What do Horses Eat in the Wild?

Horses are one of the most majestic creatures on the planet. They have been used for centuries for transportation, work, and even as a source of food. But what do horses eat in the wild? Horses are herbivores, meaning they only eat plants. In the wild, horses will graze on grasses, shrubs, and other vegetation. They also eat hay, grains, and other supplements. In this article, we will discuss what horses eat in the wild, the benefits of a natural diet, and answer some frequently asked questions about horse nutrition.

The Grazing Behavior of Wild Horses

Wild horses are well adapted to a life of grazing, which is their primary mode of obtaining nutrition in the wild. They are social animals and often graze in groups, moving from one area to another to find fresh forage. Wild horses can spend up to 16 hours a day grazing, covering several miles in the process.

Grazing allows them to consume the large quantities of fiber needed to maintain their digestive health and also helps to wear down their teeth, which continue to grow throughout their lives. Wild horses also have a natural sense of which plants are safe to eat and which should be avoided, helping to prevent them from ingesting toxic substances.

While domesticated horses may not have access to the same grazing opportunities as their wild counterparts, understanding the grazing behavior of wild horses can help us create management practices that support their natural instincts and promote their overall health and well-being.

What do Horses Eat in the Wild?

Horses are natural herbivores and in the wild, they have a varied diet that mainly consists of grass and other plant material. They graze on grass and foliage for hours, covering large distances while foraging. In addition to grass, they also consume a variety of herbs, shrubs, and trees.

In the winter when food is scarce, they rely on bark, twigs, and other woody material to supplement their diet. Horses in the wild have adapted to a diet that is high in fiber and low in sugar and starch, which helps to maintain their digestive health and prevent health issues such as colic and laminitis.

The natural diet of wild horses also provides them with the nutrients they need to maintain their overall health, including healthy skin and coat, strong bones, and a robust immune system. While domesticated horses may have different dietary needs due to differences in activity level and access to forage, understanding what horses eat in the wild can help us provide them with a diet that supports their natural instincts and promotes their well-being.

What do Horses Eat in the Wild?

Coping with Scarcity: Winter Diet of Wild Horses

During the winter months, when forage becomes scarce, wild horses must adapt their diet to cope with the scarcity. They will often resort to consuming the bark and twigs of trees, as well as any remaining grasses and shrubs that are still available. This winter diet is lower in nutritional content than their summer diet, which can lead to weight loss and other health issues if prolonged.

However, wild horses have evolved to cope with seasonal changes in their diet and are able to store fat and energy during times of plenty to help sustain them during leaner times.

For domesticated horses, it is important to ensure that they have access to sufficient forage and supplemental feed during the winter months to prevent weight loss and other health issues. Understanding how wild horses cope with scarcity in their winter diet can help us provide appropriate care and management practices for domesticated horses during the colder months.

Coping with Scarcity: Winter Diet of Wild Horses

How Wild Horses Find Their Next Meal?

Wild horses have evolved over time to become expert foragers, able to find food in even the most challenging environments. They are highly adaptable and can survive on a wide variety of plant material, including grasses, shrubs, and even cacti. Their natural diet is high in fiber and low in protein, which helps them maintain a healthy digestive system.

When searching for their next meal, wild horses rely on their keen senses to locate the best sources of food. They use their excellent sense of smell to detect the presence of water and tasty vegetation, and their sharp vision to spot plants from a distance. They also use their strong sense of taste to determine which plants are safe to eat and which ones should be avoided.

Wild horses are also highly mobile and can travel long distances in search of food. They move across the landscape to take advantage of seasonal changes in vegetation, and they may even migrate to different areas to find the best sources of food.

Overall, the ability of wild horses to find their next meal is a testament to their resilience and adaptability. By understanding how they forage for food in the wild, we can gain insights into how to better care for domestic horses and promote their overall health and well-being.

How Wild Horses Find Their Next Meal?

Nutritional Benefits and Risks of a Wild Horse Diet

The natural diet of wild horses provides them with a wide range of nutritional benefits. Grasses, forbs, and other vegetation that wild horses eat are high in fiber, which helps keep their digestive system healthy. They also contain a variety of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, vitamin E, and selenium, which are essential for good health.

However, a wild horse diet can also have its risks. Some plants that are commonly found in their natural habitat can be toxic to horses. For example, locoweed and certain types of sagebrush can cause neurological problems and even death in horses. Wild horses must be able to recognize these toxic plants and avoid them.

Another potential risk of a wild horse diet is the presence of parasites. Wild horses are exposed to a wide range of parasites, including worms and ticks, which can cause health problems if left untreated.

Nutritional Benefits and Risks of a Wild Horse Diet

Importance of Fiber in the Wild Horse Diet

Fiber is a critical component of the wild horse diet and plays a vital role in maintaining their digestive health. The fibrous plant material that wild horses consume, such as grass and hay, is broken down by bacteria in their large intestine, providing them with the energy and nutrients they need to thrive.

The process of fermentation that occurs in the large intestine also helps to maintain a healthy pH balance, preventing the growth of harmful bacteria and reducing the risk of digestive issues such as colic. Fiber also helps to keep the digestive tract moving and prevents impactions and other blockages.

Domesticated horses, which may have limited access to forage, can benefit from diets that are high in fiber, such as hay and grass, as well as supplemental fiber sources like beet pulp and hay cubes. Understanding the importance of fiber in the wild horse diet can help us create appropriate feeding practices that support the digestive health and overall well-being of our domesticated horses.

Role of Sugar and Starch in Wild Horse Diet

In the wild horse diet, sugar and starch content is relatively low, as wild horses consume mainly fibrous plant material. However, during times of plenty, wild horses may consume higher sugar and starch content in the form of fresh grasses or other vegetation.

This natural cycle of high and low sugar and starch intake is important for maintaining the metabolic health of wild horses. Excessive intake of sugar and starch can lead to a number of health issues, including insulin resistance, laminitis, and obesity.

For domesticated horses, understanding the role of sugar and starch in the wild horse diet can help us create appropriate feeding practices that limit their intake of these substances and reduce the risk of associated health issues.

Wild Horse Diet and Digestive Health

Wild horses have evolved to survive on a diet of mostly roughage, such as grasses and shrubs, with very little grain or concentrated feed. This high-fiber diet helps maintain their digestive health by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria in their gut.

However, the modern diet of domesticated horses often includes large amounts of grain and other concentrated feeds, which can lead to digestive problems such as colic and laminitis. To promote the digestive health of domestic horses, it is important to mimic their natural diet as much as possible by providing access to high-quality forage and limiting the amount of concentrated feeds.

Additionally, regular exercise and access to fresh water can also support healthy digestion in horses. By prioritizing the natural diet and digestive health of horses, we can help them lead healthier and happier lives.


1. How much should a horse eat in the wild?

Horses in the wild will typically eat between 2-4% of their body weight in forage per day. This can vary depending on the type of vegetation available and the horse’s activity level.

2. What supplements should horses in the wild eat?

Horses in the wild should not need any supplements. However, if the horse is not getting enough nutrition from the vegetation available, hay and grains can be added to the diet.

3. Can horses in the wild eat fruits and vegetables?

Yes, horses in the wild can eat fruits and vegetables. However, these should only be given in small amounts as treats.


The natural diet of wild horses is diverse and adaptable, allowing them to survive in a range of environments. They primarily consume a variety of grasses and forbs, which provide them with the fiber, vitamins, and minerals they need for optimal health. However, wild horses must also navigate potential risks, such as toxic plants and parasites, in their search for food.

As we continue to learn more about the nutritional needs of wild horses, we can apply this knowledge to better care for domestic horses. By providing a diet that is similar to their natural diet and avoiding potential hazards, we can promote the overall health and well-being of our equine companions. It is clear that understanding what horses eat in the wild is a crucial aspect of responsible horse care, and one that we should continue to explore and develop further.

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