Is your horse a picky eater? Is it hard to get them to eat grain that has medications added to it? If you go into a tack store, there are lots of flavor choices for supplements and common medications (such as Bute). But, do horses like what humans think they like?
It turns out that someone has actually done some research to find out what flavors horses prefer. Deborah Goodwin, BSc, PhD, research director of Applied Animal Behaviour Programmes at the University of Southampton, tested the taste buds of eight horses in England. Okay, not a huge sample size, but a start.
In Goodwin’s first trial, she offered 15 flavors to eight stabled horses in a small amount of grain and measured how much they ate, how long it took them to eat it, and if any horses partially or completely rejected it. Some horses refused to eat three flavors–echinacea, nutmeg, and coriander. This left 12 flavors that were universally accepted: apple, banana, carrot, cherry, cumin, fenugreek, garlic, ginger, oregano, peppermint, and rosemary turmeric.
Okay, intuitively, I can see where she came up with apple, carrot, and peppermint. And I have heard of horses that like to eat bananas. But what the heck is fenugreek?
It turns out that fenugreek is one of the world’s oldest medicinal herbs. It has a variety of uses, including increasing breastmilk production in women. Fenugreek is the small stony seeds from the pod of a bean-like plant. Often the seeds are roasted before using. Ground, the seeds are aromatic, giving off a spicy smell like curry. When eaten, they leave a bitter aftertaste, similar to celery or lovage.
In the next phase of the study, the eight flavors the horses ate the fastest of the 12 offered were presented again, in all combinations of pairings, to rank the horses’ overall order of preference.
The horses’ top-ranked flavors were (in order). Apple is nowhere in sight and carrot and peppermint are pretty far down the list. Fenugreek is right at the top!
Finally, in Trial 3 she offered the horses three versions of a mineral pellet: banana-flavored, fenugreek-flavored, or unflavored. Horses ate the pellet much faster when it was flavored with either fenugreek or banana than when it had no added flavor.
It seems that these eight horses have a discriminating palate and that they lean toward the spices used in curries. Or is it just English horses that have this preference. I’ll have to test my two and see if fenugreek is high on their list. Just as soon as I find a store that sells it!