Picky Eater? Add Anise Flavoring to Your Horse's Feed

Manufacturers often add palatants such as peppermint to feeds and medications to make them more appealing to horses. But which flavors do horses truly like?

Jesse Francis, a graduate student at Southern Illinois University, in Carbondale, tested common oil-based palatants to find out. She shared her results at the 2019 Equine Science Society Symposium, held June 3-6 in Asheville, North Carolina.

In her study Francis presented 10 mature stock-type horses with pelleted feed top-dressed with six flavors—anise, apple, banana, orange, peppermint, and spearmint—plus a corn oil control in paired comparison preference tests. They were allowed 15 seconds to sniff the palatants, then three minutes of access to consume the one(s) they preferred.

“The purpose of the sniffing period was to allow the horses to make informed decisions about which diets they wanted to consume,” said Francis.

Though not statistically different, she found that horses selected anise most frequently (65% of the time) and banana and orange least (30% and 35% of the time, respectively). Horses even preferred the plain corn oil control over the orange, she said.

Francis then compared the three most popular palatants—anise, apple, and peppermint—against each other in a second study phase. Using the same design, she noted that anise was again the most consumed flavor, with horses eating more anise-flavored feed than peppermint or apple. Interestingly, said Francis, the horses did not sniff the anise as frequently as they did the apple flavor.

“Oil-based palatants do affect horses’ concentrate preferences,” Francis concluded, noting that her findings are consistent with previous research. She plans to investigate the impact of scent on flavor and feed preference in horses in future studies.

So, the next time your picky eater turns his nose up at his dinner, consider adding anise flavoring to it, and steer clear of citrus.