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Progressive Hoofcare Blog 

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Equine Herbal Self selection

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Natural self-selection of herbs in horses

This was the latest in the Winter Series of talks held at the Conquest centre.

This talk was given by Rebeccah Baylis of Little Green Stables and for once I could just sit and listen to a really interesting talk

O.k I will hold my hands up and say that I have sometimes found it hard to believe that horses naturally self-select herbs based on a biological need. However, is this just my own prejudice?  Is it because I, as a human, can’t do this, that I doubt whether horses can.

I know that dogs eat grass even nettles when they have a troublesome tummy. I have stood in the garden at 3am with my own dog while she eats grass for precisely this reason. So why do I, or should I say did I, doubt that horses can do the same. I guess the answer is simple, my dog is persistent, and determined not to let me sleep when she needs grass. My dog involves me, asks to go out - my horses don’t involve me, or do they and I don’t notice?

I found Rebecca's talk on natural self-selection very interesting. Watching the video of a horse selecting herbs from different pots was not what I expected. I expected the horse to behave like people at a carvery, or buffet, but it didn’t. It sniffed each pot then made a choice. Not just I like that, I will eat it all. But, I need some of this and a bit of this, and a pinch of that.

I know horses can learn. I know horses can think. I know horses can associate smell with a consequence. A vet smells like a vet, even if he or she doesn’t have a needle. I am sure that horses learn the benefit of eating adlib hay over constantly eating grass when given the opportunity. So, even if they don’t come with some built in instinct, why would a horse not learn to self-select given their sense of smell and ability to learn.

I have often thought that I, my tools and chaps hopefully smell of happy horses and this goes someway towards helping horses relax when I work with them. I never considered actively finding a smell, fragrance that would put the horse at ease, and using that to help me deal with a sometimes-frightened horse. I guess I am going to have to add some essential oils to my tool kit.

I found the whole talk really interesting and look forward to learning more, and dumping some of those pesky prejudices that can stop us from learning. 

I hope everyone who attended enjoyed it as much as I did and hope to see you at the next talk in the new year

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