to 10 gallons of water per day. Therefore, fresh water is an absolute necessity for a horse’s survival.

When Do Wild Horses Eat?

A wild horse has a tough life and spends more time eating and searching for forage than its domestic counterpart. The wild horse grazes on average 16 hours out of every 24, so they’re using quantity to make up for the poorer nutritional content of the forage they find. 

It also means they almost constantly have forage moving through their digestive system.

Is It Ok To Feed Wild Horses?

Feeding wild horses is not recommended. Instead, this is a protection measure for feral horses because wild horses have a different diet compared to domesticated horses and are not used to eating the same food.

These foods can be harmful to their well-being and can prove fatal for wild horses. Something as simple as a watermelon could be lethal to them.

Be careful about what you dispose of in an area known to be populated by wild horses

Foods That Are Harmful To Wild Horses

Most Cruciferous Vegetables

When horses consume broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower in significant quantities, they can cause colic disease in the wild horse.

Bran

Bran and its associated by-products can result in stomach issues for wild horses.

Meats

Horses are naturally herbivores. Their digestive system isn’t evolved enough to feed on any form of meat, including processed meat.

Onions

Plants from the entire allium family, including onions, garlic, leek, and chives, can cause serious health problems.

Processed Carbohydrates

Bread and doughnuts are dangerous for wild horses. They are a choking hazard and create other issues in the digestive tract.

Conclusion

Wild horses feed on various grasses, shrubs, wild forbs, and weeds. During the cold winter months, they will dig in the snow to get to the vegetation below. Do not feed wild horses since their digestive system is different from domesticated horses.

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