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Plenty of hay, pasture in summer, mineral feed, and salt lick – and a little sainfoin or lucerne as a source of protein if required. This regime supplies to a horse with no health issues adequately.

Unfortunately, not every horse has the perfect start to a healthy life from day one. In a case where the mother already has digestive problems or the youngster is suffering from skin issues, an overloaded immune system or digestive disorder. What support can be given in such cases to ensure that the horse still gets off to the best possible start?

Sick horses belong in the hands of a competent vet or therapist

It goes without saying an unwell equine needs adequate care from a trained professional such as a vet or therapist. It wouldn’t be fair on the horse with acute laminitis or severe sweet itch, to just search online and try and replicate or follow instructions randomly.

It’s not that big of a deal. The immune system is weakened as the adult teeth are coming through, or a new horse just arrived and the integration into the herd is a little stressful. Or the youngster had a worm burden and experience tummy ache due to the worm treatment doing its job, inconveniently this happened in the middle of the grazing season. All is available for the owner to treat the horse single handed .

Bitter herbs in the grazing on season

To support the horse to make the transition from winter to summer a hand full of bitter herbs can be added to the daily feed intake. In nature, horses can be observed in spring to graze on herbs with a high bitter content, such as dandelion, or they nibble on bitter tree bark here and there, as these bitter substances support the gut to transition from hay or dried out grasses to fresh juicy spring grass.

Bitter and tannin content stabilise the intestinal gut flora, when adding bitter herbs to the feed in spring, the horses have less bloated bellis or ‘loose droppings’ to deal with. As soon as the horses are fully used to the fresh grass, there is no need to continue with the bitter herbs. In general, bitter herbs can always be given when the gut has come of balance for various reasons, after administration of a chemical worm treatment for example, it will help rebalance the intestinal gut flora.

three horses trot across a green field
In nature, horses mainly eat herbs with a high bitter content in spring. © Adobe Stock / Rita Kochmarjova

Herbal blends for more diversity

Whether herbs should be added during the summer season when the horses are happily outside enjoying the pasture, really depends on individual growth of plant diversity species. If you have pastures with lots of different herbs, where it is not only green but also flowers, then the horses will get all the secondary plant substances they need from the pasture herbs. If the pastures are predominantly green rather than flowering, i.e. there are mainly grasses and only a few herbs, then a broad mixture of herbs would be ideal to add, this imitates what would grow on the pastures if our fields were not so overcultivated.

Summer herbs from OKAPI are a pre-mixed herbal blend There are several brands offering herbal mixtures, attention should be paid to a broad spectrum in the mixture (as a rule of thumb, one herb from each active ingredient group) and that the herbs are of human grade standards. Although that will most likely be reflected in the sales price, it is after all the quality of the active ingredients we are after and thus its full potentials.

Tasty treats for your equine companion

A young horse that is learning basic skills such as putting a head collar on, leading on the lead rope by the handlers’ side at the desired speed, picking up all four hooves, going for a walk… can also be given a reward for their motivated co-operation. Most commercial treats tend to be ‘fast food’ for horses, so you’re not doing your little one’s metabolism any favours, even if he finds them super tasty.

Carrots can be cut into very thin slices and given as a ‘special reward’. Carrots are very rich in sugar, so thin slices are preferable, giving lots of carrots isn’t favourable.

The same applies to apples, an apple cut into small pieces as a reward treat is perfectly fine and real highlight on the reward list for most horses. But try to avoid feeding 3-4 apples every day. Fruit and vegetables are made up of pectin and this makes the large intestine acidic when fed in excess.

When training in hand, clicker training or basic liberty tasks natural treats such as Sainfoin pellets or HempClickerli can also be used. These are all pellets with a diameter of approx. 6mm. They are small enough that you can give them dry without causing dental problems and if you give them as individual treats, there is less risk of choking as supposed to offering a whole bucket. Neither of those treats are the biggest hit as far as treats go, but they are still delicious. In their own right.

Vitamin-rich rose hips
Rosehips are healthy treats. © Adobe Stock/Анастасия Стягайло

Another option is to try and see if your little furry friend likes rose hips. The best time to do this is in autumn, when they are hanging ripe on the rose bushes everywhere. Then simply pick a handful and offer them – some horses love them, others hate them, as always ‘trial and error’ is the best route for action. If you have success with your horse, bingo, they are the perfect natural treat nature has to offer!

Supporting the coat change

Once we near autumn and the next coat change is upon us starting in August, supporting your youngster with suitable herbs so that the coat change goes smoothly. Young horses under the age of 6 start earlier with shedding their summer coat and accumulate a much denser winter coat then older horses do. The reason being is that the young horse requires a large amount of its energy to grow and therefore uses less energy to keep warm in the winter months. They therefore put on their ‘winter coat’ earlier and end up with a thicker ‘down coat’ rather than a thin ‘winter coat’ that many adult horses show in the same yard and perhaps management.

So don’t be alarmed when your youngster looks like a ‘fluff monster’ from September onwards, it is in fact completely normal for young horses when kept in a species-appropriate management. It is a stressful time for the body and its metabolism, to support the young horse in this process by offering suitable herbs that can help with the detoxification as well as an appropriate mineral supply.


In principle, less is more. A healthy young horse should not be over supplied with various well-intentioned supplements and herbal mixtures, otherwise the ‘goodness’ could take a turn to ‘illnesses’.


Team Sanoanimal