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In the best-case scenario, you have a healthy horse in your stable that can live on nothing but hay, mineral feed, salt lick and water. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Whether you have to give a dewormer to the horse because of a proven worm infestation or you have to feed it not particularly palatable supplements because of metabolic disorders – with many horses the administration becomes a real test of nerves for the owner.

However, there are a few tricks you can try out to make the feed palatable to even the biggest sweet tooth.

Mix in

Soaked hay cobs or, even better, sainfoin cobs are suitable. The latter have a strong taste of their own that drowns out many other tastes, so that the horses don’t really notice there is something else in the bucket. If the horse is allowed to eat hard feed, you can certainly mix the not-so-tasty feed together with the hard feed.

With grains, perhaps add a little water, as powder trickles through the cereal grains and can end up at the bottom of the trough. For very stubborn candidates, you can also mix the feed with a little wheat bran. It tastes extremely delicious to horses and covers up most of the not-so-great stuff.

Be careful here, however, with feedstuffs containing minerals: The phytates contained in wheat bran not only bind calcium, but also many other minerals, for example, zinc. With such feeds, it’s better to use hay or sainfoin cobs.

2. Introduce slowly

Some horses can be given the full dose of any feed immediately, but many are finicky. They should be accustomed to the taste slowly, especially if the feed tastes very intense. It’s best to start with a pinch of food and then slowly increase this amount until the horse accepts the full dose without any problems. It’s better to feed less, but more regularly, than give the full dose one day but have the horse refuse the whole bucket the next day.


3. Tasty juice

Carrot juice
Spice up the taste with some carrot juice © Adobe Stock/cat_smile

If the hay cobs or sainfoin cobs are only half-heartedly eaten on their own, but not after adding other feeds, you can spice up their taste with a little clear apple juice or carrot juice. Of course, both juices contain sugar (which is what makes them so tasty), so be careful with horses with EMS, insulin resistance, or a tendency for laminitis.

Just pour the juice over the top, don’t mix it in at all. The horses do that all by themselves while eating and hardly notice that the taste disappears more and more towards the bottom.


4. Hardfeed sprinkles

If a horse is allowed to eat hardfeed or grain, but doesn’t really need it, you can still use it to make unpleasant feeds more palatable. Again, you can use a handful of soaked hay cobs into which the unpalatable feed is mixed and sprinkle the whole thing with some concentrate (you need much less than if you want to hide the feed in the hard feed itself).

When eating the beloved hardfeed, the hay cobs are automatically eaten along with it and similar to the juice, the horses hardly notice that the amount of concentrate gets less and less the further they eat towards the bottom of the bucket.


5. Mouth syringe

You know the principle from deworming: syringe sideways into the corner of the mouth, with the tip pointing towards the ears, and then squirt the paste onto the horse’s tongue. Some horses are quite relaxed about this procedure and just let it happen. For them, you can also dissolve unloved feed additives or medication (if the medication allows this, please check with the vet) with water and inject it into the mouth.

It works even better with unsweetened apple sauce instead of water. It masks the taste, is sweet, and sticks to the mouth better – because some talented horses just let the water run out… However, horses that are already terribly upset by deworming should rather be spared this procedure.


6. Coating the nuzzle

It sounds meaner than the mouth injection, but in the end, it is the gentler method: Mix the feed with water to a thick paste and then smear it around the mouth and nostrils – you can even put just a little bit into the nostrils. This ensures that everything the horse eats in the next 24 hours has this same taste.

No horse will starve to death in front of the haystack – at some point, they will start eating the hay and realize that the taste is not doing anything bad. If necessary, you can repeat this the next day, but at the latest, most horses accept the taste in hay cobs or other feed and eat the “disgusting” feed without any problems.


7. Sprinkle over hay

When dealing with powdered feeds, such as spirulina, you can “dilute” the taste by moistening the hay with a watering can and then sprinkling the powder over it. Due to the moisture, it sticks well to the hay and is then eaten with it. Because little feed is eaten with a lot of hay, the taste is nowhere near as intense as when it is offered in a bucket. Again, start with a small pinch and slowly introduce the horse to the taste.

Of course, this only works really well if the horse is kept in a stable by itself – in a group setting you’d end up treating the rest of the herd at the same time. This technique should be avoided with psyllium seeds/husks. They swell up and become very slippery. Skilled horses shake them off the hay, so you’ll find a slippery, slimy slide in the stable the next morning.


8. Hiding tablets

If you have to give your horse tablets, you can of course dissolve them in water or crush them and hide them in hay cobs or similar. However, not all tablets are suitable for this. Please ask your vet beforehand.

If the tablets must not be dissolved, you can drill a hole in a piece of apple with a chopstick and put the tablet in there. A small piece of apple does not normally harm a horse with Cushing’s or EMS – as always, the dose makes the poison.

If you have a very fussy horse, it is important to remember that not only the bad taste of the feed can be the cause, but that there might be stomach ulcers involved. These cause the horses to constantly have a kind of stomach ache – even if you don’t see it in the form of colic.

Horses have an evolutionary learning programme that allows them to learn poisonous plants very quickly. This is because most poisonous or intolerable plants are not immediately deadly in small quantities. Rather, they cause the horse to get a stomach ache, to feel sick, dizzy or otherwise unwell. The horse associates this with the taste of the plant after eating it only once and will avoid it in the future.

If, however, a horse has a stomach ache all the time due to stomach ulcers, then at some point it will associate all unfamiliar tastes with discomfort and will be correspondingly food-phobic with new feeds or unfamiliar tastes. In such cases, the underlying problem, i.e. the stomach ulcers, should of course be treated first (even if it is once again not easy to get the therapeutically necessary feed into the horse). But the feeding behavior often becomes much more relaxed afterward.

More on the topic

If your horse is a picky eater, stomach problems could be an underlying cause for this. Find out more about this in: Stomach ulcers in horses