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What Do Wild Horses Eat?

What Do Wild Horses Eat

Ever wondered what wild horses munch on out in the wild? Think of them as nature’s lawnmowers, roaming free and feasting on what Mother Nature provides. 

These majestic creatures don’t have a cozy stable or a human to fill their feed buckets. Instead, they graze on a mix of grasses, herbs, and shrubs, adapting to whatever their habitat offers.

Imagine the open plains, the rolling hills, or rugged mountains. Wild horses thrive in these diverse landscapes, finding their meals in the most unexpected places. 

Curious about their diet and how they manage to stay healthy and strong? Let’s dive into the fascinating world of wild horse cuisine. 

What Do Wild Horses Eat?

Wild horses are natural foragers, relying on the vegetation in their environment. They primarily eat grasses, herbs, wild fruits, weeds, and shrubs. 

Grasses comprise the bulk of their diet, providing essential nutrients and fiber. In addition to grasses, they eat various herbs and shrubs, which offer additional vitamins and minerals. 

The exact mix of their diet can vary depending on the season and their habitat. For instance, wild horses might consume more shrubs and hardy plants in arid regions. In lush areas, they have access to various grasses and leafy plants. 

This diverse diet helps them stay healthy and adapt to different environmental conditions.

Nutritional Requirements of Horses

Like humans, horses need a balanced diet to stay healthy and perform at their best. Understanding their nutritional requirements is essential for anyone involved in their care. 

Let’s delve into the key nutritional elements vital for keeping horses in top condition.


Water is the most critical nutrient for horses. It’s essential for digestion, temperature regulation, and waste elimination. 

An average horse drinks 5 to 10 gallons of water daily, but this can vary depending on the horse’s size, activity level, and environmental conditions. 


Carbohydrates are horses’ primary source of energy. They get carbohydrates mainly from forages like grasses and hay and grains such as oats, barley, and corn.

The amount of carbohydrates needed depends on the horse’s activity level. Carbohydrates also help maintain body condition and support healthy gut function.


Protein is vital for muscle development, repair, and overall growth. Horses obtain protein from forages, especially legumes like alfalfa, grains, and commercial feeds. 

The protein requirement varies based on the horse’s age, workload, and reproductive status. Adequate protein is essential for maintaining muscle mass and overall health.


Fats are a concentrated energy source, particularly useful for providing sustained energy. They also help absorb fat-soluble vitamins and support coat and skin health. 

Horses can consume fats from vegetable oils, rice bran, and flaxseed.

Vitamins and minerals

Horses need a balanced intake of vitamins and minerals to support bone development, muscle function, and immune health. Key vitamins include A, D, E, and K, while essential minerals include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium. 

These nutrients are provided through a combination of forages, grains, and supplements. 

Primary Diet of Wild Horses

Wild horses have a diverse diet that keeps them healthy and strong. They forage for various plants, adapting to their environment’s needs. 

Let’s break down what wild horses typically eat.


Grasses are the mainstay of a wild horse’s diet. They provide the bulk of the nutrition wild horses need. 

Think of grasses as their bread and butter. These plants are packed with essential nutrients and fiber, which help with digestion and keep their energy levels up.

Wild forbs

Wild forbs are non-grass herbaceous plants. These are like the wildflowers and leafy greens of the wild. 

Forbs add variety to the diet and offer different vitamins and minerals. They are a tasty and nutritious snack that wild horses love to munch on.


Bushes are another part of the wild horse diet. These woody plants provide roughage and some nutrients. 

When grasses and forbs are scarce, horses turn to bushes. They can chew on the leaves, twigs, and even bark to meet their needs.


Shrubs are similar to bushes but often smaller and denser. They are a reliable food source, especially in harsher conditions where other plants might not grow. 

Shrubs offer a mix of leaves and small branches that help keep wild horses’ diets balanced.

Wild fruits

Wild fruits are a delightful treat for wild horses. These can include berries, apples, or any fruit they find growing in their habitat. 

Fruits provide sugars and additional vitamins, giving horses a sweet energy boost.


Weeds might not sound appealing, but they can be a valuable food source for wild horses. Weeds often grow in abundance and can be quite nutritious. 

Horses aren’t picky and eat various weeds to satisfy their dietary needs.

How Do Horses Get Food in the Wild?

Wild horses have to fend for themselves when it comes to finding food. They don’t have anyone to feed them, so they rely on their instincts and the natural environment. 

Let’s explore how these majestic animals find their meals in the wild.


Grazing is the primary way wild horses get their food. They spend a significant portion of their day grazing on grasses. 

This involves slowly moving across the landscape nibbling on the plants they come across. Horses have adapted to eat small amounts continuously, which helps them stay on the move and avoid predators.


Foraging means searching for food beyond just grasses. Wild horses will seek out wild forbs, bushes, shrubs, wild fruits, and weeds. 

They roam their habitat, using their keen sense of smell and sight to find these plants. Foraging helps them get a balanced diet with a variety of nutrients.

Seasonal movements

Wild horses often move with the seasons to find food. In the spring and summer, they may graze in lush meadows. In the fall and winter, they might move to lower elevations or more sheltered areas where vegetation is still accessible. 

This seasonal migration ensures they have a steady food supply throughout the year.

Using water sources

Water sources are crucial for wild horses. Not only do they need to drink, but areas around water sources often have richer vegetation. 

Wild horses often graze and forage near rivers, lakes, and streams where plants are more abundant and nutritious.


Wild horses are incredibly adaptable. They can survive in various environments, from grassy plains to desert regions. 

This adaptability means they can eat various plants and switch their diet based on what’s available. If grasses are scarce, they’ll eat shrubs, bushes, and even hardy weeds.

Social behavior

Wild horses often live in groups, known as bands. These bands help each other find food. 

An experienced lead mare guides the group to good grazing and foraging spots. This social structure ensures that all band members have a better chance of finding enough food.

What Do Wild Horses Eat in Winter?

In winter, wild horses survive by adapting their diet to the harsher conditions. They graze on dry grasses, which they uncover by scraping away the snow with their hooves. 

When grasses are scarce, they turn to shrubs and bushes, nibbling on leaves, twigs, and even barks. They dig through the snow to find forbs and weeds, adding variety and vital vitamins to their diet. 

In the toughest times, they may strip bark from trees to get some nutrients. 

Additionally, wild horses rely on their stored fat reserves, which they build up during the warmer months. This provides essential energy when food is hard to find. 

They often forage in groups, following experienced members who know the best spots, which helps them locate food more efficiently and stay protected. 

This combination of grazing, foraging, and social cooperation ensures they can find enough food to survive the winter.

What Do Wild Horses Drink?

Wild horses drink from natural water sources like rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds, visiting them multiple times a day, especially in hot weather. The availability of water changes during different seasons. 

They may travel further to find these sources in dry periods, using their memory and instinct. When liquid water is scarce in winter, they eat snow to stay hydrated, although it’s less efficient. 

Wild horses also get some moisture from the dew and the plants they eat, which helps supplement their hydration needs. These strategies ensure that wild horses can maintain water intake throughout the year.

The Importance of Wild Plants and Hydration in Horses

Wild plants and water are crucial for the health and survival of wild horses. They get their nutrients from grasses, forbs, shrubs, and weeds. 

These plants give them the energy to move and the fiber needed for good digestion. A varied diet ensures they receive a balance of vitamins and minerals, helping them adapt to different seasons and environments.

Hydration is just as important. Wild horses drink from rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds, and in winter, they eat snow to stay hydrated. 

Water is essential for digestion, temperature control, and overall health. Even the dew on plants can provide some moisture. 

Without enough water, horses can’t properly digest their food or stay healthy. Wild plants and water keep wild horses strong and able to thrive in their natural habitats.

Impact of Habitat on Diet

The habitat of wild horses has a big impact on what they eat. They feast on lush grasses and forbs in grassy plains, which are plentiful and easy to find. 

In desert regions, they rely more on hardy shrubs and bushes and any grasses that grow. Their diet in forests or mountainous areas includes more tree bark, leaves, and whatever plants are available.

Different environments mean different food sources. This variation helps wild horses adapt to changing seasons and conditions. 

Their ability to find and eat various plants ensures they get the necessary nutrients, no matter where they live. The habitat shapes their diet, making them resilient and versatile in the wild.

Challenges to Feeding in the Wild

Feeding in the wild comes with its own set of challenges for horses. 

First, there’s the constant search for food. Wild horses spend most of their day grazing and foraging. Finding enough food can be tough in harsh conditions like winter or drought. Snow and ice can cover grasses, making them hard to reach, and drought can dry up plants, leaving less to eat.

Human encroachment is a big issue. Wild horses lose their grazing land as humans build more homes and roads. This means less space to find food and more competition with livestock. Fences and barriers can block access to water and feeding areas, making survival harder.

Predators are another challenge. While wild horses are strong, they must stay alert for predators like wolves and mountain lions. Predators can attack while horses are grazing, forcing them to stay on the move and sometimes miss out on feeding.

Competition is another challenge. Wild horses often compete with other animals for the same food sources. Predators can also make feeding dangerous, as horses must stay alert while grazing.

Environmental changes add to the difficulty. Natural disasters like wildfires or floods can destroy food sources, forcing horses to move and find new areas to graze.

Despite these challenges, wild horses are resilient. They adapt their diet, travel to new locations, and use their survival instincts. But the struggle to find enough food is a constant part of life in the wild.

Domesticated vs. Wild Horses Diet

Nutrient/AspectDomesticated HorsesWild Horses
Energy sourcesHay, grains (oats, barley,  corn)Natural grasses, shrubs and forbs
FiberHigh fiber from hay and sometimes beet pulpFiber from a variety of natural plants
ProteinsBalanced proteins from hay, grains, and commercial feedsProteins from diverse plants and occasional tree bark
SupplementsVitamins and mineral supplements are often addedNo supplements
Water sourcesClean water from troughs or buckets, regularly monitoredNatural water sources like rivers, streams, ponds, and sometimes snow
Vitamins and mineralsOften provided through commercial feedsObtained from various natural forage plants


So, what do wild horses eat? The answer is a bit of everything nature offers.

From lush grasses to hardy shrubs, they nibble their way through a diverse menu. They even munch on tree bark and dig through snow when times get tough.

Wild horses are the ultimate survivors, adapting their diet to whatever the season throws at them. It’s not just about survival. It’s about thriving in the wild.

These majestic creatures make the most of what they find, showing us the true meaning of resilience. Next time you see a wild horse, you’ll know just how impressive their eating habits are.

Read our insightful article to find out how wild horses trim their hooves

Picture of Dr. Noman Tariq

Dr. Noman Tariq

Dr. Noman Tariq, a seasoned veterinarian with a DVM from ARID University and an MPhil in Animal Nutrition from UVAS, specializes in equine health. His deep passion for horse nutrition and well-being drives his work, offering invaluable advice for horse owners. Dr. Tariq's expertise ensures horses lead vibrant, healthy lives.
You can read my full bio here

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What Do Wild Horses Eat?