A few weekends ago I felt like I went down a rabbit hole and into a new world of discovery; Applied Zoopharmacognosy. For anyone who has not heard of this before, Zoopharmacognosy is it a means of self selection by animals in their natural environment. Applied Zoopharmacognosy is where animals in domestication are offered a range of herbs, oils and clays to supplement a process that is not available to them naturally. This got me to thinking about management and how we can support our horses to self select in their own environments. To do this, we first need to look at livery and modern management.
Livery Yard – Modern Equine Management
I am NOT aiming to criticise any individual livery yard, but to perhaps steer towards diversifying forage and ‘plant the seed’ as it were for modern management practices to transition to a more varied landscape.
Most livery yards are designed with a barn or stables, arena and lush green fields nicely fenced with tape or perhaps post and rail – perfectly rolled like a bowling green. Unfortunately this idea is far from ideal for the horse. Both the type of grass and lack of variety of forage are becoming more understood as a major contributing factor to both overweight equine and Laminitis disease. Not to mention that horses need variation in the pasture, such as shade, footings, obstacles and in cases of individual turnout, field companions.
Self Selecting in Fields
Horses are not designed to eat rich Rye grass. They require high fiber, low protein diets, enriched with vitamins and minerals to balance functions such as hormone production as well as many other crucial bodily functions. Rye grasses are popular due to fast re-growth and being rich in protein to plump up those cows, sheep etc. This is why the beautiful green fields you see which may be more suitable for fattening up cattle for meat, is not suitable for our working horses.
A superb collection of information on field management and types of grasses can be found at Equiculture with Jane Myers.
Planting a range of herbs, suitable and safe for horses such as Yarrow, Hawthorn and Comfrey as well as allowing Dandelions, Nettles and Thistles to grow, will allow your horses to self select in the pasture. Not all plants will be available to grow and there maybe not enough variety and also availability if you have large herds. So pasture selection would be aimed more at the small holding owner.
Supplementing in Feeds
Currently the way most yards and owners make up for the lack of varied diets is by offer supplements in to the horse’s feed. The Zoopharmacognosy course gave me the knowledge to question whether we should really be supplementing our horses, or should our horses be supplementing themselves?
At present the most common self select supplement is a salt rock lick in the stable. Some horses go mad for these, others seem disinterested. However, during my experiments with supplementing I found that horses much preferred to drink salty water (having fresh water also available) than to use the lick. Only one pony used the lick, but that could be because the other horses were crowding the salt bucket.
I previously supplemented feeds with Seaweed, Garlic (dried) and Rosehips. However, when I offered these out individually, not all horses would go for the same amounts and some horses wanted more of one supplement than I offered. This answered my question and I’ve reduced supplements to Seaweed (they all took the seaweed when offered) and added Sodium/Salt (balanced with sodium present in the seaweed)
Supplementing with Zoopharmacognosy
The premise that a horse can self select is based on the fact that along with additional receptors, the horse has a second olfactory organ, called the VNO. “The vomeronasal organ (VNO), also known as the olfactory organ or Jacobson’s organ, that helps increase smelling ability. It is positioned at the base of the nasal cavity, within the roof of the mouth, and is separated into two parts by the nasal septum.” (HorseCanada.com).
By offering a range of supplements, the horse can use scent and taste to opt to ingest them. By giving the horse the choice to decide what they need, we can empower the horse. This method allows us to work with our horses in a positive way without any ‘ask’ of our needs.
There are rules to this though, which is why the courses are important. NOTE: Some supplements such as flax oil have limits as to how much can be ingested within a 24hr period without side effects (including serious ones). Horses that are craving because they are heavily lacking a requirement may not be aware of this and so gorge.
Applying Zoopharmacognosy at Home
My initial suggestion to apply this technique at home would be to separate your supplements and offer individually to see if your horses really want the supplements you’re giving them. You can use bowls or a scoop as shown in the picture. Keep a diary of which supplements your horse ate and don’t go over the recommended allowance provided to you by the supplier.
I haven’t written a guide to any particular supplements as I strongly recommend seeking further instruction before attempting to self supplement your horse, lack of knowledge can be just as dangerous!
Zoopharmacognosy practitioners offering workshops
Caroline Ingraham – Founder of Zoopharmacognosy (UK)
Carly Hillier – Highly Trained Practitioner of Zoopharmacognosy (ROI)
Zoopharmacognosy with Equine Partnership
I plan to further my training in Zoopharmacognosy and currently work with select clients. I hope that this practice can enrich my teaching and support the well being of the horses I work with, especially to those who have undergone pain or trauma.
NEXT TALKING POINT WILL BE BASED ON OILS