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All rights reserved Kaley Liddick

Tips for Feeding Supplements to Picky Eaters

May 16, 2014

     So you've found the perfect herbal remedy for your horse. Your veterinarian approves it, it's top-notch quality, and it seems to be exactly what he needs. There's only one problem - he won't eat it. Not only do you have to throw away the ration of herbs, you also have to toss his grain, and the other supplements that were with it.


     This is a very common issue among horse owners, whether it simply be a picky eater, a horse that doesn't get any grain (and refuses to eat herbs/supplements alone), or a horse that who's appetite is suppressed due to illness.


     First, consider why your horse isn't interested in what you've offered him. When this happens, be sure to examine your horse and rule out any medical reasons why he may not want to eat, especially when a horse is suddenly putting his nose up to something he's been eating regularly. Lack of appetite is often the first sign of a medical emergency. Also, always check to make sure the food or supplement you're giving isn't spoiled or moldy, even if it's brand new.


Sometimes, despite our efforts to find what we think they need, animals refuse our remedies because they intuitively know that it will not serve them. We must remember to take a step back, and consider whether or not this particular addition (or one of the ingredients in it) is really in their best interest. If you think this may be the problem, consider a zoopharmacognosic approach. You can offer a variety of suitable remedies for them sniff and taste, and often times they will let your know loud and clear which one they think should be implemented into their diet.


     A common mistake horse owners make is giving too much of a new supplement at once. Some supplements may be most effective when administered at a loading dose, (giving a larger amount to start, and then backing off to a maintenance dose), with many supplements you can slowly increase the amount given over time, allowing your horse to become accustomed to the new taste, texture, and smell.


     Sometimes, however, the remedy is necessary, the dose is well adjusted, and your horse is still giving you grief. What can be done?


     One thing I try to avoid when trying to get a horse to eat something is adding sugar. It is often recommended to mix in applesauce, molasses, or grated carrots, which may be suitable for a limited amount of time in some horses. However, excess sugar can cause more harm than good and defeat the beneficial purpose of the supplement you're providing, especially if you're using it as a long-term solution or with a horse with metabolic issues, such as Cushing's Syndrome.


     Luckily, there are some good options that horses love, which don't involve added sugar.



     A few years ago, a study was conducted in the UK to determine which flavors horses preferred. The flavor the ranked 1st was Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum). Not only do horses love the way it tastes, but it can also aid with digestion. Fenugreek does contain phytoestrogens, which are beneficial in some cases, but may aggravate some hormonal conditions and can interfere with absorption of some medications, so consider consulting a professional herbalist if you plan on using it. It also shouldn't be used in pregnant mares. It can be ground and mixed in with other supplements. Alterantively, it can be decocted (gently simmered) for 15 minutes, and then poured over the horse's grain and/or supplements (no need to strain).



     Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) was also high on the list of horse's preferred flavors. It also is a great digestive aid. Peppermint is very safe and easy to come by, but shouldn't be given to horses with liver or biliary disorders. Like Fenugreek, it can be ground and mixed in with the culprit supplement, or infused in hot water for a few hours/overnight, and then poured over the feed.



     In some cases, the issue isn't so much the taste of something, but rather the texture. Powders often are unpalatable to horses, and will fall to the bottom of the bucket and get left behind. Combining your supplements with a quality vegetable oil will help it stick to the matrix of what you're feeding it in, and make the texture more palatable. An important note to keep in mind is that adding poor quality oils may actually be detrimental to your horses health. I generally recommend olive or coconut oil - never corn or canola.


     If the issue seems to be texture and taste, you can go all out with infused oils. Peppermint infused olive oil is my go to with finicky eaters. Making an infused oil is easier than it sounds - simply fill a glass jar with chopped herb (fresh or dried will do), cover the plant material completely with olive oil, secure the lid tightly, and store it in a warm, dry place, out of direct sunlight. Pick it up and shake it up a bit whenever you remember (at least once a day is best), and it will be ready to be strained and used in 2-4 weeks!



     If you want to give your horse a supplement, but he isn't getting any grain, mixing the supplement with moistened Alfalfa pellets may do the trick. Alfalfa (Medicago sativa), is a vitamin and mineral rich legume hay that is often fed in large quantities. Some horses get hot when given Alfalfa, but it generally will not produce this effect if you're only feeding small quantities. A couple handfuls is usually all you need.



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