Last Updated on January 5, 2022
Horses are herbivores and eat only plants. But this doesn’t mean that horses just eat grass – they enjoy lots of other grains and vegetables too! But have you ever thought about whether horses eat corn?
Horses and ponies enjoy eating a wide range of different foods, and you might be surprised at the variety of things they will eat! But we must learn which foods are safe for them to eat, to avoid giving them colic or other health problems.
Let’s take a look at corn and find out if it can be fed to horses.
What Is Corn?
If we asked you what corn was, we think most of you would describe the sweet yellow cobs of yellow corn that we all enjoy on a grill or barbeque!
However, the word corn can be used to describe different things, and we must know which of these we are talking about. And whilst the different types of corn are closely related, we need to figure out the differences so we can decide which is safe to feed to horses.
Sweet corn is the type we are most familiar with and is also known as ‘corn on the cob’ or maize. This type of corn grows multiple kernels of sweet yellow corn on an inner structure called the ear. The kernels are tightly wrapped in green leaves, called the husk.
The kernels in sweet corn are very high in sugar and are normally harvested before they start to dry out. They can be cooked and eaten as a whole ear of corn, or removed from the ear to be consumed as sweetcorn.
Find more information about Everything About Sweet Feed For Horses
Field corn is similar to sweet corn in appearance but is very different in taste and texture. It is normally used for grinding into cornmeal or cornflour.
This type of corn is left until nearly dry before harvesting. Field corn is also more likely to be used for animal fodder.
OK, so this is not strictly speaking a type of corn! However, in some countries, the word corn is used to describe wheat crops and other common grains. These are the smaller cereal crops grown for grains to grind into flour.
In this article, we will be focusing on whether horses can eat the first two types of corn – sweet and field corn.
Can Horses Eat Corn?
If you look at any sack of horse feed, you will see on the label that it contains corn! So it stands to reason that horses can eat corn.
However, the corn in animal fodder has normally been processed to make it more digestible. The most common methods are to include cracked or steam flaked corn in mixed cereal feeds or pelleted feeds.
Corn is highly palatable to horses, and studies have shown that they are the second most popular grain after oats.
So, if our horses are eating corn daily in their feed buckets, could we give them corn on the cob?
Well, it depends on how we are going to feed it. The safest way to feed corn is to remove the kernels from the inner ear. The outer husk should also be removed.
The grinding molar teeth of a horse will have no problems breaking down the tough outer layer of a corn kernel, ready for the inner portion to be digested in the gastrointestinal system.
Is Corn Bad For Horses?
There are a few things to bear in mind when feeding corn to horses. The first of these is that corn is very high in energy compared to the horse’s natural diet of grass and hay.
This means that feeding corn can have two adverse effects on the horse. Firstly, corn may cause the horse to become overexcited, with high energy levels. And then, if the horse does not have the chance to use this energy, he may become obese.
Corn is also lower in fiber than other cereals, such as oats. Horses need a high level of fiber in their diet to maintain the health of their digestive system.
It may be tempting to feed a cob of corn directly from the field as a treat for your horse, but is this a good idea?
While your horse might enjoy getting his teeth into a juicy cob of corn, this could pose several health risks.
The first of these is that corn fed directly from the field may contain certain toxins, such as fumonisin. This can cause neurological disease in horses called equine leukoencephalomalacia, or blind staggers. Corn used in equine feed has been tested to ensure it is free from fumonisin.
The other problem with whole corn on the cob is the risk of choking. The horse will not be able to chew through the tougher parts, such as the outer husk and the inner ear. If your horse tries to eat these he may swallow large chunks which could get stuck in the esophagus.
How To Feed Corn To Horses
If you want to treat your horse to some fresh corn, the best way to do this is to buy corn kernels from the store. This will be free from toxins and is already prepared for the horse to eat safely.
You can either buy tinned corn kernels or frozen ones for your horse. He will enjoy both types, but would appreciate it if you defrosted the frozen type first!
So, as we have discovered, it is not safe to feed corn on the cob directly from the feed to your horse. This is because it may contain toxins that can cause neurological disorders, or the horse may choke on the tough parts of the cob. If you want to feed fresh corn to your horse the best way to do this is by feeding processed corn from the grocery store, either tinned or frozen.
Do you have any questions about horses eating corn? Add a comment below this post and we’ll get back to you! We’d also love to hear your suggestions on other great food ideas for your horse!
Find more information about What Not To Feed A Horse; Equine Diet Top Tips!
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE