Exotic Tastes: Equine Flavor Preferences

Does your horse have a favorite flavor?

Eight research horses in England did. Deborah Goodwin, BSc, PhD, research director of Applied Animal Behaviour Programmes at the University of Southampton, set out to discover what flavors horses actually like, compared to what horse owners and product manufacturers think horses like.

In Goodwin's first trial, she offered 15 flavors to eight stabled horses in a small amount of grain and measured how much they ate, how long it took them to eat it, and if any horses partially or completely rejected it. Some horses refused to eat three flavors--echinacea, nutmeg, and coriander. This left 12 flavors that were universally accepted: apple, banana, carrot, cherry, cumin, fenugreek, garlic, ginger, oregano, peppermint, and rosemary turmeric.

In the next phase of the study, the eight flavors the horses ate the fastest of the 12 offered were presented again, in all combinations of pairings, to rank the horses' overall order of preference.

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The horses' top-ranked flavors were (in order):
  • Fenugreek
  • Banana
  • Cherry
  • Rosemary
  • Cumin
  • Carrot
  • Peppermint
  • Oregano

Finally, in Trial 3 she offered the horses three versions of a mineral pellet: banana-flavored, fenugreek-flavored, or unflavored. Horses ate the pellet much faster when it was flavored with either fenugreek or banana than when it had no added flavor.

The take-home: if you want your horse to eat his medication or supplements, choose products that already contain the top eight flavors horses prefer, or add them yourself.

Caution: Because there are some toxicity issues with certain sources of some of the flavors listed, make sure you are using the correct form (in some cases, an artificial flavor--for example, real cherries are toxic) in a safe dose size for your horse if adding the flavor yourself. Or, purchase pre-flavored horse-safe products to be on the safe side. Ask your veterinarian’s advice before modifying your horse’s diet.

Goodwin D, Davidson H P B, Harris, P. Selection and acceptance of flavours in concentrate diets for stabled horses. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Volume 95, Issue 3 - 4, Pages 223-232.

Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA, is medical director/staff veterinarian for SmartPak Equine.

About the Author

Lydia Gray, DVM, MA

Lydia Gray, DVM, is Medical Director and Staff Veterinarian for SmartPak Equine. She was previously the executive director of the Hooved Animal Humane Society in Woodstock, IL, and an Owner Education Director for the American Association of Equine Practitioners.

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