In recent years, we’ve begun to widen our understanding of what a horse knows about its own medical needs. From this, a new science of ‘self-selection’ or zoopharmacognosy has emerged. This fascinating study illuminates the animal’s innate understanding of exactly what they should eat to stay healthy. Beyond instinct, zoopharmacognosy focuses on the horse’s dynamic palate, which changes if the body lacks certain nutrients or suffers from a condition. For example, if the body needs vitamin C, the palate adjusts to make vitamin C-rich plants sweeter; the horse is now more likely to seeks those out. When the body’s had its fill, the palate changes once more to make those same plants taste bitter. Guided by their clever palate, we see that horses can naturally self-medicate, preventing over-eating one thing and ensuring they ingest various nutrients for all-around health.
What does this mean for owners? We can ensure our horses have plenty of natural options be it wilder paddocks or supplements. In the stable, offer handfuls of natural herbal supplements and in fields, let wildflowers and nettles thrive. Inside or out, encourage natural foraging behaviour. Optimum equine health isn’t something owners have to do alone; our horses can help too.