When planting your garden this year, include your horses in your plans. Many of their favorite veggies, fruits and herbs can be easily and organically grown at home.
Horses love fresh treats from the grocery store. Carrots, beets, apples and even bananas have been making their way into horse’s mouths for centuries. Horses also love many fruits, vegetables and herbs you can grow in your own backyard. When you’re planning your gardens this year, consider a perennial bed that that will suit your horse’s palate while pleasing your eye, or add vegetables to your kitchen garden that can go the extra mile to the stable.
Continuous Beauty: The Perennial Horse Garden
This tasty horse garden contains hardy herbs and flowers in a variety of heights and colors. For easy maintenance and lasting beauty year after year, place taller plants towards the back or to the north, smaller plants in the front along the border, and medium-sized plants in the center.
The Back Row
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
grows 3’ to 4’ tall, and is available in pretty pinks or traditional white flowers. It blooms June through September, and will attract many butterflies to your garden. It calms horses and controls spasms, making it very good in colic situations.
Note: due to its calming properties, valerian is an AHSA banned substance; do not feed it for a week before showing.
Yarrow (Achillea millefollium)
reaches 2’ to 4’, comes in several colors, and flowers May to June. It is a great all-round cleansing and healing herb with sweet tasting flowers that horses adore. Try the leaves to stop internal or external bleeding, or as a general tonic against illness.
Rosehip plants (Rosa rugosa, Rosa canina)
produce the largest and tastiest fruits after the plants have flowered. Beautiful and easy to grow, they create a flavorful horse treat packed with vitamin C and antioxidants. Recent studies show the hips are also anti-inflammatory, reduce joint pain and may be good for fighting cancer. Rosa rugosa reaches 4’ to 6’, while Rosa canina can grow 3’ to 15’, making it perfect for climbing stone walls or arbors. Both varieties come in various pinks and whites, and flower all summer.
Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia, Echinacea purpurea)
comes in a variety of heights from 2’ to 4’ tall, and can flower in striking colors from July to September – from the traditional pink to deep purple, red and yellow. Horses enjoy eating the whole plant, which gives a boost to the immune system.
The Middle Chorus
Fenugreek (Triganella foenum-graecum),
at 2’ high, sports pretty blue or yellow clover-like flowers. In India, it is a very common treat for horses, which love the maple-like flavor. It is good for digestion and increases lactation in nursing mares.
Catmint (Nepeta grandiflora)
is very hardy in most conditions, stands 2’ to 3’ tall and sends up masses of stunning blue flower spikes from May to September. It is calming, good for fevers, and can be made into a poultice for bruised or swollen areas. After a long hard ride, try sprinkling the tasty leaves and flowers over your horse’s feed to soothe tired muscles.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
is an understated green perennial with tiny white flowers on 2’ to 3’ spikes. It’s a favorite of horses and gardeners alike – just be sure to plant it in a pot or contained area or it will soon take over your garden! Use it to benefit all manner of digestive and inflammatory issues.
Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla)
is a potent healer for aches, nerves and colic. Horses love the apple flavor of the small daisy-like flowers. Growing 1’ to 2’ tall, it will attract butterflies to your garden all summer.
Along The Border
can be planted along the border or within gently-treaded walkways and garden stairs for a pleasing accent. It comes in many varieties and colors, from 4” to 12” tall, and all are strong anodynes or pain relievers. A little in your horse’s feed can go a long way towards his general comfort.
Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
can easily grow 2’ wide per plant, sending up a beautiful carpet of white flowers on 6” to 18” spikes all summer long. This hardy herb is antibacterial and antimicrobial, and is used by many herbalists to combat parasites, tumors and growths.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
is hardy only in southern climates, but it is easy to sow and grow anywhere, and horses love the flowers. Calendula ameliorates many skin conditions and can be used as a general liver detoxifier. The eye-catching orange blooms are 6” to 12” tall and will flower from July to October in most areas.
From Table To Trough: Vegetables For Your Horse
A wide variety of the vegetables you eat are also pleasing to a horse’s palate. Many riders already feed their horses carrots or beet pulp as treats. But did you know beet greens are also very tasty and nutritious for horses?
Some of the easiest veggies to grow for horses are summer squash and green beans. For a sure crowd pleaser, try cantaloupe (remove the seeds first) or watermelon (most horses love both the rind and the pulp, and the extra fiber in the rind will slow the release of sugars into the system). Turnips and lettuce are regular treats in many barns, as are sweet potato greens.
Exercise caution when considering feeding cabbage, kale, Brussel sprouts, broccoli and other gas-causing vegetables. Some horses are known to enjoy and tolerate them well on a regular basis, but there have also been reported cases of colic from these vegetables.
To increase yields in your vegetable garden, don’t forget to include your horse in the process and work composted manure into your soil early in the season. Or, if you have an old, aged compost heap you’d like to see disappear quickly, try planting squash and melon vines all over it – you will have prolific yields, and the heap will be dramatically reduced in size by the end of the season.
Creating a garden for yourself and your horse is a great way to connect with nature and give back to the earth. It also allows you to grow food and treats organically, so you know exactly what you and your equine friends are consuming.
Maya Cointreau is the Herbalist and Vice-President of Earth Lodge (earthlodgeherbals.com) and author of Natural Animal Healing, Equine Herbs & Healing and Grounding & Clearing.