Five facts about naturally grazing/native/feral horses
If horses eat less than their potential maximum intake (around 16kg dry food per day for 400-500 kg horse) then the rate of nutrient extraction also falls meaning that putting a horse on a diet is a difficult process as the quantity a horse consumes is directly related to the nutrient intake.
Why does my horse eat oak leaves, branches and bark? Oaks have the reputation of being poisonous but contain many beneficial phytochemicals. The acorns contain rapidly degradable tannins that are quickly taken into the blood stream, whereas the leaves and bark contain tannins which are less able to be absorbed across the gut wall, increasing the benefits to the gut and reducing internal toxicity.
Oaks contain more tannins than any other plant meaning the horse needs to eat less, 1g will provide protection to the mucosal membrane, against the effects of an increase of gastric acid production (during times of stress). If your horse seems to be seeking out oak leaves and eating more than a few leaves, he may be using the increase to reduce gastric acid production by the proton pump, repairing and preventing hypersecretion. Tannins also inhibit the production of pepsin, produced by the equine gut in times of stress.
Horses with access to oaks produce proline (a protein) which protects them against the toxic effect of tannins, in other words the horse becomes conditioned to eating food containing tannins. Horses that have access to some oak leaves will use protein better and will also gain condition. Tannins reduce parasites, horses secrete more eggs, parasites also seem to be less fertile. tannins especially target nematodes or round worms, the most common to affect horses from this group is the small redworm.
How to get the best out of willow, not all willows contain the same chemicals
The UK has over 30 varieties of willow and most are relished by our horses and sought out by owners because of the anti -inflammatory chemicals they contain. Salicins are the cited as THE anti-inflammatory chemical, but there are many other highly beneficial chemicals making salix one of nature’s most diverse and beneficial medicine cabinets.
Goat Willow is one of the best....
also known as ‘great sallow’ and ‘pussy willow’, there is another variety called common sallow also known as ‘pussy willow’ but it has narrow leaves and smaller flowers (the grey silky flowers will be out at the beginning of March). The trees can be 10m high and live for 300 years.
Most of the important analysis and research has been done in Russia and China, both countries have protected their natural resources and reliance on plants as providers of medicine. Whilst in the west most prefer or are encouraged to reach for the bottle of pills!
The goat willow is widely used in phytomedicine, a horse grazing freely is likely to choose the bits of the plant he needs. A stabled horse will mostly go for the leaves before the bark, though through the winter the bark is likely to be stripped for nutrients. If you are buying a herbal preparation it will contain ground bark possibly with a fixed % of salicin, likely to come from the Salix Alba (white willow) this can be an irritant to some horses especially those with gastric ulcers.
All parts of the goat willow can and will be eaten but starting with the leaves which our own herd seem to prefer;-
The leaves are highest in calcium, magnesium, potassium and are a significant provider of silicon. Silicon increases the absorption of the other minerals and chemicals by approx. 20%, silicon also amplifies the effects of drugs such as anti biotics and anti-inflammatories meaning they will be more effective and or faster acting. We do include silicon in our own gastric ulcer product to increase protection time and boost the effect of the anti -oxidants, the benefits/research relating to the use of silicon can be found within Brazilian phyto-medical journals.
Around 43% of the leaves (and the young stems and branches) are made of beta glucan. To me this is one of the most important and significant reasons for allowing horses to eat willow leaves. Beta glucan and glucans in general play a significant part in the health of the immune system and are also beneficial to the G.I. tract. Respiratory diseases and allergies will respond to treatment with beta glucans, the steroid and silicon content of the leaves magnify their action. Fresh and in combination with other plant chemicals is the best form to feed, however there are products on the market that include beta glucan but without the amplifying effects of the other compounds that make goat willow so effective.
Other significant chemicals with anti-bacterial, anti-fungal properties are impressive and include catechin, benzenedicarboxylic acid, saligenin, methyl 1-hydroxy-6-oxocyclohex-2-enecarboxylate, catechol, propyl acetate and sitosterol.
Best Health Tip- the leaves are most effective against respiratory viruses and bacterial infections. The beta glucan content will strengthen the G.I. tract and the boost the immune system. Silicon content acts as an amplification tool increasing the effects of all other beneficial chemicals by 20%. All these benefits without even mentioning the anti inflammatory effects, as we move into spring look out for a post on the benefits of the flowers.....