Changing Seasons and Your Horse

Alfalfa, tree bark, fall fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains eaten by horses in the fall help them naturally prepare for winter with an extra layer of fat and a healthy winter coat.

By Erica Stoton

Each season brings new delights, its own beauty and its own rhapsody. As summer slowly wanes Nature begins to influence flora and fauna, including our equine friends. Chilly mornings are beginning to capture the attention of the horse, domesticated or wild. Whether we consciously appreciate these things or not, the emblems of the seasons can positively influence equine health. God's design of nature satisfies the wild horse's seasonal requirements but, sadly, the domestic horse is often deprived of this benefit. Simply considering the natural requirements of our horses can help owners fulfill and understand this important yet seldom considered part of equine care.

Those poetically expressed "emblems of the seasons" found in prose are the sometimes unwanted, often unnoticed plants that spring forth during certain times of the year. It is not simply random fate that causes specific plants to present themselves at various times but rather there is a wonderful purpose in this. Consider the phases that horses experience throughout the year: In the natural state, the equine will breed in the summer with gestation lasting through to early or mid-spring at which time a new cycle ensures the continuum of the species. The mare is required to nurse her young for about a year's time and the foal must develop quickly during this period. Following the foal's weaning, the young horse will begin to mature sexually and continue to grow until it is four years old. Throughout each year, horses must also prepare themselves for the changing seasons. By putting on an extra layer of fat and growing a thick coat in the fall, horses ready themselves for winter. In the spring, they shed. The seasons follow the cycle of the equine with much needed natural resources to help in the rigorous changes that must occur in the animal's body.

Clearly, the horse's body makes enormous changes during certain times of the year. The thyroid, thalamus, lymph and reproductive glands must produce hormones necessary for seasonal body chemistry changes in the correct amounts at the right time. Without proper function during these times, the equine will experience hormonal disturbances, which can result in pseudocyosis, hypothyroidism, miscarriage, behavioral problems, etc. The medicines afforded by nature prevent these difficulties for the horse who is allowed this simple yet essential key to health - herbs.

In the spring and throughout the summer months good grazing as well as certain herbs are available to mares at the end of their gestation. Young red raspberry leaves, ivy, shepherd's purse, clover, marigold and nettle help tone the uterus, stimulate hormones and enhance milk production. Many of these herbs are found throughout the summer as well and have tonic properties beneficial to all horses.

Cleansing, toning, and stimulating herbs are usually seen from spring to late summer. Such plants include plantain, dandelion, burdock, sheep sorrel, garlic, wormwood, yarrow, mullein and wild pansy. These herbs cleanse and tone the lymph system, digestive tract, nervous system and immune system thereby helping horses stay healthy throughout the months when parasites and toxins are most prevalent. They also act as stimulants and equines will have better stamina and energy as a result.

External parasites are common in the warm months but horses seek out herbs to assist them in preventing this problem. Chickweed, plantain and mint are a few plants that equines will roll among in order to resist fleas, ticks, mites and other pests.

In the summer and early fall, horses require various nutrients to balance hormones through the duration of the breeding season and to prepare them for the winter. Chamomile, passionflower, valerian, hops and red raspberry leaves are excellent for mares in estrus and stallions used for stud. These herbs relieve much of the hyperactivity and aggression seen in mares in estrus, sexually maturing horses, and breeding stallions.

Alfalfa, tree bark, fall fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains are eaten by horses in the fall and early winter. These have a positive effect on the immune system, cause necessary weight gain and stimulate hormones for a heavier coat. These foods are highly nutritious and help maintain your horse's health through the winter into the spring when nature's cycle starts again.

Various herbs prefer certain parts of North America and Europe but no matter what part of the world you live in, herbs that are beneficial to your horse do exist. A good, healthy pasture will not only contain grass but also seasonal herbs (weeds) and most of these should be encouraged. The attentive horse owner will take note of herbs beneficial to the equine and provide these as they were intended to be used. If your pastures and paddocks are healthy, you should find herbs growing at the appropriate times but in many cases they must be introduced for the benefit of your horse. Once herbs are established in a grass pasture they rarely require any further maintenance.

Although Nature provides the wild equine with beneficial herbs at just the right time, domestic horses require our initiative if they are to enjoy the health of their wild ancestors. It is not harmful for a horse to eat herbs out of season but it can be detrimental if they do not receive certain plants at all. Many of the behaviour and reproductive problems seen in horses are caused by hormonal imbalances. Allowing horses access to herbs that they naturally crave at particular times of the year can give their bodies the elements needed to prevent and correct hormonal problems. The equine that grazes daily will seek out and eat the plants necessary to keep themselves healthy and therefore this aspect of horse care does not require human intervention. However, in cases where your horse is not at pasture frequently enough to enjoy seasonal herbs, the owner should provide herbs as part of the daily diet. Learning about seasonal herbs and how they affect equines can help owners select the plants that their horses need throughout the year.

Veterinary medicine is a complex, scientific subject yet our horses know best what natural medicines they need. Through the ever-changing seasons the wild equine maintains health without the intervention of unnatural substances or methods. As we too enjoy the changing seasons for their own particular beauty, it should be remembered and understood that each passing equinox holds something vital for our horses too. If we take time to consider the horse's natural requirements our equine friends will have better health and contentment through every season.

©Erica Stoton 2001

About the author:
Erica Stoton, based in Winnipeg, Canada is a free-lance writer, a natural animal care consultant, and co-author of The Compleat Pet Herbal©, new software that educates pet owners on natural pet care. She also offers a wide range of technical services to the pet industry and is a writer for Dog Fancy, Critters USA, Ferrets magazine and FAMA magazine among other publications. She can be contacted at: Email Erica Stoton