Unusual Equine Eating Habits

11 Jun

Hi everyone! Primrose here with my latest blog update! With food still on my mind this time I am taking a look at the unusual eating habits we horses sometimes undertake offering you horse owners some inside knowledge on what exactly their four-legged friends are up to!

So, we expect horses to consume grasses, hay, and in some cases concentrate feed but sometimes our equines surprise us by eating unusual things such as dirt and manure.

The term “pica” refers to horses persistently eating non-nutritive substances.

Many mammals are known to do this with the habit being more common in younger animals of all species. In some cases specific nutritional deficiencies might trigger these unusual cravings but the behaviour is not considered to be a stable vice it represents a normal physiological, foraging response.

 The term Coprophagy, describes equines consuming manure. Foals typically eat their mothers’ manure and occasionally consume their own.

Vets speculate that the coprophagy in foals is a mechanism for populating the digestive system with bacteria and protozoa necessary for a fully functioning cecum. The microbes are required for effective fibre digestion which are necessary for a foal to fully utilize a grass or hay diet as they grow and consume more forage and less mare’s milk.

Mature horses eating protein-deficient diets will also sometimes display manure eating behaviour. In these cases coprophagy typically ceases when adequate protein in the diet is provided. Tragically horses suffering starvation or those without adequate forage provided have also been observed to eat manure.

The term Geophagia refers to eating dirt or soil and describes the occurrence of the horse actively biting the ground with the intent of eating dirt. Researchers have proposed that horses eat dirt in search of salt or minerals such as phosphorus, but domestic horses with diets containing plenty of salt and mineral have also been observed in some instances consuming dirt!

Geophagia can actually be dangerous, as consuming sandy soil could lead to colic or diarrhoea particularly if the horse is not sufficiently hydrated.

 If horse owners observe their horses exhibiting unusual eating behaviours such as coprophagy or geophagia, they should evaluate that animal’s diet for nutritional balance, forage availability, and the general environment for potential causes of the behaviour.

Once the diet has been assessed a veterinary exam can detect parasite infestation or other health issues should be undertaken. If the diet is adequate, the horse is healthy, and other factors are not at play, then the behaviour might be a simple case of boredom.

Decreasing time spent in confinement, providing a companion, or increasing exercise might help alleviate the problem.

Primrose’s Top Tips for what to consider if your horse is displaying unusual eating habits!  

  1. Does the horse have adequate long stem fibre available? If the horse does not feel full or is bored, they will find something to chew on and consume such as the fences and surrounding trees to satiate their innate need to chew.

  2. Does the horse have an adequate mineral intake? While the horse might not have specific mineral wisdom, when a horse is consuming abnormal things it could be a good time to review macro- and micro mineral intake to ensure their diet is balanced and they are receiving adequate amounts of these important micronutrients.

  3. Do they have adequate salt available free choice? Horses that do not have salt available will chew on a variety of objects.

 I hope you have all enjoyed my blog, see you next time! Happy riding 🙂


Balancing an Equine’s Diet

6 Jun

Hi all, Primrose here! I haven’t blogged for a while as I have simply been too busy rolling in the paddock and eating grass but I thought it was about time I imparted some more of my knowledge to you all! In my latest blog I am going to take a look at equine nutrition and what nutrients we horses need and why!

Balancing a horse’s diet while meeting the digestible energy requirements is extremely important. Each and every horse requires specific nutrients dependant on their age, workload and their assess to good quality pasture.

The nutrients a horse requires include macro nutrients water, protein, fats and carbohydrates and micro nutrients vitamins and minerals.

The quantity of nutrients is dependent on the equine’s weight, workload and whether they are still growing or currently in foal or lactating. A youngster, mare in foal or a horse in hard work require higher quantities of feed and nutrients whilst the leisure horse often needs less sustenance to maintain good condition simply because their lifestyle does not “burn” as many calories. Nonetheless it is important to remember even the grazing horse requires good quality vitamins and minerals to maintain optimum health and wellbeing!


Water is by far the most important nutrient, and is most often overlooked. All horses should have access to fresh, clean water at all times. Without it, colic, dehydration, and even death could result! In general, a 500 kg horse will drink approximately 30–45 litres per day. It is important to bear in mind that grass has significantly higher water content than dry hay so during prolonged stabled time it is important to maximise your equine’s access to water.


Protein’s main function as a nutrient is to provide the building blocks for tissues, muscle, hormones, and enzymes. With respect to equine diets, we often classify protein requirements based on quantity and quality. Protein quality refers to the amino acid make up of a feed. Some amino acids can actually be made by the body and are not essential from a dietary standpoint. Amino acids that cannot be produced by the body, such as lysine, are considered essential and must be provided for in the diet. Good-quality sources of protein include soybean meal or linseed/flaxseed and legumes; alfalfa, clover hays.

Carbohydrates and Fat

Carbohydrates and Fats generate energy through being metabolized. Specific types of carbohydrates and fats serve additional important functions for the horse. For example, complex carbohydrates such as fibre are extremely important for digestive tract health. Furthermore it is now recognized that some types of fats are essential parts of the diet; namely the omega fatty acid group, including omega-3 which can be provided through oil.

Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins and Minerals are necessary in small quantities for good all round general health. Vitamins and minerals play a multitude of roles within the body including supporting the immune system, bone and teeth structure, benefitting eyesight and assisting nerve and muscle function.

So whether your horse is turned out at pasture or stabled for part of the day follow my useful guide to make sure your horse is getting exactly what he needs in the diet!

Until next time, bye for now! Happy riding everyone!

Primrose Hill with Lucy Nicholas



Racehorse Rocking Barefoot

28 Feb

Hi everyone, Primrose here!

I love to hear about barefoot success stories and the story of Simon Earle racehorse trainer and his fabulous top barefoot horse Red not Blue really got me excited! Many people think Thoroughbreds don’t do well barefoot so here is what Simon has to say to prove that theory totally wrong!

Simon Earle trains national hunt and flat horses, and 90% of the equines he trains are barefoot. He says the team’s main aim is to maintain horses that are fit, healthy, happy, well educated and sound.

Simon says this combination ultimately leads to racing success. “Be it barefoot or with correct shoeing, soundness is of the utmost importance to enable me to train a horse successfully,” Simon says.

He has good statistics to back up his beliefs that ‘bare is best’: “Our yard hasn’t had a tendon strain in over seven years….. in fact I can’t remember the last one we had,” he says of his horses.

Simon says “My reasons for managing the horses barefoot where possible is that we see too many horses break down [within the racing industry, where they are commonly shod], and when this happens, I have always wanted to know why. All too often, it is down to the foot and there is no truer saying than ‘no foot, no horse’. I feel that prolonged shoeing of the horse can, in some cases, make the hoof migrate forwards, becoming too long in the toe, and with under-run heels,” Simon adds.

The UK’s most successful barefoot competition horse?

Red Not Blue is a ten year old bay gelding by Blueprint, owned by The Plum Merchants, trained by Simon Earle, and ridden by many leading jockeys including Andrew Thornton and AP McCoy. The National Hunt racer has his own twitter handle – ‏@RedNotBlueHorse – and a cheeky attitude – recently tweeting Horse and Hound magazine when they featured a supposed lightweight horse shoe that could potentially help a horse go faster, saying:  “Who needs shoes! Why pay silly money on shoes when you can go barefoot! #stillwinningraces.”

Red not Blue recently ran at Newbury with jockey Dominic Elsworth, coming third and qualifying for the prestigious Pertemps Final, taking place during the Cheltenham Festival in March 2014. Red Not Blue has earned around £70,000 in his career and is a leading example of a succesfully managed barefoot horse excelling in his discipline.

So how inspired are you by Simon Earle and Red not Blue? I’d love to hear what you all think! I think Red not Blue truly shows that even the hardest working horse can go Barefoot!

red not blue

Get Your Equine Fit for the Year of the Horse!

31 Jan











Did you know that the Chinese zodiac determining 2014 as the year of the horse? I think that it seems like a rather excellent premise for horse owners to make 2014 a special year.

After a winter break getting your equine partner fit for the coming spring season can be a challenge. But fear not, equine expert-being a horse after-all, Primrose is here!

Remember that as a rider it is your responsibility to make sure your equine partner is fit for the level of work they are required to do. This will mean that your horse or pony is less likely to suffer injuries and will also mean that you get to enjoy your riding, training and competing to the full this coming season!

Your horse’s fitness should be worked on gradually over a period of weeks to enable their body to adjust to the changes in the exercise level in their routine. Remember; don’t take short cuts or rush the process as sudden increases in work can result in risking causing much more harm than good!

Don’t forget to feed your horse in accordance to their workload so if your equine has been operating under a reduced working regime on a lower amount of feed that they may require an increase in nutrients as our expectations increase.

It is also a good idea prior to beginning fitness work your horse or pony’s general health needs to be checked so get up to date with any vaccinations, dentistry checks, foot trims or worming that is required before you begin fittening up your equine.

Happy Riding everyone,



Barefoot Super Star!

1 Nov

Korenbloem Fleur De Lis (Flora) and keith Robertson prize giving AM regional 3








I know Barefoot’ isn’t just for happy hackers so I thought I would share with you the fantastic story of Keith Robertson and his stunning Dressage mare Fleur De Lis! 

Keith Robertson is a Hertfordshire based dressage rider and trainer who alongside his dedicated team of grooms, runs Wild Farm, a livery and training centre. Keith competes a range of horses from Novice to Prix St George level and has previously been part of numerous British Teams; he has trained countless Grand Prix horses and riders.

Keith’s training system is based on a kind and sympathetic classical approach, enabling the horses to grow and mature at a rate best suited to them, without pressure or force. This system has produced successful horses at all levels, and Keith continues to train many clients to national, regional and area festival success.

 A Little Bit About Fleur De Lis

Keith says that barefoot is a practice he has adopted with a number of his horses for many years. One of his Prix St George horses in particular, the 15 year old Dutch Warmblood Korenbloem mare Fleur De Lis, is gaining increasing interest unusual in the dressage world, as she competes barefoot.

Fleur De Lis, known at home as Flora, is nine years old and has spent her entire life without shoes, having previously been ridden by British Team Member Anna Ross-Davies, before the mare came to Keith six years ago.

Keith says, “Flora is a very fine and light-footed mare, and so has minimal load landing on feet during her work sessions. Obviously being a dressage horse, she spends a high percentage of her time working on a synthetic surface, however we are very lucky that she seems naturally blessed with strong, hard feet. Flora has always been barefoot whilst she has been with us, and it this has always suited her well. She has never had any soundness issues and we are proud to compete her au natural!

 Flora’s regime

Flora’s barefoot management includes having her feet trimmed by British Three Day Event Team Farrier Brendan Murray on an ‘as and when basis’. This means that rather than following a ‘hard and fast’ rule about when her feet are trimmed, she is treated accordingly to her individual hoof growth. Flora is fed a straightforward, high-fibre diet with daily turnout; her farrier Brendan claims Flora has feet “like concrete”!

Keith says, “Throughout the summer, the feet may have a rasp run around them a couple of times between full trimming appointments, as it is a little more likely that she will chip a piece of hoof off here and there during the drier months; but apart from that, has no other special treatment is required. ”

“My farrier agrees that if a horse had good feet and doesn’t need the influence or interference of shoes, then why have them?”

 Keith is extremely fortunate to have a proactive and holistic-thinking farrier; Keith thinks it is important to work in constant consultation with Brendan regarding all of his horses, in order to maintain the best possible equine hoof balance. Keith says, “My farrier agrees that if a horse had good feet and doesn’t need the influence or interference of shoes, then why have them?”

 So Could Your horse go Barefoot?

The three major points that will be cited by the vast majority of barefoot advocates when referring to a successful barefoot horse are:

1 A good, regular trimming schedule

2 A good diet based on food the horse’s body evolved to thrive on

3 Exercise, including encouraging natural movement in the field and little or no confinement

I hope you have all been inspired by Keith and Flora’s story! Happy riding everyone!

Prepare your Horse’s Stable for Autumn

20 Sep

With autumn and winter on the horizon many horse owners need to bring us horses in off the summer pasture and into stables in order to protect us from the rain, wind and snow! Though we like to still maintain as much turn out as possible, us equines do appreciate a nice warm stable at times when the weather is particularly bad. So how do you prepare your horse’s stable for the colder weather to come? 

Five Top Tips from Primrose to Prepare your Stable for Autumn 

1.) Make the most of the time whilst your horse or pony is still out in the field and give your stable or stall a thorough clean. Remove any remaining straw or shavings and use a horse friendly cleaning product and plenty of water to scrub the floors and the walls of our stable. This is will lower the dust content, helping our respiratory systems and ensure a clean, hygienic environment

2.) We horses require ample amounts of forage all year round. During the winter our grazing can become scarce and deficient in nutrients so make sure you provide your horse or pony with plenty of hay when they are in the stable. It may be beneficial to buy in your hay in advance if you have a suitable place to store it to prevent the risk of it running out later in the season.

3.) Always provide clean, fresh water for us to drink! This will prevent us from becoming dehydrated and suffering problems such as colic.

4.) Make sure your muckheap is under control and directed away from our stables in order to keep the yard clean and hygienic and minimise the risk of us suffering from any health problems.

5.) Check your stables carefully to make sure there are no leaks or holes in the roof and protect your pasture to allow us to be turned out all year round. We like being outside so even if there is no grass, simply put hay in the field and turn us out where possible!

Happy autumn everyone, autumn officially begins this Sunday 22nd September!

The Paddock Paradise!

16 Aug

20 The track allows plenty of equine freedom of movement at all speeds, low res

The Paddock Paradise system, or track system, is a natural way of keeping horses that imitates wild horses and their herd life. The method is favoured by many owners of barefoot horses but has benefits for most equines. I thought I would share a blog with you all about it so you can find out more!

Ideally us barefoot horses should be kept out at pasture 24/7 but always with good shelter, water and forage available. Utilising a huge open field is the usually the most standard method of turning horses out in the UK, but in this situation we horses often won’t explore, and will remain around one area simply grazing on too-lush grass.

In the wild, horses would naturally move along a route in search of food and water; roaming. Some people have estimated that us horses would roam for around 20 – 30 miles per day. The constant need to move and find food, while avoiding potential predators, encourages movement which is exactly what nature intended. Paddock Paradise systems replicate this and help stimulate horses in order to behave and move naturally, according to their instincts.

The Paddock Paradise ‘track’ system was first written about extensively by barefoot advocate Jamie Jackson some years ago. The idea is that these tracks should vary in width, but always be wide enough to allow the horses contained within the system space to safely pass each other (opinions vary, but for a small, amiable group of horses, 10-12ft minimum seems to work well) so none of us get kicked!

The aim of the track is to encourage the horses to travel along paths, just as it has been observed that horses do in the wild. The longer you can make the track, the better, and along this track there should be wider areas to allow the horses to play, shelter under a patch of trees, or drink, for example. Along this track, there would be varying gradients and surfaces and areas of pea gravel, especially around flooded watering holes to give the hooves moisture and stimulation. Rocky areas and sand also contribute to the environment the horses roam within, and benefit the natural wear of the hooves. The grass should be sparse and not fertilised or lush, so the horses have to travel to graze. Hay can be distributed around the track, to further encourage movement. A circular track will usually work better than a straight one as it will encourage a more natural movement pattern.

This method of keeping horses will in theory undoubtedly create a wonderful environment for not only for our hooves, but the whole horse to flourish; but unfortunately the financial costs and practical limitations placed by livery yards are prohibitive for most horse owners! Another major obstacle in the UK is the notoriously wet weather we have; narrow tracks with sparse grass growth can quickly become a boggy mess, if no drainage is put in place! Any ponies like Primrose certainly don’t like being knee deep in mud!

However, there is always a compromise – so even using electric fencing to zigzag back and forth across a larger field to encourage our movement could considerably increase the distance the horse travels in a day, if a ‘full on’ Paddock Paradise isn’t convenient.

If you’re able, spreading pea gravel (or if unavailable, larger stones) in the gateways of the field, aprons and around the water containers will give us horses an alternative surface to travel across, and will help to combat mud at the same time. Products such as road planing (the material removed from the reconstruction of asphalt roads) are NOT recommended, as the tar and chemical can stick to or penetrated the hooves and cause problems – which is of course counter productive!

If you have your own land, another compromise is to erect an electric fence around the inside perimeter to create a track of various widths, with the space in the middle available to cut for your own hay if you desire. The essence is, the further you can get from the basic square field when the horse has to travel minimum distance for maximum reward, the better.

Movement is essential for circulation and development of the shock absorbing structures of the hoof.

The benefits of a Paddock Paradise system
• Encourages constant movement and conditioning of hooves
• Allows you to control grazing, so laminitis / sugar sensitivity is kept under control
• Helps prevent equine boredom
• Can help to rehabilitate horses after illness/injury

Lisa Williamson of Fountain Barefoot Livery in Kent converted her traditional livery set-up to a specialist Barefoot Track System in 2012 her top tip if you fancy having a go at creating a Paddock Paradise for your horse is to regularly poo pick all areas, particularly the track!

The pictures used in my blog were kindly donated by clever Lisa Williamson of her Barefoot Livery Track System.

34  The track width should ideally vary, with corners and relaxation areas made wider.