Self selection in equines
What is self selection?
Self-selection is when horses are given the opportunity to browse freely on a variety of plants and trees, either direct from their pasture or offered to them in fresh-cut or dried form.
In a natural free-roaming environment, horses will instinctively choose to consume particular plants for the properties they contain. What they choose to eat can depend on what they are lacking at a particular time, which can vary with the seasons, and could include particular vitamins or minerals.
Horses will also seek out species that offer specific medicinal benefits, such as willow (Salix) for its anti-inflammatory benefits, and Dandelions (Taraxacum) which are a good source of vitamins A, B, C & D and can also improve digestion.
My own horses have free range of our trees and hedges so they can self-select, and this time of the year they can be found eating the bark and branches of various trees and bushes, as well as grasses, plants and herbs that they find around their fields. Mankind has also utilised plants and herbs for medicinal purposes for thousands of years, so it should be no surprise to us that our horses are instinctively able to self-select.
In warmer weather, and especially in the Spring, plant growth speeds up and sap will be rising in the trees – and as a result the nutritional content changes. During the spring my horses are mad for Holly, which contains an antioxidant called caffeoyl. As well as reducing fat in the liver, caffeoyl can lower blood glucose, which is beneficial to overweight horses and those with EMS (Equine Metabolic Syndrome). It can also help to slow down the passage of food through the stomach, meaning the horse will feel fuller for longer – one reason why it is good for horses prone to ulcers.