Research Shows Horses Have Specific “Tastes”

Many people know to avoid certain foods, remembering previous times of gastric distress. That’s one of the perils of being a monogastric animal with a simple stomach. Horses are also monogastrics; however, they are hindgut fermenters and have long gut transit times. This means that establishing a link between what they eat and whether or not it “agrees” with them is far more challenging than in humans.

It is equally difficult to determine what horses like to eat, but having that information is an important step in establishing an animal’s nutritional requirements and how to properly formulate and present equine feeds.

According to a recent study*, horses do have specific “tastes.” Researchers found horses in the study preferred to eat either a protein-rich or carbohydrate-rich diet rather than diets fortified with fat. The authors discussed a number of interesting facts about how horses select their feed and the consequences of food preference:

  • In a natural habitat, horses can graze widely, choosing from dozens of different plant species that can vary markedly in energy and nutrient density.
  • Horses can alter their intake by choosing plant species based on energy value; however, it can take time for horses to make an association between their feed and the consequences of their feed choices because of their long gut transit times.
  • The horses in the study avoided the fat-rich diet, but many owners elect to supplement their horses with fat to increase caloric intake.
  • You can lead a horse to fat, but you can’t make him eat it.

*Redgate, S.E.; J.J. Cooper; S. Hall, et al. 2014. Dietary experience modifies horses’ feeding behavior and selection patterns of three macronutrient rich diets. Journal of Animal Science 92:1524-30.

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