By Dr Keith Foster of Fine Fettle Feed
As natural herbivores, it is innate to the horse to seek out and eat herbs at pasture which have healing properties in their seeds, flowers, roots, stems or leaves. Whilst chemical fertilisers are often used to maintain the grass growth of pasture, the grass is normally cropped, as opposed to returning it to the soil base, meaning that the micro-nutrient quality of the soil can often decline. Ultimately this will limit the nutritional quality of the grazing available to our equines. Minerals, trace elements and vitamins are vital to the health of our animals, and horses will often seek out to selectively graze certain plants to receive the nutrients missing from their diet.
However if the grazing is overly cropped or treated with chemicals the pasture can be missing many nutrients, which can damage equine health.
So, what can we do to provide those natural herbs and nutrients in the equine diet?
The 21st century has seen a huge resurgence in the use of natural therapies and an increase in the number of people considering the benefits of natural horsecare, including natural feeding. Feeding herbs requires common sense, patience and a degree of observation and monitoring, but none the less, most equine nutritionists would agree that ‘natural is best’, and giant leaps in the field of research, development and manufacture have seen a range of technologically-advanced products and treatments that can improve well-being via herbal medicine.
Having seen the potential benefits, it is no surprise that many people are also using herbal medicine to naturally enhance equine performance. Specially formulated herbs can strengthen horses’ and ponies’ immunity, improve recovery rates after exercise, improve circulation, support the elimination of exercise by-products such as lactic acid, increase respiratory capacity and maintaining an efficient equine digestive system.
Let’s take a look at some of the benefits that some of my favourite herbs used within feed additives for horses and ponies can provide…
Urtica Dioica (Nettle)
Nettle is rich in vitamin C, iron, sodium, protein and dietary fibre, and is useful as a blood cleanser to ward off skin ailments such as sweet itch.
Boasting great eliminative properties through the liver and kidneys, the plant is beneficial in the absorption of iron, making it useful in the veterinary treatment of anaemia.
Nettles also help stimulate circulation, which is useful in cases of laminitis, rheumatism and arthritis.
Mentha piperita (Peppermint)
Peppermint is one of the oldest cultivated herbs, and provides a fantastic appetite stimulant for horses. Mint is a valuable herb for the digestive system, as the oil it contains has a ‘carminative’ action, helping to relax sphincters and the smooth muscle of the digestive system, assist in the expulsion of intestinal gas, and increase peristalsis. It is ideal for horses prone to smooth muscle spasm, trapped gas, or poor appetite. For the respiratory system, antibacterial peppermint oil can to help loosen residual mucus/ catarrh, encourage perspiration and help combat lung infections.
Artemisia Absinthium (WormWood)
Wormwood is a common perennial herb found throughout the country (UK). Wormwood is extremely bitter due to its volatile oil, offering a bitter tonic which is carminative and anti-inflammatory, but most notably anthelmintic, which means that ingesting it helps to expel worms and parasites.
Wormwood should however only be provided via a reputable, expertly formulated supplement, as it can prove toxic if fed incorrectly.
Racing Trainer Scott Dixon provides his horses with Full Spectrum Herbs from Fine Fettle Feeds.
“The herbal blend particularly seems to pick up our fillies, e.g. coats, skin and general well being.”
“The horses also love the taste.”