A humorous tale from a vet about feeding horses this popular treat.
By Robert M. Miller, D.V.M. written June 1992
We all know that horses are fond of carrots. Carrots are a nutritious treat for horses, succulent, rich in carotene, and palatable. Horse owners often ask their veterinarians if they can feed carrots to their animals. At some boarding stables in California, vendors with carrot-laden trucks make the rounds, selling carrots by the sack.
According to some authors, carrots should be sliced before being fed to horses to reduce the chance of choke, but in fact, I have never personally seen or heard of a horse choking on a carrot. Obviously, however, the possibility exists.
Inevitably, especially as more first timers get involved with horses, some misunderstandings develop. Largely as a result of this, I have several favorite carrot stories to tell.
Recently, I heard of a trainer who teaches lateral flexion of the head and neck, and he “stretches the neck muscles” by tying carrots to horses’ elbows. In truth, I heard this one secondhand, so I can’t vouch for its accuracy.
Several years ago, I was called by a teen-age owner to see a gelding with digestive problems. I checked the horse’s teeth, made sure that he was wormed regularly, and then asked about his feeding schedule.
“He gets hay, plus a handful “He gets hay, plus a handful of grain, and carrots,” the young lady replied.
The horse looked well nourished, and was kept in a clean corral. Feeding was done at 12-hour intervals, 7 days a week. Everything seemed to be okay.
I asked to see the feed room. In it was a supply of good-quality alfalfa hay, some gunnysacks filled with carrots, and a barrel of a commercial grain mixture.
“How much do you feed?” I asked.
“He gets a flake of hay at each feeding, plus a pan full of carrots, and a handful of grain.”
Puzzled, I checked the water supply, drew a blood sample from the horse, and took a sample of manure for laboratory analysis. Both samples turned out to be normal. I suggested that perhaps the horse did not tolerate alfalfa well, and that he be gradually switched to grass hay. This was done, but the horse continued to intermittently have bouts of mild colic and diarrhea. On another visit, I did a number of additional laboratory tests, all of which turned out to be negative.
“Tell me again what you’re feeding,” I requested.
“Well, now he’s getting a flake of oat hay, a pan of carrots, and a handful of sweet feed.”
“How often do you feed? Twice a day?”
“Yes. At 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.”
It wasn’t until the third visit that, perplexed and frustrated, I asked the owner to feed while I watched.
She threw a flake of hay into the manger. Then she added a double handful of sweet feed. Lastly she pulled out a washtub and filled it with carrots, then dumped it into the manger.
“Is that the ‘pan’ you usually use for the carrots?” I asked.
“I think I know where the problem is.”
I weighed the tub full of carrots. She had been feeding 40 pounds of carrots at each feeding.
“I think,” I said, ” that you have been feeding too many carrots.”
“Don’t tell me,” she responded, “that my horse has carotene toxicosis!”
“No,” I said, “he just has a bellyache, but what do you know about carotene toxicosis?” (It is a rare condition found in humans who consume huge amounts of carrots or carrot juice.)
“One of my girlfriends got it,” she explained, wide-eyed. “She went on a carrot diet and ate nothing but carrots for several weeks and she turned all orange and, you know, the doctor couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her for the longest time!”
Many years ago, one of my equine patients was pathologically afraid of being tube-wormed. I suggested that the owner, again a young lady, try to desensitize his nostril to the passage of a stomach tube by inserting her finger into the nostril and rubbing it around.
“If he allows you to do it, reward him. Eventually he will come to like having his nose handled.”
“How shall I reward him?”
“Pet him and tell him that he’s a good boy and give him a treat, like a carrot or an apple.”
She called me a few weeks later.
“He’s worse now than he was before I started desensitizing him.”
“Did you do it the way I told you to?” I asked.
“Yes, and he likes the petting, but he goes crazy when I stick the carrot up his nose!”
Not a subscriber? Click here to subscribe to Western Horseman magazine.