The natural health properties of herbs and spices are widely known for humans but did you know that some are believed to be beneficial for horses too and are regularly added to horse feed? So, what are the most commonly used herbs and spices and how can they help some horses and ponies?
Turmeric has been a popular choice for humans for thousands of years as it is believed that it has medicinal properties. Belonging to the ginger family, turmeric contains active components such as curcumin which also gives turmeric its distinctive yellow colour. Although it is the most referred to, the level of curcumin in turmeric is less than 5% and as it isn’t absorbed from the digestive system very easily, it’s recommended that black pepper is used with it. This is because it contains piperine that is believed to help to increase the absorption of curcumin and other substances.
Although no supplement or horse feed company is permitted to say that turmeric can prevent, treat or cure a disease, it is a recognised source of natural anti-oxidants, known collectively as flavonoids. By feeding turmeric alongside other ingredients in a horse feed, it should help to maintain good condition and health. Horses also tend to find turmeric very palatable which can be a particularly useful addition to a horse feed for those that are fussy or with issues such as gastric ulcers that may affect appetite.
There is a lot of history surrounding the use of devil’s claw which is thought to have anti-inflammatory effects and so has been used to alleviate symptoms of muscle pain, arthritis and also to improve digestion. The tubers of the plant are the source of Devil’s Claw that may be used in horse feed or as a supplement.
It is believed that garlic has anti-inflammatory, antibiotic and antiseptic effects. It contains a compound called allicin and this is released when the garlic is either crushed or chewed. It is also suggested to help improve equine respiratory problems and even acts as a natural fly repellent. On the downside, really high levels of garlic added to horse feed could be harmful due to its content of N-propyl disulphide which can accumulate in the body and cause anaemia.
Echinacea is another commonly used herb for horses as it is reported to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. The equine industry typically uses Echinacea as support for the immune system.
Fenugreek is also thought to have anti-inflammatory effects. Horses seem to love it so it is often added to horse feed as a palatability aid.
It is important to reiterate that companies using herbs in horse feeds can not attribute health claims to them as they are not scientifically proven. Herbs and spices may also contains active components that could result in positive tests in horses competing under rules and should be used very cautiously for race and competition horses. Seek advice from an equine nutritionist, who will be able to advise you on the best herbs and spices for your horse individually.