The first hard frost is an unofficial national holiday for horses and horse lovers everywhere! With the first frost, we can say sayonara, goodbye to all you dang, pesky bugs!
But with the change of seasons comes the need to change our horse's nutrition and diet. As the winds of fall blow through town — and while we’ll experience major temperature swings and shorter days — fortunately, new and different plants that are super delicious and yummy to our lovable equine pals are now in bloom.
Unfortunately, too much of a good thing can also be a bad thing — especially when it comes to food your horses like to eat. So, what exactly do you do then to satisfy your horse's appetite while also adjusting for the changes in fall? And what types of herbs, plants, and foods should you give your horse this autumn?
Join us! We’ll give you a tour of some of the best herbs for fall, solid diet feeding guidelines, and supplemental herbs that are an absolute slam dunk with horses everywhere.
General fall feeding guidelines for your horse
In an ideal situation, we know that a horse’s main source of nutrients should come from their pasture and hay. But during fall, as temperatures and the number of hours of sunlight drop, pasture plants tend to take longer to grow.
During fall, plants retain more sugar, as there is less sunlight to help a plant grow and reduce its sugar content. As a result, there are fewer plants, and these plants are filled with more sugar, making it a greater challenge for your horse to receive much-needed nutrients (and increasing their chance for colic).
With less nutritious pasture, we tend to rely on haylage as a primary food source our horses in the fall. That’s why it’s important to follow these key, general fall-feeding guidelines for your horse.
In general, as autumn arrives, it’s important to give horses plant material with a high leaf-to-stem ratio, small-diameter stems, a few seed heads or blooms, and fresh, bright-colored plants.
Young, leafy plants have more protein, energy, and minerals than plants with thicker stems. Older, more mature plants include more indigestible fibers and fewer nutrients.
Depending on your food source, during the fall, you’ll want to think about adjusting grain rations to combat potential weight loss due to low-quality, sugar-dense forage. You’ll also want to monitor your horse’s body condition and make slow and gradual changes to your horse’s diet.
By keeping plant growth and these suggestions in mind, your horse will be on its way to receiving healthier, more consistent nutrition during the fall.
But these suggestions are just the bare minimum. What do we mean by that?
If you really want to ensure optimal overall health for your horse, you’ll want to keep reading on to learn the best diet and feeding practices for your horse’s diet during the fall.
Start by feeding horses a mixture of herbs
Horses need to eat a variety. We talk about this concept in one of our blog posts, and we can’t emphasize this point enough.
As temperatures drop, the variety of blooming forage also tends to decrease. That doesn’t mean your horse’s appetite or desire for a variety of food will change, though.
By varying your horse’s diet in the fall, you’ll more likely be able to set them up for healthy living throughout the entire autumn season.
Just make sure you’re also giving them plenty of water as well. We’ll discuss why in the next section.
Hydrate, hydrate, and hydrate (water)
Staying hydrated plays a key role in the overall health of your horse. After all, any living being can only live so long without water.
As the temperature drops, horses tend to drink less. You’ll want to make sure your horse has access to plenty of fresh water — especially when temperatures drop below freezing.
Providing fresh water to your horse also ensures your horse doesn’t come into contact with melting water. Melted water is dicey: it can hold nasty bacteria and potentially harmful pollutants for your horse’s body.
Consider providing buckets of fresh water in living areas you know your horse lounges in to ensure your horse stays well hydrated during fall’s cooler, changing weather.
Help your horse thrive with fresh forage
As mentioned earlier, fresh forage is tougher to come by during the fall. You can supplement your horse’s diet with hay cubes, beet pulp, and other nutrient-rich foods during the fall season.
If you decide to switch gears on your horse’s diet during the fall, make sure to do so slowly. Transitioning food types can be tough on a horse’s digestive system.
By transitioning slowly to new foods in the fall, you’ll decrease the chance of having to detox your horse and ensure the overall health of your horse during fall.
Monitor your horse’s body condition
Speaking of transitions, cooler weather generally means staying inside for longer periods. Despite the weather changes, your horse should still be exercising, according to his or her needs.
You’ll want to monitor your horse’s body condition in autumn — especially during late fall — to ensure your horse stays healthy, has enough fat storage to keep warm, and is ready to transition to colder temperatures for winter. Before the first snowfall touches down on your pasture, we recommend reading our blog about the best winter supplementary diet for horses, as we share in greater detail how you can prepare your horse for winter’s chilly days and evenings.
For now, though, you’ve come here to learn about fall, not winter. So, let’s take a look at the best, most delectable, and health-nourishing herbs you can give your trusty steed during fall to help your horse live a long, happy, and healthy life.
9 Health-nourishing fall herbs for your horse
The following herbs tend to bloom and work wonders for a horse during the fall season. A word of caution: as with anything, moderation is key.
When introducing your horse to the following herbs, make sure to do so gradually and in small quantities. A smooth, seamless transition will ensure your horse takes to these herbs with a winning attitude and a happy, healthy gut.
1. Milk thistle for horses
Milk thistle is an absolute gem for horses. This beautiful purple plant is a great antioxidant for horses.
Milk thistle’s primary nutrients include chromium, iron, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, tin, and zinc. This life-nourishing herb is very beneficial for protecting and strengthening a horse's liver.
Makes you look at this purple plant a little differently now, doesn’t it?
Wait until you hear about burdock root for horses.
2. Burdock root for horses
We’ll admit it: burdock is a pain in the side to fish out of a horse's forelocks and tails. But it truly is such an amazing herb for a horse’s overall health.
Burdock contains carbohydrates, copper, iodine, iron, protein, silicon, sulfur, zinc, and vitamins A, B-complex, C, E, and P. This awesome herb is known as one of the best blood purifying herbs on the planet.
Its diuretic properties make it a wonderful herb for helping reduce fluid build-up in a horse’s body. Though they’re tough as nails to fork out of a horse’s forelocks and tails, we can’t recommend milk thistle enough for a horse’s overall health.
3. Blackberry leaf
Blackberry leaves are wonderful, nutritious herbs for a horse’s health. These vitamin C-carrying super herbs are great for a horse’s intestines.
In addition to being an anti-inflammatory, cleansing, and detoxifying herb for the blood and body, blackberry leaves include intestinal flora and healthy bacteria to keep common horse conditions like laminitis away. We say “yes!” to blackberry leaves in the fall.
4. Dandelion leaf
Dandelion leaves! These hearty, easily recognizable yellow herbs can be found nearly everywhere. But did you know that it’s also a super herb that can help your horse thrive during fall?
That’s because dandelion contains vitamins B, C, and E, and can soothe many conditions and provide much-needed relief from inflammation and pain.
Try giving a handful to your horse, and see how your horse feels after munching on them.
5. Nettle leaf
Caution: if you choose to pick nettles, make sure to wear heavy-duty gloves. They don’t call them stinging nettles for nothing!
Fortunately, horses love nettle leaves (and are safe to consume). If horses had the ability to study up on their benefits as we can, horses would tell you that nettle leaves contain a whole gang load of excellent minerals, including calcium, potassium, magnesium, copper, silicon, and iron.
These leaves are great for a horse’s body. As always, just make sure to give your horse nettle leaves in moderation to maximize its impact on your horse’s mind and body.
6. Rose hips
Packed with vitamins C, A, B1, B2, E, and K, rose hips are the life of the herbal party. Rose hips have traditionally been used to help benefit a horse’s bones, joints, and immune, respiratory, and digestive systems.
Just make sure to feed the red and orange rose hips, and not only the leaves. The red and orange parts of the herb are the most nutritious and offer the most bang for your buck when it comes to helping provide better nutrition for your horse.
7. Tall (and narrow) plantains
Plantains of all sizes — both the round-leafed and narrow, elongated versions — are like little, crime-fighting agents for your horse’s body. These awesome, anti-inflammatory herbs support the health of a horse’s lungs, intestines, kidneys, respiratory system, digestive system, and urinary tract.
Plus, this gem of an herb contains plenty of healthy nutrients and minerals, including potassium, zinc, and vitamins C and K. A little plantain goes a long way.
8. Willow bark
While not technically an herb, this organic food works like aspirin for a horse’s body. It contains salicylic acid, a key ingredient often used in soothing creams used for external wound care and treatment.
In short, willow bark is great for helping with skin treatments. Though it's rough to the touch, it's tough on cuts and wounds.
These mini, chamomile-flower look-alikes have properties that are very similar to — yep, you guessed it — chamomile (they’re part of the same flower family). Yarrow can help with the overall health of the digestion and respiratory tracts.
This anti-inflammatory herb is also helpful for wound care. As always, we recommend using this herb in small quantities.
Yarrow contains vitamins A and C and is packed with gut-stabilizing flavonoids to aid in healthy digestion, making it one of the most invaluable herbs on our list of nine supplementary herbs for a horse’s diet during autumn.
Conclusion: better horse diets start with better nutrition
Let’s celebrate the fall colors, fewer bugs, cooler temperatures, and our horses by making sure our equine pals' nutritional needs are met. Whether it’s winter, fall, spring, or summer, you’ll never have to worry about whether your horse is receiving the right nutrition for their diet if you make sure to follow one key piece of advice:
Better horse care starts with better nutrition.
At Silver Lining Herbs, we’re all about better care, better nutrition, and better living. Whether the leaves start changing colors, or the snow begins falling, you can count on us at every step of your journey to provide you with healthy, natural herb-based nutrition for both you, your horse companion, and your loyal furry friend.
What else can natural herbal supplements do for you and your horse? Contact us today to find out.