Today, horse owners are rather spoilt for choice when it comes to herbal mixtures, all of which have been specifically made for equine use. Many horse feed specialists have their own herbal departments that are run by highly trained managers. The imported herbal products have managers with their fingers on the international pulse when it comes to knowing about any research that’s being carried out on particular herbs and their potential usefulness when fed to horses as a supplement.
This month, Sue Gilliat of Global Herbs (South Africa) provides us with an overview of the many benefits of feeding herbal supplements.
Feeding herbs to horses on a regular basis does help maintain overall health, and this is particularly true for horses and ponies who do not have access to well-maintained natural pastures. A horse who enjoys his days grazing good-quality grass will normally receive the right amount of vitamins and minerals needed to maintain good overall health. This naturally means horses should not need any herbal supplements added to their feed if they have access to well-maintained natural meadow grasses.
Unfortunately, in these modern times, most horses just do not get enough access to good-quality pastures rich in meadow grasses. A lot of the time paddocks have been sprayed with chemicals to keep weeds and other unwanted plants at bay, and this means a lot of the goodness of an ‘old style’ paddock – rich in clovers and other meadow grasses – are no longer present for horses to eat.
Midges and flies
As horse owners we are also guilty of spraying chemicals onto our horses, as some of the fly repellents currently on the market formulated for horses are based on a chemical called pyrethrin. Pyrethrin is extracted from the dried flowers of the plant Chrysanthemum. However, chemists have improved on nature by formulating a vast array of synthetic versions of pyrethrin. These pyrethroids, as they’re called, are designed to have a more lasting effect than natural pyrethrin. There are literally hundreds of synthetic pyrethroids of varying strengths, and they have improved significantly on pyrethrin’s length of action (if they’re not washed off by rain or sweat). But with increased strength comes increased risk of toxicity, by the same neurological action that paralyses the flies they are meant to target.
Part of what makes pyrethrin such an effective chemical is its dual action: it acts as a neurotoxin to paralyse and kill bugs with which it comes in direct contact, and it has repellent properties because insects find it severely irritating. Most flying insects are highly sensitive to pyrethrin. Fish and other forms of aquatic life are very sensitive to its effects, so you should be careful never to dump pyrethrin in a water source. Birds are also somewhat sensitive to the compound.
The big problem with synthetic pyrethroids is that many species of flies now demonstrate resistance to them. Pyrethrin used to last three days, but now it’s only effective for a couple of hours. As resistance has built up, the repellent action has been lost first. So, it’s not your imagination; your fly spray probably is less effective than it used to be.
In response to these resistance problems, fly spray manufacturers have been forced to combine ingredients in order to provide that initial fly-killing effect and a residual, long-lasting repellent action. So why then are we not looking at herbs to repel flies? There are herbal products on the market that can be added to feed that assist in repelling flies from the inside out. Look for herbal supplements with Curcuma longa and Cedrus deodara in them, as these agents work in a natural way to repel flies.
Herbs that help with respiratory problems
Many horse owners today have to deal with respiratory disorders, and there are many reasons why horses suffer from all sorts of breathing problems. It could be due to bad quality hay, or it could be that a horse has caught a virus or a cold. Horses can demonstrate chronic conditions that cause real concern, but whatever the reason, a respiratory condition can be debilitating for the horse.
Apart from veterinary medicines, there are also some very useful herbal supplements available that help with certain respiratory conditions. Herbal blends containing Justicia adhatoda, Solanum xanthocarpum, Eucalyptus globulus and Cedrus deodara are particularly useful when treating a chronic respiratory disease.
A recipe for success
Ultimately, a horse thrives on a well-balanced diet, just like us. Many herbs also contain minerals – always check the label for quantities of the most active ingredient. Some products can be misleading with only the smallest amount of the active ingredient being present. Read the claims on the label very carefully and ensure the product and the ingredients match your expectations.
Adding a well-thought-out herbal supplement plan to their feeds can certainly be beneficial for a horse’s overall wellbeing. It could be that a horse needs a supplement to support their immune system, respiratory tract, urinary system or digestive system, and this is something owners need to decide on with the help of their farriers and vets.
The full article appears in the November issue (116) of HQ > shop now.