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Open stables, track systems and paddock trails should not be bare sand pits. Natural vegetation should be integrated into the horse environment in the form of bushes, trees, shrubs, and herbs that can be cleverly placed all around it.
Leaves and flowers, twigs, bark, buds, and fruit are good for the horse and make the diet more varied and exciting for every horse to explore, play and interact with.
In addition, living hedges and flowering strips are a refuge for insects, birds, and other small creatures, so that the stable environment can turn into its own valuable ecosystem.

Trees, shrubs, and other plants can be planted outside the fence along the turn out fields for grazing, the riding arena, the track system pathways or paddock trails – fenced off – or in the middle of the free moving area. This not only looks very pretty, but also makes an important contribution to biodiversity and, of course, to keeping our horses occupied and supplementing their diet with useful herbs.
Exploratory and play behaviour can be exercised with branches and twigs. It also benefits their need to chew, rather nibble and chew on branches and hedges provided for this purpose then on the expensive wood fencing or even the indoor stable walls.

Planting in and around the stables offer more than just an additional snack for horses

Suitable planting can also be used to structure or separate different areas in an open stable environment such as a track system off grass. Shelter from the wind can be created or shade in the summer months, extended walkways can be designed from the hay rack to the water trough for example, even if there isn’t enough room to design an entire walkway, options on a smaller scale are also available. It’s worth knowing a little about edible plants that are suitable for horses, even if you don’t own your own equine facility and are able to freely plant. After all, every horse happily receives a treat or two, twigs to chew on or herbs to nibble on, the more colourful the better (and it’s healthier too).

Wind protection, sun protection, a refuge for birds that eat the annoying (horse)flies or for irrigating the ground and aiding drainage: trees and shrubs in particular offer such enormous added value that it is worth looking into this concept. Be aware not every shrub is edible for horses and not every tree is suitable for every location.

Trees & Shrubs

Trees and shrubs are particularly suitable for planting as hedges outside the fence line. If they are planted into the wind direction, they offer the horses excellent protection from bad weather. However, if the stable is in a wet area, it is better to plant them lengthways to the wind direction, because in summer every breeze makes it more difficult for the pesky horseflies to attack the horses. In such a scenario, it is worth providing both hay racks with wind draught (summer) and a wind shield (winter), for example behind an L-shaped hedge or shelter. Trees are often used to provide shade in summer and also, provide protection against the odd rain shower in autumn and winter. Horses usually prefer them to closed shelters, as they provide protection from the weather but offer a panoramic view to keep an eye on their surroundings. Trees and shrubs also absorb huge amounts of water and are therefore invaluable assistance in ‘mud management’. If the paddock entrance can be designed in such a way that it has a slight dropping slop and trees and shrubs can be planted around it, then rainwater will drain away well and the plants will also absorb the water, suddenly the previous swamp will be a lot drier and much easier to manage in winter months

Which species of trees and shrubs are suitable for planting around open stables?

When choosing plants around the stable yards where horses have freely access to, it is certainly important to ensure that trees and shrubs are selected that are harmless – i.e. non-toxic – for the horses. Below is a list of some suitable and non-toxic trees and shrubs:

Alder (Alnus glutinosa): The alder is a very fast-growing tree that can become extremely large Alders belong to the birch family and therefore have similar characteristics. They particularly like to settle on damp ground, which makes them perfect for paddocks that have trouble to drain and hold standing water for long periods of time. Horses like to eat the branches and foliage. Alders are pioneer plants; they prepare the ground for other plants. They actually thrive best on the edges of watercourses and wetlands; they consume a lot of water and ensure that water can seep away more quickly in the long term. . Together with birches and willows, they are ideal for very wet depressions in the paddock or drainage ditches along the fence, to which the water is channelled via slopes.

Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus): Also belongs to the birch family and is therefore not a true beech. This tree retains its foliage well into the winter, is also very tolerant of pruning and is therefore ideal as a hedge to provide privacy and also as an autumn windbreak for horses. The hornbeam requires very little space and does not mind being nibbled on, which most horses are quite happy to do. Fenced hornbeam hedges are a good way of structuring open stables and walkways into different areas and extending walkways.

Mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia): Colloquially known as the ‘rowan tree’ with its bright red fruit clusters. It belongs to the rose family. In Germany, the rowan was named Tree of the Year in 1997. It is an extremely valuable food plant for insects, birds and mammals. In spring, the rowan produces beautiful white flowers and in autumn the striking orange-red fruits. The rowan is absolutely undemanding in terms of soil conditions and is also extremely wind-resistant and frost-hardy. The leaves have a high magnesium content, which the tree uses to fertilise itself. Horses also like to nibble on the leaves. In naturopathy, they are said to have a special effect on coughs and bronchitis. However, the berries, which in botanical terms are actually apple fruits, contain parasorbic acid when raw, which can lead to stomach upset in very high quantities. Parasorbic acid tastes extremely bitter, which is why the berries are generally not touched, but be aware in case of a very greedy eater, who has a go at everything. After the first frosts, the parasorbic acid is converted to sorbic acid, which then tastes sweet and loses its toxicity. If you are unsure, you can also plant rowan trees so that their fruits land outside the fence so that they cannot be reached by horses. Birds like to use them as autumn and winter food.

Birch (Betula pendula): An undemanding plant that copes well with plenty of moisture. As a rule, horses do not eat the bark of the tree trunk, as the birch secretes tannins that are not particularly palatable. The fresh twigs and even leaves are tasty, as is the bark when dried. The flavonoids from the birch leaves inhibit the enzyme ACE, which leads to increased sodium and water excretion. The diuretic effect is used in particular for urinary tract infections, kidney problems and urinary gravel. Birch is an integral part of various ‘kidney herb mixtures.

Hazelnut (Corylus avellana): The hazel usually grows as a multi-stemmed, upright shrub and only grows to a height of around five metres. The hazel prefers to thrive in soils with a high humus content. Extreme waterlogging or very sandy, dry soils do not suit the shrub particularly well. The leaves contain flavonoids, tannins and essential oils, which are said to stimulate the flow of bile and have an anti-inflammatory effect on the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract and intestines. A slight antioxidant effect also supports the immune system. Leaves as well as branches and fresh twigs are very popular for nibbling.

Horse eating from a tree
Although native fruit trees are non-toxic, caution is advised when the trees are bearing fruit, especially during the autumn fruit season. The trees should then be generously fenced off. © AdobeStock / sidliks

Crab apple/wild apple (Malus sylvestris): The crab apple likes to grow in nutrient-rich, well-drained soil, so is more suitable for the edge of the run where the soil has not yet been compacted by the horses. It can reach heights of up to 10 metres. Sometimes, however, it grows more like a shrub and then remains significantly smaller. The branches and twigs have short shoots with thorns, which are nevertheless usually eaten by horses without any problems The apple blossom in spring and the small, pretty fruits in autumn make the crab apple very valuable for bees and birds. The fruit is much more acidic than normal apples. Horses eat fallen fruit or fruit that is within their reach with great relish. Therefore, it’s best to ensure that the horses – depending on the size of the herd – do not have unlimited access to the trees. Therefore, it’s best to ensure that the horses – depending on the size of the herd – do not have unlimited access to the trees.

Wood pear / wild pear (Pyrus pyraster): Like the crab apple, the wood pear likes to grow in nutrient-rich, well-drained soil. It reaches a height of 8 to 20 metres, but also occurs as a medium-sized shrub with a height of two to four metres. It also has thorns on the short shoots, but this does not prevent most horses from nibbling on them. Wild fruit is ecologically extremely valuable for bees, birds, and small mammals. It is also a real eye-catcher for people thanks to the pretty blossom and the fruit as a splash of colour in autumn. If it is possible to plant in such a way that greedy horses’ mouths cannot reach the treetops indefinitely to nibble, some wild fruit should not be missing in a diverse equestrian area. The leaves, twigs and bark that can be reached over the fence are also enjoyed.

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra): Most horses don’t seem to like black elder at all and therefore don’t usually eat it, even if it is standing unprotected in the middle of the field. Only in the early days does it need protection, when it is still so small that it is easily trampled down. Elder loves nitrogen-rich soils, which is why it develops particularly well in horse turn out areas and along muck heaps, where the soil is saturated with nitrogen from the horses’ urine. Once the small elder shoot has grown into a large shrub, usually between 4 and 7 metres, horses like to use it for shade and protection from insects. Elderberries are said to have a very specific odour that keeps the annoying flying insects away. Horses therefore like to stay close to it at times when there is a lot of insect activity. The gnarled branches are also often used as scratching brushes. When planting elderberry, it is important to ensure that you do not use a dwarf elderberry plant, which are usually available as small ornamental shrubs in garden centres, as they are poisonous in every respect.

Lime tree (Tilia cordata): The winter lime tree is considered a medicinal plant in naturopathy. Its flowers strengthen the immune system, treat irritated airways, have an antispasmodic, diaphoretic and antipyretic effect and also have a calming effect on the nerves. Depending on the species, lime trees can live to be very old. The winter lime tree usually grows to a height of 15 to 25 metres and is a very strong tree. The very nectar-rich lime blossoms are also extremely interesting for bumblebees and bees. Horses also love the sweet blossoms, but they also like to enrich themselves on all other parts of the tree. Due to the later size of the tree and the spreading crown, lime trees can be planted to provide excellent shade, but must be fenced off or the trunk well protected, otherwise the horses will gnaw the bark to such an extent that the tree dies.

Poplar (Populus): Poplars grow incredibly quickly and are also very tall, but most species are not so wide. They can grow about one metre per year, which is why they are often used to obtain wood for paper production. Poplars also tolerate being pruned hard. They like to grow in more humid locations, but do not tolerate drought so well. This in turn makes them interesting for any slopes in open turn out stables, as they have no problem with ‘wet feet’ after heavy or prolonged rainfall. The bark and buds in particular contain salicin, salicortin and populin, which have an anti-inflammatory and analgesic effect. The tannins they contain have a germ-killing, wound-healing and positive effect on digestion. Poplar resin is collected by bees and is a component of propolis, the resin that the beehive uses to protect itself against infections. However, as with birch trees, poplars must be felled in good time. Like all woody plants that grow very quickly, their wood is not particularly stable, so that as mature trees they quickly break off or fall over in storms, which poses an increased risk of accidents (also for stable buildings and fences!). If they are however, cut back regularly or felled as soon as they start to become unstable and replant a replacement try, they are a good tree to have.

Willows (Salix): There are many different types of willow, from hanging willows to silver willows and basket willows. All of them tolerated pruning well and are therefore compatible for an equestrian environment. They are naturopathically and ecologically valuable, very vigorous deciduous trees. Willows are adapted to damp locations and are quite capable of draining very wet areas in the paddock. Together with alders, birches and possibly poplars, they are the ideal plants for damp sloping areas as well as ditches used for drainage. Early-flowering species are particularly important for bumblebees, wild bees and honeybees. The conspicuous ‘willow catkins’ in spring contain a lot of nectar during their flowering period. Some willow species bloom as early as March when nature in many places still offers few other alternatives for insects. The bark of the willow contains active substances such as phenol glycosides, salicin and salicin derivatives, which have an analgesic effect, among other things. Only in the liver is salicin metabolised into the pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory salicylic acid, a precursor of acetylsalicylic acid (ASA). This well-known painkiller (‘aspirin’) is generally not used in horses as it can cause damage to the stomach lining. However, as the natural salicin is first metabolised in the liver, this negative effect is completely eliminated, making willow bark ideal for horses. Salycilates improve the flow properties of the blood. The flavonoids it also contains have a synergistic effect, i.e. they reinforce the pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effect described above. Willow is therefore where attractive to nibble on for horses prone to laminitis. In addition, willow leaves have a diuretic effect, which is why they are often used to support detoxification. Horses metabolise the ingredients very quickly, so willow leaves can always be available in the paddock. Competition riders should be aware of the doping rules.

Hawthorn (Crataegus): This very thorny, large shrub bears a very pretty white flower in spring and red fruit in autumn. Hawthorn grows to a height of around 3-5 metres and grows sprawling, dense and thorny, later becoming a wall that is difficult to penetrate, which makes it suitable for the outer boundary of a horse pasture.
Especially if the fence of the field or paddock borders on roads or footpaths, hawthorn is an invaluable helper in keeping out well-meaning people who feed the horses over the fence. Everything about hawthorn is healthy for the horse. Despite its thorns, horses love to nibble it. Seniors in particular benefit from its heart and circulation-strengthening properties. Leaves, flowers and fruits are all popular with horses. Birds also love the beautiful red fruits.

Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides): A hardy shrub that can grow up to 5 metres tall. With its long roots, sea buckthorn can also take root in dry, very sandy, poor soils where other plants have little chance. It is therefore suitable for dry, south-facing locations that get a lot of sun. Its eye-catching orange fruits are real superfoods, containing many vitamins, including vitamin B12, which is otherwise only found in feeds that are purchased for horse consumption.
The vitamin C content is four to ten times higher than in citrus fruits. The fruits contain polyunsaturated fatty acids, which make them very interesting for horses that are prone to dry skin, itching or severe dandruff. Sea buckthorn is, as the name suggests, very thorny, but the horses develop a lot of skill in harvesting the tasty and valuable fruit. They also like to eat the twigs, so it has to be fenced off in order to survive. It is always amazing how skilfully horses eat thorny plants such as sea buckthorn, hawthorn or brambles without injuring their mouths. If you want to plant sea buckthorn and be able to offer its fruit to your horses, you need male and female plants.

Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa): The blackthorn is covered with many tiny white flowers in early spring and is therefore valuable as early bee and butterfly nectar and source of pollen; for some butterfly species it is even essential for survival. After the first frost, the black-blue fruits provide food for birds and small rodents throughout the winter. Sloes are very prickly shrubs that grow to a height of around 4 to 5 metres. They tend to grow slowly, but in good soil the shrub forms many runners and can then partially overgrow other plants. Blackthorn can thus become a truly impenetrable thorn hedge. This is why blackthorn, just like hawthorn, is ideal for deterring walkers from feeding horses across the fence. In naturopathy, the flowers and fruits are used to treat stomach and intestinal disorders and inflammation of the mouth and throat.

Wild rose, dog rose (Rosa canina): Grows as a very prickly shrub, is very tolerant of pruning and is also suitable for creating a thorny hedge, as it also forms root runners. Horses usually only eat the young, fresh shoots, that have not turned very woody yet. The fruits are particularly popular: Rose hips. Horses will skilfully harvest the fruits with pointy lips, which are rich in vitamin C, K, beta-carotene and antioxidants. The galactolipids they also contain have a mild anti-inflammatory effect on the joints and can therefore improve the suppleness of movement in horses with early-stage arthritis. Rose hips can be picked by hand where it is tricky for the horse to reach, they can be offered as healthy treats, which are usually well received.

Various berry bushes: blackberries, raspberries and blackcurrants are not only tasty for humans. Berries are part of the ‘wild’ horse’s daily diet. Not just the berries, but also the leaves provide important vital substances, vitamins and minerals. One of the reasons why berries are included in many herbal mixtures. However, it should be noted that some blackberry varieties can proliferate. This makes them ideal for creating thorny hedges or planting along the stable walls in order to protect areas horses are not welcome to be chewing. Raspberries are also part of the climbing plants and can customise bare walls with its beauty, while offering a healthy snack.


Trees and shrubs in open stables not only look beautiful, but also offer many advantages. In order to enjoy the plants as long as possible, it is important to protect young plants in particular from being over chewed on.
In addition to trees and shrubs, there are of course many other plants that can enrich the botanical diversity around the stable, supplement the horses’ diet and provide important secondary plant substances. .

Team Sanoanimal