The green shoots of spring have arrived in the UK, so if you’re trying to keep your overall cost of living down and are green-fingered, why not try growing your own horse treats? Rachel Fraser shares some easy-to-grow plants that are likely to go down well with your horse…
You may well already have cleavers growing in your garden or field hedgerows. Also known as ‘sticky weed’, cleavers grow well in hedgerows, overgrown or wild flower areas and around trees.
Believed to be a natural tonic, cleavers are a popular choice for owners growing their own horse treats — some pick enough to fill a haynet, while others let their horses forage for themselves when cleavers are planted in a field.
To grow them at home, sow seeds directly into the soil in shaded areas for best results.
Find cleavers seeds at etsy.com
No surprises here — shop-bought mints have long been a staple horse treat. Hailed for helping fussy-eaters enjoy bucket feeds, mint is readily sold in its dried form as a supplement. Why not have a go at growing mint and swap shop-bought for fresh?
Mint plants can be purchased from most garden centres and some supermarkets. Simply plant up into a large pot of compost for easy harvesting. A pot is recommended to avoid the plants from rowing uncontrollably and taking over your garden.
Pick mint leaves frequently to encourage new shoots to grow and you should have a plentiful supply from spring to late autumn.
Find mint plants at amazon.co.uk
Cow parsley has delicate white flowers and often grows on roadsides and verges — your horse may well have grabbed a sneaky bite of it to eat while out on a hack.
According to the Wildflowers UK website, seeds should be sown either outside where they are intended to flower or into seed trays in the autumn.
They flower from April to June and prefer semi-shade, so areas near to hedges are ideal. A word of caution though — cow parsley tends to seed itself well, so you may end up growing more of it than you originally planned.
Find cow parsley seeds at amazon.co.uk
Nettles might not seem like an obvious choice but once cut and allowed to wilt, they lose their sting and become a delicious treat.
You might have some growing in your fields already, in which case simply cut, harvest and feed once the sting has gone.
If you’re starting off a new crop, plant seeds into pots of compost and cover with a few centimetres of soil. Keep the pots well-watered until the seed has germinated, usually within about two weeks.
Find nettle seeds at amazon.co.uk
Hawthorn makes a popular and tasty treat for horses. Where it is growing in paddocks, horses will often self-select the plant to supplement their grazing. Hawthorn berries are sometimes sold as a supplement, believed to support circulation.
Hawthorn grows into trees eventually, but can be purchased as a young plant. These are much smaller and may be more manageable for those looking to grow them in large pots or in the garden at home.
Gardening website lovethegarden.com suggests that hawthorns aren’t too fussy about their position, so you can grow them in most areas — sunshine or shade. The website advises that bare-root trees are best planted between November and March, but container-grown Hawthorns can be planted any time of year.
Growing your own horse treats is a great way to make use of hedgerows and add variety to your garden or yard — so why not get green-fingered and give it a go?
Find hawthorn plants at amazon.co.uk
NB: Horse & Hound recommends that all treats should be fed in moderation. If your horse has any existing health conditions, please seek expect advice from your vet or equine nutritionist before feeding them any of the above plants.
You may also be interested in…
If you’d like to offer your horse an unusual treat, then find out from the experts which types of fruit
Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade your subscription to access our online service that brings you breaking news and reports as well as other benefits.