Many horses are partial to an occasional mint. But what other flavors would they prefer if they had the choice?
A recent study carried out at Southampton University’s Equine Behavior Centre, by Dr Debbie Goodwin and colleagues, looked at the preference of horses for various different flavors.
Eight horses were involved in the study. The investigators started with fifteen flavors. They eliminated three (echinacia, coriander and nutmeg) as these were not accepted by all the horses in an initial trial. One horse refused to eat food flavored with echinacea or coriander. And three did not eat all of the food when it tasted of nutmeg, or echinacea.
Apple, turmeric, garlic, and ginger flavors were accepted by all of the horses. But foods with these flavors added were not eaten as quickly as the other flavors. The eight flavors that were eaten the most quickly were chosen for the second part of the study: banana, carrot, cherry, cumin, fenugreek, oregano, peppermint and rosemary.
The researchers went on to determine the horses` order of preference for the flavors. They offered the horses a choice of two small meals with different flavors in each test. Eventually each horse had been offered all combinations of flavors. The investigators then calculated the preferred flavor overall. Fenugreek and banana came top of the preference list, followed by cherry, rosemary, cumin, carrot, peppermint, oregano.
Finally the researchers assessed the effect of the two most popular flavors (fenugreek and banana) on the acceptability of mineral pellets.
Unflavored mineral pellets were relatively unpalatable. On average, it took 195 seconds for them to be eaten. In fact two horses failed to eat all the unflavored pellets they had been given.
In contrast, horses took an average 66 seconds to eat the pellets flavored with fenugreek and only 52 seconds to eat those flavored with banana. The difference between the two was not statistically significant. Both flavors appeared to be effective in encouraging horses to eat the relatively unpalatable mineral pellets. There was some variation between individual horses. Some horses preferred one flavor over the other.
The research showed that horses accept a wide range of flavors - more than are used currently in formulating commercial diets and medications. Adding preferred flavors to the concentrate food, or to unpalatable mineral supplements, can make them more acceptable.
For more details see:
Selection and acceptance of flavors in concentrate diets for stabled horses.
D Goodwin, HPB Davidson, P Harris.
Applied Animal Behaviour Science (2005) 95, 223 - 232.