Chestnuts have long been popular as winter feed for horses and deer.
They are not too perishable and contain a lot of protein, which apparently makes them a good alternative to green fodder.
But does this really apply to horses, or are chestnuts even dangerous to them? The answer will surprise you.
In this article you will learn if horses are allowed to eat chestnuts and what to look for when feeding them. In addition, we will give you alternatives for feeding and rewarding that are healthy for your animal.
Are horses allowed to eat chestnuts?
You are probably expecting a clear yes or no. But the answer is not that simple.
The type of chestnut plays a decisive role in whether or not it is edible for horses.
Another factor is which parts of the chestnut are eaten. This is because not all parts of the fruit and plant contain the same substances.
We will show you what to look out for in the following sections.
Which chestnuts are poisonous for horses?
In the past, chestnuts were fed to horses when they suffered from coughs. The supposed active ingredients in the fruits of the chestnut were supposed to loosen and relieve this.
This is where the name horse chestnut comes from, with the Latin name Aesculus hippocastanum.
Unfortunately, it was only later discovered that this type of chestnut contains substances that are toxic to horses.
These are saponins and glycosides. These are contained in highly concentrated form mainly in the green peels and the unripe fruits.
The riper the fruit, the lower the content of the toxic substances. Dried up peels also contain lower levels.
Therefore, if your horse comes near a chestnut tree in the paddock unattended or during a trail ride, and thus ingests several kilos of shells and unripe fruit, it is dangerous.
Which chestnuts are horses allowed to eat?
Chestnuts or chestnuts are not poisonous for horses and can therefore be used as treats.
However, they should also be fed without the shell. In addition, it is better if you only offer small portions.
They contain about 40 percent carbohydrates, which can be detrimental to your horse’s health.
However, they also have a high percentage of fiber, contain valuable vitamins and minerals.
Occasionally feeding up to a kilo of the sweet chestnuts or also sweet chestnuts is well suited as a strength-giving reward, especially in autumn and winter when there is an increased energy requirement and after prior habituation.
How can sweet chestnuts and horse chestnuts be distinguished from each other?
The easiest way to tell them apart is to look at the shell. In horse chestnuts, it has few but long and rigid bristles that are more like spines.
In sweet chestnuts, the bristles are finer, shorter, and stand much closer together. They look more like fine, numerous hairs.
If the skin is missing, you should look at the shape of the fruit.
The poisonous horse chestnuts are roundish and only slightly flattened on one side. They also have a clearly visible “eye”. This is a lighter colored, oval and dull area.
Sweet chestnuts, on the other hand, are round and taper to a point on one side. This makes it appear as if the stem of the fruit is missing or broken off.
What happens if your horse is poisoned by chestnuts?
If there is a chestnut tree in or near the pasture, horses can feed themselves on it. This, of course, makes control more difficult.
Not only when fruits with shells have already fallen off, there are many chestnuts hanging within reach, especially for horses with a taller stature.
In these cases, the only thing that helps is to fence off the area with the trees so that the horses can no longer reach the chestnuts.
However, other sources must also be reckoned with.
For example, in order to feed wild animals, many parents collect chestnuts with their children in autumn. They want to leave them with foresters in the forest.
However, due to the increasingly mild winters, wild animals find enough food themselves, so that in many regions only small amounts of acorns and chestnuts are accepted.
In game parks, the animals must be fed all year round. However, many people do not know this and throw the collected chestnuts on horse pastures, among other places.
This well-intentioned gesture can be dangerous. On the one hand, because such foreign feedings are not or hardly controllable.
The type of feed and quantity per animal cannot be tracked. As a result, valuable time can be lost for the necessary countermeasures.
The only thing that helps here is to use signs to inform passers-by that chestnuts and other supposedly healthy feeds are not tolerated and are even poisonous.
Symptoms of poisoning with chestnuts
Depending on the amount, it may be mild discomfort in the area of digestion. Among them:
Likewise, neurological symptoms may be added. These include:
involuntary muscle twitching
In very high doses, the toxins from horse chestnuts can even cause death.
Alternatives to chestnuts for horses
If you want to give your horse variety while using healthy foods, you have a lot of choices.
Possible choices include:
Leaves and twigs of fruit and nut trees
Again, though, you should only feed these in small amounts, as they are not part of the horse’s natural diet.
Horses and chestnuts
As long as you keep your horse away from horse chestnuts and only use chestnuts as a reward or for additional energy in small amounts, you don’t have to worry about poisoning.
However, be very careful to distinguish which chestnut it is.
In both cases, avoid the green to brown shell.
My name is Mark and the senior editor
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