Consider Flavoring Your Horse's High-Fiber Feed With Fenugreek

We know that high-fiber feeds are good for equine gastrointestinal health because they mimic horses’ natural foraging diets better than traditional concentrate feeds. Some owners report that their horses don’t like how high-fiber feeds taste, however, prompting manufacturers to add flavoring to improve their palatability and consumption.

Because most palatability studies on horse feeds have been conducted using concentrate diets, a research team at the University of Glasgow, in Scotland, decided to look at horses’ flavor preferences when consuming high-fiber diets. Viola Farci, a PhD student at the University, presented their findings at the 2019 Equine Science Society Symposium, held June 3-6 in Asheville, North Carolina.

In the two-part study, Farci’s team first tested whether five commonly used feed flavorings (apple, carrot, fenugreek, garlic, and mint) and five less-common flavors (banana, cherry, cinnamon, citrus, and vanilla) would increase eight adult horses’ feed consumption. They offered each horse two buckets of high-fiber soaked feed at a time—one with a test flavor and one unflavored—and measured each horse’s feed consumption after three minutes. The researchers repeated this for each of the 10 flavors.

In the second part of the study they compared the top eight flavors against each other to establish an order of preference. The two flavors they cut from Phase 2, based on the horses’ lack of consumption in Phase 1, were citrus and vanilla. Again, the researchers presented each horse with two buckets of randomly selected flavors and measured their feed intake.

Farci said they found that:

  • These seven flavors, in descending order, increased feed consumption over controls: fenugreek, banana, cherry, mint, apple, carrot, and garlic.
  • Fenugreek, a commonly added palatant, was the most consumed flavor.
  • The top three flavors—fenugreek, banana, and cherry—are consistent with the most preferred flavors in concentrate feeds.
  • The horses had no preference for cinnamon and, as seen in Phase 1, rejected citrus and vanilla completely.

“Horses accept a wide range of flavors, with varying preferences,” Farci concluded. “Novel flavorings, as well as traditional ones, are highly accepted.”

So when you’re trying to encourage your horse to eat his high-fiber feed, look for products with the most palatable flavors or add them to rations yourself.