Quite rightly, people are cottoning on to the fact that horses in nature have a ‘diverse’ range of options available to them as forage.  This has lead to a view that herbal preparations can provide a substitute source of the nutritional variety that horses experience in nature and therefore that feeding herbs will assure the health of the horse.

Some herbs do have useful properties which can be beneficial for specific conditions. However  horses are primarily grass-eaters. Therefore, it is advisable to focus on making sure your horse has suitable pasture and hay which is made up of multiple species of grasses.  You can then utilise herbs in the bucket for specific reasons or conditions.

It’s important to remember that not every  plant grown in our environment is nutritionally representative of  a plant that is adapted to the soils and climate where horses are designed to thrive.

Certain herb plants growing naturally and in small quantities can be beneficial but they should absolutely not make up a serious percentage of your horse hay or pasture. Herb leaves tend to have a high crude protein content (up to 35%) which – if they are fed at high levels – can create issues for many horses.

Studies show that insulin is spiked by high crude protein levels as well as sugars and starches.

The leafy portion of all legumes (clovers) and herbs tend to be high in potassium and nitrogen. In our experience, the more compromised your horse is, the less of these he can tolerate – especially when fed on top of short or lush green grass with clovers which are already far too high.   EMS horses and those prone to laminitis need very careful management to reduce sugars, potassium and nitrogen in their diet.

Although some people find adding herbs to their horse’s diet can bring a useful element to their management system, this is not  something that I have needed to do as part of my management protocols.  In my experience, sticking to the basic nurtritional principles of good hay, managed pasture and simple small complementary bucket feeds ensures healthy, thriving horses. Of course, these nutritional proocols must be provided alongside means of meeting the horse’s fundamental needs in terms of movement and socialisation!