Horses are natural grazers and foragers. They seek out a variety of plant species when grazing to satisfy their nutritional needs. Beyond that, access to multiple grazing species allows for more ‘interesting’ intake and increased palatability. When available, horses will consume not only a wide variety of grass species but also the leaves of shrubs, hedgerows, berries and herbs.
Modern day horse keeping practices mean that the level of variety available to horses in terms of grazing plants, is drastically diminished. We know that when horses are living and functioning the way they have evolved to, their health flourishes. So, what can be done to increase the variety of roughage available for your horses and to mimic availability to feeds they would be drawn to eat naturally?
- Sow your fields with a variety of plants. We generally suggest that a mix of a couple of robust perennials, a sprinkling of clover and a herb strip is a great way to ensure that your horse gets some variety into their diet in the form of roughage. How you sow your plants will depend on the needs of your horse (i.e whether their prone to metabolic problems), the climate, soil quality and many other factors but with a little bit of effort at the outset, you can set your horse/s up for long term wellness and grazing as nature intended.
Many of you may not be in a position to sow your own fields due to keeping your horses at livery or may just not have grazing space. Even in the stable, a variety of roughage can be provided.
- Chaff/chop is a roughage and an excellent base for hard feeds. Mix it up with the chaff you provide and allow it to be the source of variety. For instance, combine 2 or more types of chaff together in each feed or provide a blended chaff, which are available from many feed companies.
- Feeding a variety of plant species as hay is another great way to provide a variation in roughage. This is most easily done with the use of a haynet, although a haynet certainly isn’t necessary. When providing your horse with hay, provide a combination of two or more kinds and if you have the chance to add some dried herbs on top or scattered throughout, they’ll appreciate it! This really is a cinch if you’re using a haynet and you can even add some pieces of chopped carrot throughout to keep your horse happy.