Horses, just like most of us, love treats! Popcorn seems like a natural go-to treat for the horses in your life, but can they eat it safely?
Horses can eat popcorn unless their health requires a starch-restricted diet. Avoid microwave popcorn, as the additives can negatively impact their health. Plain air popped or stovetop popcorn is safest.
In this article, I’ll talk about how popcorn impacts your horse’s health, how to make sure your horse is eating the healthiest options, and how to make popcorn – and popcorn treats – yourself!
Is Popcorn a Good Treat for Horses?
Popcorn is a good treat for horses, as long as the horse’s health won’t be negatively affected by extra starch in its diet. Popcorn is safe for most horses, but for some, health concerns like insulin-resistance and dental problems make popcorn a very risky choice.
Corn is a starchy vegetable, and feeding your horse popcorn means it’s eating extra starch. So, if it’s a good treat or not depends on your horse’s health, body systems, lifestyle, and temperament.
Can the Starch in Popcorn Affect a Horse’s Health?
Starch is a complex sugar produced by all green plants as the energy source they need to grow. It’s often concentrated in cereals and grains.
The starch in popcorn can affect a horse’s health. Starch is broken down into glucose in the digestive system. What isn’t broken down will ferment later in digestion, which can create health concerns. Understanding the risks and your horse’s unique needs will help you choose the best diet.
Enzymes in your horse’s digestive system break starch down into glucose (a simple sugar), otherwise known as “blood sugar.” How a horse’s body manages glucose directly affects how much starch it can tolerate in its diet.
Starchy treats like popcorn boost a horse’s blood sugar. And just like a child, a horse may get very excitable after eating this sugary treat.
Popcorn’s a great snack if your horses are athletes or hard-workers, though. Starch is essential for horses with a very active lifestyle to stay healthy. They need the extra energy boost to work hard without wearing down, yet still maintain a healthy weight.
Remember, popcorn is notorious for getting stuck between teeth. If your horse loves popcorn, keep an eye out for signs of dental problems.
Furthermore, some horses’ preexisting health conditions make popcorn dangerous for them.
Insulin is the hormone that moves glucose out of the blood and into the body’s cells. Insulin resistance means the insulin doesn’t do its job correctly, and the blood sugar level of the horse stays too high. This creates a domino effect that can lead to many health issues for the horse. Insulin resistance is often linked to obesity and laminitis (see below).
An insulin-resistant horse needs to eat a low-starch diet and cannot safely eat popcorn.
The Royal Veterinary College describes this excruciating condition of the feet: the “tissues (laminae) bonding the hoof wall to the pedal bone in the hoof” cause “the sinking or rotating of the bone within the hoof under the weight of the horse.” Sometimes, the pedal bone will even pierce down through the frog of the horse’s hoof.
Laminitis is a recurring condition, so while your horse may heal from individual episodes, it’s likely to have another over time. Laminitis is common in insulin resistant horses, and it’s responsible for up to 7% of horse deaths or euthinasions each year.
Equinews describes how the enzyme needed to break down starch in a horse’s small intestine is limited.
As the undigested starch moves from the small intestine to the cecum, any leftover starch ferments to complete the digestive process. The fermentation creates lactic acid and disrupts the microbial balance in the cecum. This makes it difficult for the horse to absorb calories from the fiber in its food.
Signs of hindgut acidosis include “poor performance, sour attitude, and intermittent mild colic.”
Can Horses Eat Any Kind of Popcorn?
Horses can’t eat any kind of popcorn, as many come with toppings and flavors your horse doesn’t need. Specifically, you should avoid giving microwave and prepackaged popcorn to a horse to eat since these usually contain such additives.
When choosing a popcorn to feed your horse, consider the following:
- Sweet toppings add more sugar in addition to the starch in the popcorn, or it may be artificially sweetened.
- Cheese and butter are both a no-go because horses are lactose intolerant — they’ll get diarrhea.
- Salt toxicosis, or too much salt, can also cause colic and diarrhea.
- Artificial ingredients are highly toxic for any living thing.
If your horse’s health allows it to eat popcorn, keep it plain.
What Is the Best Popcorn for a Horse To Eat?
The best popcorn for a horse to eat is clean, organic popcorn that has been popped in an air popper or on the stove in a horse-healthy oil. Popcorn is only safe when served occasionally as a treat, so be sure to only offer your horse a handful or two no more than three times a day.
How To Pop Popcorn Yourself
If you’ve never popped popcorn on the stove, you’ll find that it makes light, fluffy, delicious popcorn that you’ll want to eat before you share it with your horse!
For your horse, you’ll want to pop the popcorn in a horse-healthy oil that’s high in omega-3. Hemp or flaxseed oil are fantastic choices.
Here’s how to pop popcorn yourself:
- Choose a large pot with a lid (or a plate) and set over medium heat.
- Before the pot gets hot, pour in enough oil to fill the bottom to about 2-3 mm (0.08-0.12 in) deep.
- Fill the pot with enough corn kernels to make a single layer in the oil.
- Heat until the corn begins to make a simmering sound. Be patient.
- Cover the pot and begin to shake it in a gentle, jiggling motion.
- The popcorn will start to pop — it’ll fly out of the pot if not covered!
- Continue shaking until all the corn is popped. (You can hear when popping slows almost to a stop.)
- Quickly pour the popcorn into an empty bowl so it doesn’t burn, which will make the whole batch taste scorched.
How To Make Popcorn Treats for My Horse
Another option for feeding your horse popcorn is to make homemade horse treats.
The basic recipe is simple. Choose your horse’s favorite ingredients, or things that contain nutrients you want to supplement. It’s a good idea to mix in a little bit of flour to make a cookie consistency. You could use:
- Grated apples
- Grated carrots
- Crushed mints
- Hemp seeds
- Any other horse-safe ingredients
Here’s how to make popcorn treats for your horse:
- Mix wet ingredients in a bowl.
- Mix dry ingredients in another bowl.
- Mix a little bit of honey or molasses into the dry ingredients.
- Add the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients to combine. If the mixture is too dry and crumbly, add more honey or molasses; if it’s too sticky or wet, add more dry ingredients.
- Form the mixture into bite-sized balls or cut bars and place them on a prepared pan.
- Bake at 350°F (or about 175°C) for about 15 minutes.
Popcorn is a safe and much-loved treat for horses if your horse doesn’t have medical concerns that would make starchy foods dangerous for it.
If you take the time to pop clean, healthy popcorn for your horse, it’s sure to be a favorite — you could even grow your own popcorn for premium quality!
Popcorn can be messy and hard to manage, though. So, make popcorn treat bars for your horse. They’re easy to feed and can pack a nutritional punch that your strong, four-legged friend needs to feel great all day!
This article is part of a series: What Animals Can Eat Popcorn?
Are you curious about what animals can eat popcorn? Click here for an animal overview or click on an animal below to find out specific details: