DENGIE, aka Chopped Hay


What is it and How is it Made?

Dengie is just another name for chopped hay. The name Dengie is actually a brand of chopped hay, one of the original manufacturers. The company Dengie pioneered the use of high temperature drying to conserve forage for horses in the United Kingdom. When the Dengie company was founded, it was the only producer of high temperature dried alfalfa.  As research on equine nutrition confirmed  the benefits of a high fiber diet for horses, a bunch of other feed manufacturers followed suit.

Dengie2Because of its origination some people refer to all chopped hay as “Dengie”. Kind of like how there are tons of search engines but everyone says “Just Google it” as if Google is the name for searching the web. I will discuss Dengie under the letter “D” even though it probably belongs in “C” for chopped hay or even “H” (hay) for that matter.

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The Equine Digestive System


I know, I know, there are many places that already have really great descriptions and information on the equine Digestive system. But the ABCs of Equine Nutrition will be a book when we are done and a book on equine nutrition would not be complete without a review of the Digestive system and how it works. Plus it begins with the letter “D”. So if you are well versed in equine Digestion and how it works then you can wait for our next topic for the letter “D” and that’s Dengie. If not, let’s go!

To keep it simple (and I’m all about that) Digestion is basically the process of making food absorbable by the body to use as energy. It does this by dissolving it and breaking it down into simpler chemical compounds. In the horse this is done through the action of enzymes in the foregut (stomach and small intestine) and fermentation in the hind gut (cecum and large intestine).

When Digestion works properly the nutrients from the broken down feed can be absorbed and provide the fats, carbohydrates, amino acids (protein), vitamin and minerals for the horse to use to live, grow, work, etc. These nutrients can be used right away or stored for future demands.

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DRY MATTER in Equine Nutrition


Trying to figure out your horse’s diet can be confusing. How do you compare the protein value of your hay to the protein in your pasture? If the grain bag recommends 5 lbs. on an “as fed” basis what does that mean exactly? These are some typical questions I get from clients when helping them develop the correct diet for their horses.

The answers are found when they understand Dry matter and Dry matter conversions. If you are like most horse owners you understand enough about equine nutrition to read a feed tag or to follow along with an article in a magazine. You might even be able to have a decent conversation with a fellow horse owner about the features and benefits of a certain ration. I have found in working with my clients that there are areas of equine nutrition that can get complicated but are still very important to understand; “Dry matter” versus “as fed” is one of these. Dry matter is an important way to be sure that you are comparing “apples to apples” in your horse’s diet.

Happy Horse Healthy Planet_Apples-to-Apples

Basically, feeds are composed of two components – 1) water and 2) Dry matter. All feeds contain some water and the amount of moisture in any feed or forage directly affects its nutrient content. As you know water is essential to horse health but the nutrients (energy, protein, minerals, and vitamins) are found in the Dry matter portion, therefore it’s imoprtant know what percentage of the feed is Dry matter.

EcoEquine_Dry Matter

If we want to compare the nutritive value of feeds that have different moisture content, we need to look at it on a moisture free (or Dry) basis. For example green grass is much higher in moisture than hay so you must calculate the grass without the water content to be comparing apples to apples as far as nutrient value.

HappyHorseHealthyPlanet_CompareDry matter includes everything contained in a feed sample except the water; protein, fiber, fat, minerals, etc., so pretty much what your horse eats. Dry matter provides the energy in a horse ration and make up ninety percent of the dry weight of a diet.

Some feeds, including pasture grass and fresh forage, contain significant amounts of water. Others, like cereal grains that look completely dry can still contain 10-12 percent water. When feedstuff is air dried, most feeds will retain about 10 percent moisture. Nutrient percentages on feed tags are shown on an air-dry basis.

Hay Stretcher

When we calculate it,  Dry matter is the total weight of feed minus the weight of water in the feed, expressed as a percentage of the original sample:
DM % = DM / sample weight x 100

Dry matter content of a feedstuff is important because it reveals the actual amounts (in percentages) of various nutrients available to the horse consuming it.  In contrast, “as fed” basis represents the feed or forage as it is fed to the animal including the moisture content. While “as fed” is an accurate representation of the amount feed being consumed , it does not provide the percentage of the nutrients in the feed, particularly when the moisture content is high. To meet a horse’s nutrient demands requires knowledge of the actual nutrient content of the grains, forages, and supplements it consumes, not just the amount of intake.

HappyHOrseHealthyPlanet_Chestnut horse with a blaze eating his dinner in a black rubber feeder

This is where I usually see my client’s eyes start to glaze over but stick with me. If we use Dry matter percentage of the nutrients in feeds we need to remember that the physical quantity (amount) of nutrients will NOT change when water is added or removed. However, the percentage of nutrient present in the feed will change if water is added or removed because the water either DILUTES (water added) or it becomes more CONCENTRATED (water removed).

Okay, you know I love to use human analogies to help horse owners understand so here goes. Let’s take a can of frozen orange juice and compare what’s in it (nutrients)  to the same can plus 4 cans of water. The mixture would still have the same nutrients found in the single can but without the water they are CONCENTRATED (higher percentage). You would have to drink all of the mixture to equal the same nutrients as the single concentrated can of orange juice.

Happy Horse Healthy Planet_OJ Concentrate

Happy Horse Healthy planet_OJ Diluted

For an equine example, if a horse consumes 10 lbs. of hay at 90% Dry matter, it consumes 9 lbs. of Dry matter (10 x .90). If pasture at 20% Dry matter is substituted for the hay, it would have to consume 45 lbs. of pasture (9/.20) to receive the same amount of dry matter nutrients. Remember, the Dry matter is where the nutrients are.

Brown horse on pastureHorses consume feed to meet their daily needs for various nutrients and therefore, it is important to establish the amount of feed potentially consumed.  As we know now, because it is the Dry matter that contains all of the nutrients horses will have to consume more of a wetter feed to receive the same amount of Dry matter as they would from a drier feed.
Let’s look at the question in the first paragraph and see how you can compare protein in hay versus pasture:

% nutrient (as fed) = % nutrient (as fed)
% DM % DM

So let’s look at the question at the beginning of this:

% Protein in Hay 15 % (as fed) = % Protein in Pasture 7% (as fed)
% DM 85% % DM 20%

15/.85 =17.64% DM 7/.20 = 35% DM

The hay has a 17. 64 % protein on a DM basis but the pasture has 35% protein on a DM basis. Of course you don’t feed pasture on a Dry matter basis but this illustrates how much the nutrient is diluted with the addition of moisture.

Dry Matter

As all equine feedstuffs contain different levels of energy, protein, minerals, and vitamins you can find out what the nutrient profile is from feed tags on grain mixes, feedstuff tables online, from professional nutritionists, or through chemical analyses. Once actual Dry matter percentages of different feeds are known, reliable nutritional comparisons can be conducted and rations properly evaluated.

Here are the Dry matter values for some common forages:

Dry Matter Content of Common Forages
Most hay and grain mixes are assumed to be 90% Dry matter. So the label or test results information can be easily converted to a Dry matter basis by dividing the values by 0.9. For example, the crude protein content of a feed equals 12% “as fed” then:
12.0/0.9 = 13.3% protein on a Dry matter basis.

Dry matter intake is the amount of dry matter consumed by the animal and it is a central concept to any discussion of animal nutrition. Most horses will voluntary intake a daily Dry matter range of two to three percent of body weight.  Dry matter will influence the amount your horse consumes and generally the higher the quality of a feedstuff then higher the Dry matter intake potential.

To determine the daily dry matter intake for a particular horse we use the following sequence:

Lbs. Dry matter intake = Body Weight x (% Dry Matter Intake/100)

Example: An 1100 lb. horse consumes about 1.8% of its body weight per day.

Lbs. Dry matter intake = 1100 x (1.8/100) = 19.8 Lbs.
We’ll say this horse’s diet is approximately 65% forage and 35% grain to meet daily energy needs.
Lbs. Forage Dry matter = 19.8 x (65/100) = 12.87 Lbs.
Lbs. Grain Dry matter = 19.8 x (35/100) = 6.93 Lbs.

While it is beneficial to compare nutrient profiles on a Dry matter basis, in reality we must work with and mix feed on an as-fed basis. For example, a ration may be formulated on a Dry matter basis, but the actual feed ingredients must be mixed on an as-fed basis.

After you determine the recommended nutrient demands for your horse formulated on a Dry-matter basis, the values can be converted to an as-is basis (using the moisture content of the feed) to determine the actual amount of feed (as-is) that should be fed. Converting Dry matter nutrient values to an as-fed basis multiply nutrient percentage by the percentage of Dry matter in the feed.

Using the values from above, if the diet consists of only hay and grain, the amounts to feed can be calculated by assuming both feeds are 90% dry matter.

Amount fed = Lbs. Dry matter / (Dry Matter %/100)
Lbs. Hay fed = 12.87 / (90/100) = 14.3 lbs.
Lbs. Grain fed = 6.93 / (90/100) = 7.7 lbs.
So in this example you will need to feed your horse 14.3 pounds of hay and 7.7 pounds of grain to provide sufficient Dry matter (nutrients).

Whew! You made it! Of course most of the horse owners I work with feed the hay by body weight and the grain by the suggested amount on the bag and that’s just fine.  The work really has been done for you.  But if you are creating your own mix, have gotten your hay tested and aren’t sure how to read the report, or just want to understand equine nutrition better, just remember these “take-aways” on Dry matter:

  1. Dry matter analysis allows a comparison between the level of a given nutrient in Dry matter and the level needed in an animal’s diet.
  2. It is very important to know the Dry matter content of a feed to establish feeding rates and insure that your horse receives the proper amount of feed to meet their daily needs.
  3. It is important to always balance and evaluate rations on a Dry-matter basis. It levels the playing field so to speak.
  4. Nutrient values will either be on a Dry matter or as-fed basis. Before balancing a ration all values must be converted to either one or the other. It is often easier to balance the ration using Dry matter figures and only convert to an as-fed basis after the ration is balanced.
  5. In general grains and hay have ~ 90% DM and Pasture has %20 DM

Why does Dry matter matter? Because the largest expense in a horse care is the feed bill. To keep this cost low, a horse owner must supply the right amount of feed to the horse. Overfeeding is wasteful. Underfeeding will decrease health and performance. Therefore, proper feeding and nutrition are crucial to the health of your horse and the health of your bank account!

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Peace and Good Feed,
~The Nerd

Diatomaceous earth

Happy Horse Healthy Planet_DE Cover

What is Diatomaceous earth and Where does it Come from?

Diatomaceous earth (DE) is the fossilized remains of tiny aquatic organisms called diatoms harvested from the bottom of oceans across the globe. Diatoms are the grass of the oceans and lakes and are the food of water grazers just as grass is the staple food of many land dwelling animals. The diatom skeleton is made of a natural substance called silica.

Silica is very common in nature in various forms and makes up 26% of the earth’s crust by weight. It does not exist naturally in its pure form as it usually reacts with oxygen and water to form silicon dioxide. Silicon dioxide has two naturally occurring forms: crystalline and amorphous. Most Diatomaceous earth is made of amorphous silicon dioxide and this is the one we use for horses.

The beautiful geometric shells of the silica remains form massive deposits of Diatomaceous earth which is mined, milled, and processed into two main types, Food Grade and Industrial grade.

Diatomaceous-Earth-Diatoms-Progessive Gardens

There are a number of products containing Diatomaceous earth that are used for pesticide purposes. You’d be surprised at the number of non-pesticide products that contain Diatomaceous earth including skin care products, toothpastes, foods, beverages, medicines, paints, and water filters.

Anything ingested or used around animals is always Food Grade DE which is non-toxic, safe and crushed to a fine powder sometimes sold as “Fossil Shell Flour”.


Food grade Diatomaceous earth products are purified and even allowed by the USDA on organic food labels. Food grade DE is used as anticaking materials in feed, and as clarifiers for wine and beer. It is also used as a mineral additive, for detoxification, and as an effective insecticide.  This photo of the DE, magnified 7000 times, looks like spiny honeycombs that resemble bits of broken glass.


What is the Value of DE in Equine Nutrition?

When the diatoms are mined and ground up it ends up as a powder that looks and feels like talcum powder. When added to feed your horse will get the benefit of valuable trace minerals that make up Diatomaceous Earth. DE is approximately 3% magnesium, 33% silicon, 19% calcium, 5% sodium, 2% iron and many other trace minerals such as titanium, boron, manganese, copper and zirconium.
The most common nutritional benefit of DE for horses is parasite control but many horse owners report added benefits such as better coat and/or hoof condition.

As every horse owner (should) know parasites can wreak havoc with equine health. Internal parasites interfere with the absorption of food, cause weight loss, colic and diarrhea.


External parasites cause skin infections and an enormous amount of stress to your horse.

black stallion

With a good internal and external parasite management program your horse will see an improvement in health, appearance and behavior, as well as assimilation of feed, which means improved weight gain and lowered feed cost.
In my experience Diatomaceous Earth is a fantastic natural pesticide that deters all manner of insects that torment our animals. DE shows no indication of mechanical or chemical damage to the animal tissue therefore it can fed to the horse as a step in controlling internal parasites. DE can also be used as a dust for external pests by rubbing into the coat of the animal.

Food grade Diatomaceous earth is a great way to address parasites in your horse, but you should not rely on it as your only form of defense. Controlling intestinal worms in horses is a many layered endeavor that includes other Best Management Practices. Rotating pastures, appropriate pasture stocking rates, new horses being introduced to the herd appropriately, manure management and type or number of parasites needing to be controlled, are all parts of a good equine pest control plan.

How Does DE Work?

We don’t normally think of bad things as “positive” but when it comes to the way DE works, we do. The silica in DE is a semi-conductive mineral which when warmed by body heat becomes negatively charged. When this happens it gives off electrons that attract and absorb positively charged (but bad) things that are small enough to go through the holes. These positively charged things can be bad microbes, free radicals, and other positively charged waste.

Because of the strong charge, each shell can absorb a large number of positively charged substances, whether they be chemical or in the form of bacteria or viruses. After attracting these positively bad things, DE passes through the stomach and intestine, escorting these harmful substances out of the body.   Other larger parasites that can’t fit through the holes are “cut up” and killed by the sharp edges of the DE. Don’t worry though; the DE does NOT kill the beneficial bacteria in the gut nor “cutup” the intestinal lining.

macro of mold

Healthy Microbes Are Safe

When Diatomaceous earth is eaten, very little is absorbed into the body and the remaining portion is rapidly excreted.  Small amounts of silica are normally present in all body tissues so it is therefore normal to find silicon dioxide in urine but some studies looked at whether this would increase with the addition of DE to a diet.  These studies have shown that horses fed DE had no difference in silica amounts in urine samples as the silica in the DE was excreted .

How Do You Feed it to Horses?

If you decide to add DE to your equine management program make sure you purchase a product labeled as food grade or medical grade. These forms will be free of any contaminants or unwanted additives. Avoid the crystalline form of silica, commonly used in swimming pool filters, as the beneficial properties have been changed and other chemicals may have been added.

As each horse is an individual you should cater your DE amounts to several factors; weight and worm count.

Different Doses

Different Doses

You will need to cater the amount according to body weight as you would the dosage of any wormer. The suggested rate of food grade DE for a 1,000 lb horse is 1 cup a day. Remember, you need to feed it according to what each horse’s worm count demands; higher worm count in a particular horse = higher dosage of DE for that horse.

A minimum of 60 days is suggested for best results, you should re-check the fecal count at 30 days to make sure you are using enough. If fecal counts are not low after the 30 day re-check increase the daily dose of DE. Feeding too small a dose of DE will not give desired results.

Many horse owners just keep their horses on DE as part of their daily ration. In these cases some horses only need a 1/2 cup of DE daily, while others might need a full cup, but I have heard of horses staying worm free on as little as 2 cups per week. As I said before, each animal is different so cater the amount to the animal.
DE does not have an offensive order or taste so you can mix it with water or juice and feed it as a paste, or mix it directly into your horse’s feed. I would still add a bit of water to the feed to keep the dust factor at a minimum.

Diatomaceous earth
If you are like me you like to keep your horse supplements to a minimum so I use products with additional ingredients that address multiple concerns. There are two DE products I like that have additional benefits. Bug Lyte contains brewers yeast, thiamine, grape seed extract, garlic, niacin, and Diatomaceous earth. NHD Natural Wormer contains slippery elm, kelp, juniper berry, cascara segrada, clove, sage, garlic, and Diatomaceous earth.

Bug Lite

Are there Any The Risks With Using DE?

As long as you be sure to use food grade DE you are fine. Food grade Diatomaceous earth is EPA approved to be mixed with grains and used against indoor and outdoor crawling insects. Food Grade DE is USDA approved as an anti-caking agent for animal feed and it is FDA approved for internal and external use. So all the safety agencies confirm that it is nontoxic when used appropriately.

The biggest risk is using the wrong grade of DE so pay attention to which grade of Diatomaceous earth you buy. Industrial grade Diatomaceous earth is mainly used for pool filtering. It has been through heat and chemical processing and is highly toxic if ingested. So it is REALLY important that you only use food grade Diatomaceous earth.


If you haven’t wormed in a while, or have a horse with an extremely high egg count, I encourage you to use a slow introduction to Diatomaceous earth to avoid a detox reaction from a rapid killing of parasites and worms.

There is also some concern about what DE could do to a horse with ulcers or other digestive issues. Personally, I would not want to introduce anything more to an already compromised digestive system so I generally recommend that clients NOT use DE with these horses.

Be sure to consult your veterinarian before switching to a regular DE program, most vets are on board with fecal counts but can be in to a more chemical approach for paarasite control so be prepared for this.

A few other cautions. Some say it is better to use DE it in the morning, as it has been known to elevate energy levels. Also, I have heard of people withholding food from their horse before worming. With DE, or any wormer, you should never “fast” a horse, an empty equine stomach = trouble. Finally, if you are applying DE as a dust externally, use a face mask and apply with a bulb duster.


In Summary:

Many horse owners love the to use Diatomaceous earth topically to dry out wet stalls and to fight the flies manure attracts. The most controversial use of Diatomaceous earth is as a dewormer, but I have found it to be effective and safe.  I incorporate DE into my multifaceted deworming program, which includes a bi-annual fecal flotation test, but remember, DE should not be your only means of defense against internal parasites. Incorporate other Best Management Practices into your program to ensure control.

Peace and Good Feed,

~The Nerd

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The author does not recommend this blog be a substitute for veterinary, farrier and dental professionals for the care of your horse.  Methods and discussions regarding your horse’s health should be discussed with your horse care professionals and consideration of each animal’s unique characteristics should be taken into consideration.

Chinese Herbs For Horses

Happy Horse Heathy Planet_Herbs for Horses

I could have put this article under the letter “H” for herbs but I found that most of the horse owners I meet that use herbs do so because they believe in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and its philosophies. Therefore, it is the final installment under the letter “C”.

Have you ever wondered what Chinese herbs are doing in equine health care? Are you a bit confused by all the herbal products out there and their purpose? Well, this article will help you understand the role that Chinese herbs have in equine best management practices.

In my personal health and horse management program I like to use an integrated approach that combines the best of traditional medicine (and methods) with alternative ones. I have found that this combination helps me find solutions to stubborn problems and results in a more holistic system of care.

Chinese herbs can be used for a multitude of problems including long term issues such as allergies, arthritis and immune support. They can also help with more short term problems such as anxiety and digestive upset.

black stallion

I suggest you consider using herbs and herbal blends if you want a more natural approach or as a compliment to more traditional methods of horse care.

What are Chinese Herbs and Where Do They Come From?

The use of both Chinese and Western Herbal medicine dates back thousands of years. It aims to understand and treat the underlying causes of disease and ill health rather than just focusing on the expression of symptoms, thus it is a very holistic form of medicine.

For centuries the Chinese theories have offered herbal solutions that support health, not by simply addressing the issues, but by balancing the body’s underlying disharmony. Chinese medicine can be defined as a philosophical theory based on Yin and Yang and the Five Elements related to health. Most horse owners that use Chinese herbs do so based on these traditional Chinese theories of health and wellness.


Chinese herbs are classified and used based on a physiological effect (what it does in the body), by the meridian and/or organ system affected, by their taste (bitter, sweet, etc) and by their temperature. This system is unique to the practice of Chinese herbalism. Of the 6,000 documented medicinal species, 400 are used regularly, mixed, matched and paired based on a desired effect.

Horses are herbivores so they eat plants. In their natural environment, horses graze and they readily consume various herbs. Horses will naturally eat herbs such as Comfrey, Red Clover and even wild Garlic when they are available.

Horse Eating Milk Thistle

Horse Eating Milk Thistle

However, not all useful herbs grow in the pastures of domesticated horses since each require differing climates to be at their best. Therefore, many horse owners supplement herbs in the diet of a domestic horse.

Some suppliers use only the best quality herbs that are sourced individually from specific Providences of China. They believe the climate and quality of the soil combine to provide a far superior growing environment to anywhere else on the globe.

No matter the source, using herbs is more of a thought process and wellness attitude than of a geographical area of origination as there are many herbs that come from all over the world.

Many equine Chinese herbal blends are the by-product of the human herbal industry where they are ground or pelletized for use with horses.

I bet many of you drink herbal tea. The tea in the bag looks nothing like the plant it originated from. For example, this is what the chamomile plant looks like


Before it becomes this

Chamomile Tea

In addition, many of our modern drugs originate from herbs, for example, aspirin comes from white willow bark.

Why Feed Chinese Herbs To Horses?

In the wild horses have access to hundreds of herbs and plants and when fed responsibly herbs can provide domesticated horses with a variety of health benefits.  Generally speaking herbs are used for chronic, long-standing problems and often can allow your vet to reduce the amounts of pharmaceutical drugs they use on your horse.

Traditional medicine uses a very linear approach; this is the problem and this is the solution. Sometimes because of this non-holistic view, modern pharmaceuticals can weaken the body in one area while addressing the symptoms in another.

To me Chinese herbs are more suited to overall general health than acute illness.  Chinese herbs are a beneficial additional form of nutrition from a source other than good quality feed to keep horses at a noticeably higher level of health.

They are also a great aid in the healing process after traditional medical treatment has addressed the immediate threat. For example, treating an ulcer should begin with a traditional pharmaceutical acid reducer such as omeprazole, but long term healing and prevention can be supported through herbs such as slippery elm and licorice root.



In fact, the most common reasons I see for horse owners to use Chinese herbs are for long-term help with calming, boosting the immune system and for digestive issues such as ulcers and colic.  Herbs can sometimes do things that pharmaceutical drugs cannot like balancing hormones and often herbs can have a better safety margin than traditional medicines.

Chinese herbs can promote health without the negative side effects that synthetic vitamins can produce such as taxing the body’s elimination organs.  Some herbs are also more readily consumed into the body because horses find many of these plants more palatable than traditional supplements.

Chestnut horse with a blaze eating his dinner in a black rubber feeder

How Do You Feed Chinese Herbs to Horses?

Chinese herbs are normally safe and effective, but they must be used thoughtfully and intelligently. As with any supplement, prior to feeding any herbs to your horse always check with your veterinarian to be sure there are not any medical concerns. Some herbs should not be fed if your horse is pregnant or has been diagnosed with an illness like Equine Metabolic Syndrome for example.

Before you even consider adding herbs to your horse’s diet I would also suggest that you get a book on herbs for horses or at least do some internet searches to familiarize yourself with herbs and their uses.

There are over six thousand different plants that are used in herbal supplementation.  Chinese herbs can be used alone or in a blend but which ones work best in various combinations can be confusing. You should determine what your goal is as each herb has specific uses.

To correctly dose your horse, even for basic herbs, you still need to take into consideration the variables such as size, current health, nutrient profile of its ration and use. As with traditional medications, each horse will have specific dosage and requirements.

Different Doses

Different Doses

Most horse owners I work with feed a prepared herbal supplement that has been formulated by professionals that understand the correct combinations of herbs and that provide recommendations on usage. This can take some of the guess work out of feeding herbs.

When developing an equine herbal formula, the Chinese herbalist is much like a cook in the kitchen. The Chinese herbalist combines various herbs based on their contribution to create an effective formula designed with a specific health goal. A cook combines various ingredients to develop a well-balanced meal.

HappyHorseHealthyPlanet_UC Herbal Blend

I advise owners not to overload or overwhelm horses with too many herbs, supplements and medications simultaneously. I would suggest that you limit the use of herbs to two formulas at any time so you can better evaluate the results.

It’s also important to know that the herb manufacturer has good quality control procedures and backs up their products. Only use products with the ingredients listed on the packaging so you can be sure you are feeding the herbs you want.

Start slowly and give them time. Chinese herbs work slowly unlike traditional medications that generally show improvement within days.

Are Chinese Herbs Safe To Use on my Horse?

Because herbs are considered dietary aids or nutraceuticals they are not well regulated by the FDA.  Although they are considered generally safe, they do have a physiological effect on the body and should be used wisely.

Always speak to a vet (preferably one who’s open to and somewhat knowledgeable about nutraceuticals) before administering any herb to your horse. Never use herbal preparations in place of veterinary care. It’s important to get a proper diagnosis FIRST as with any treatment, you need to know the cause of the problem before you begin treating it.

For example, your horse’s poor coat condition could be from mineral deficiency or parasite infestation. If you just start feeding an herbal supplement to improve the coat, you could create a new problem without ever addressing the original one.


Poor Coat could be Parasites

Many horse owners assume that because an herb is “all natural” it is always safe. You must remember though that Chinese herbs act like a drug in treating a condition and like a prescribed drug have specific properties and can have side effects. Remember that some herbs may be contraindicated for your horse if you use them with other drugs or other herbs.

In researching Chinese herbs use a variety of sources, I always feel that if I find multiple sources agreeing I feel more confident in its accurateness.

Remember, just because a little is good doesn’t mean a lot is better! Discuss your plans with your vet, an herbalist or use one of the many herbal blends and FOLLOW PACKAGE DIRECTIONS.

What are the most Common Chinese Herbs used in Equine Wellness?

Like I said before there are over 6,000 herbs but there are a few that are commonly used in equine health (adapted from Wendal’s Herbs):

Usages: A nutritious plant extensively fed to horses for its general tonic and nutritional qualities. It can also be helpful in cases of water retention and urinary infections.
Comments: Alfalfa is often used as a high fiber fodder. It is rich in calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron and many other vitamins and minerals.
Usages: Internally- Used as a digestive aide. In small doses it supports the estrus cycle.
Externally- For minor burns, bites, skin irritations, sores and bruises.
Comments: There are over 200 species of Aloe, of which Aloe Vera is the most commonly used. Aloe Vera can stimulate the uterus and should be avoided during pregnancy.
Usages: Internally- Used for digestive disorders, colic, coughing and respiratory concerns and for increasing milk flow.
Externally- The oil is used for lice and other parasites.
Comments: This herb can be helpful in stimulating appetite and assisting in digestive disorders that could lead to colic symptoms. It is commonly used in respiratory blends. Avoid infusions during pregnancy.
Usages: Helps relieve pain and reduce swelling from bruises, sprains and muscle strains.
Comments: Arnica is used in homeopathic preparations only for internal use and as a tincture or cream externally. The herb should not be taken internally.
Usages: It can help with digestive issues and nervous system concerns.
Comments: Can be helpful in regularizing the estrus cycle in mares and the associated discomfort.
Usages: Internally- Used for respiratory disorders such as coughs and for constipation or digestive disorders.
Externally- Can be used in a poultice and applied to itching skin and ringworm, as it has bacteria and fungus fighting qualities.
Usages: Helps to stimulate an under-active thyroid gland. It is good for coat and hoof conditions and an aid to arthritic and rheumatic conditions.
Comments: Bladderwrack, or dried seaweed, is an original source of iodine. It is also rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium, selenium and many other vitamins. It is thought to reduce obesity through stimulating the thyroid gland.
Usages: Internally- Used for respiratory disorders such as coughs and for constipation or digestive disorders.
Externally- Can be used in a poultice and applied to itching skin and ringworm, using its bacteria and fungus fighting qualities.
Comments: A very effective blood cleanser probably best known for its benefits for skin concerns. This herb is also helpful in taking away excess fluid and reducing swelling.
Usages: Circulatory disorders. Can help strengthen and repair capillaries and is helpful in conditions relating to poor circulation.
Comments: Contains rutin, a substance that affects the strength and permeability of the capillary walls.
Usages: The seed is particularly good for rheumatism and arthritis. It also assists the process of digestion.
Usages: Internally- Used for stress, tension and nervous conditions and those associated with digestive disorders.
Externally- Can be applied in liquid form to wounds, bruises and skin disorders.
Comments: Chamomile is best known for its relaxing qualities and can be helpful for both horse and rider for nervous tensions before competing. It will not adversely affect the performance. A bunch of the flowers hanging in the stable is said to help deter the flies.
Usages: For PMT (PMS) and in cases of hormonal disorders.
Comments: Chaste Tree Berries are regarded as a hormonal normalizer and they help to regulate the estrus cycle. Therefore they can be a useful aid in preparing a mare for covering as well as relieving the effects of PMT (PMS). Chaste Tree Berries can also be helpful in male horses by helping to normalize irregular behavior resulting from hormonal disorder. Do not use during pregnancy.
Usages: Internally- Skin diseases and irritations, urine infections, soft swellings and fluid retention.
Externally- Healing wounds.
Comments: This herb has a reputation of having curative qualities for growths and tumors. An excellent tonic for the lymphatic system. Rich in calcium, copper, iodine and sodium.
Usages: For respiratory concerns, including coughing, asthma and pneumonia. Also used for diarrhea and as a general tonic.
Comments: Historically this herb was one of the most popular cough remedies for humans. There is some controversy in the medical world as to whether large amounts of this herb can cause liver concerns. It should be avoided in pregnant or nursing mares.
Usages: Internally- To encourage healing of bone and tissue. Good for respiratory conditions, arthritis, rheumatism, diarrhea and bleeding.
Externally- Wounds, sprains and as a poultice for boils and abscesses.
Comments: Comfrey is an excellent herb to promote the healing of bone and tissue. For a fracture or severe injury that needs help to heal quickly there is no better herb. The healing qualities can help in repairing damage to lungs and the respiratory system. There has been some controversy over possible liver damage that may result from giving large quantities over a long period of time.
Usages: Used for disorders of the urinary tract and kidney infections. A mild laxative.

Usages: Internally- For water retention, inflammation, kidney and liver complaints including jaundice. Stimulates appetite and aids digestion. Also used for rheumatism, arthritis, laminitis and is a mild laxative.
Externally- The pressed juice from stalks or leaves can be an effective cure for warts.
Comments: An extremely effective diuretic herb that has the benefit of replacing lost potassium. Dandelion is one of the most useful medicinal herbs as all parts of the plant are effective and safe to use.
Usages: Strengthens nervous system.
Usages: For arthritis, rheumatism, degenerative joint disorder (DJD) and to reduce inflammation and pain.
Comments: Devils Claw is now looked upon as a natural alternative to Phenylbutazone (Bute) and Cortisone, since it has similar actions. There are no apparent adverse side effects. Many companies now produce Devils Claw in a liquid form often with other ingredients. As in all products, some are better than others. Devils Claw is a uterine stimulant and should not be fed to pregnant mares.
Usages: Increases bodily resistance against viral and bacterial infection.
Comments: This is an excellent herb for the prevention and cure of viral and bacterial infections. It has the effect of enhancing the immune system by stimulating the production of white blood cells.
Usages: Internally- To stimulate the liver. Also can be fed for nasal congestion.
Externally- Can be used as a lotion for the eyes where it is useful for its qualities.
Usages: Coughs, appetite, constipation, diarrhea and stimulates milk flow in nursing mares. Also good for urinary disorders.
Comments: Can be used as an eyewash for irritations and strains. Fennel is disliked by fleas and in a powdered form helps keep them away from stables and kennels. Avoid high doses during pregnancy.
Usages: Internally- As a conditioner it stimulates digestion. Useful for coughs and as a general tonic. It also helps to stimulate milk flow.
Externally- The crushed seeds can be used for bruises, swellings, boils and ulcers.
Comments: Very good for stimulating appetite and improving condition. Increases milk flow in the nursing mare. Avoid large quantities in early pregnancy. Also in mares with hormonal concerns, where it can sometimes affect their behavior.
Usages: Internally- Commonly used to repel flies and insects. Helps with coughs and respiratory disorders, rheumatism, aids digestion and intestinal infections.
Externally- Can be applied for bites, ringworm or boils.
Comments: The best known herb used for horses which has many qualities and benefits. It helps prevent coughs, improves digestion and prevents worms. Also Garlic promotes sweating and in doing so excretes through the skin to repel flies and insects. Although Garlic can taint the milk in a lactating mare, it transfers its benefits to the foal.
Usages: Internally- Kidney and bladder disorders, digestive concerns and for coughs and asthma.
Externally- As a poultice or ointment for ulcers and slow healing wounds.
Usages: Improves circulation and blood flow throughout the body. Good for coughs and allergies.
Comments: Ginkgo is an antioxidant which means it slows the formation of free radicals which are believed to be responsible for cancer.
Usages: A general tonic for the heart, lowers high blood pressure and aids digestion.
Comments: Do not give to pregnant mares.
Usages: Calming, nervous diarrhea, stimulates appetite, digestive concerns.
Comments: Has a bitter taste which makes some horses turn away. As part of a calming blend they are very effective.
Usages: For coughs and respiratory conditions. An effective digestive stimulant and a tonic that is particularly good for inflammation of the liver and jaundice.
Usages: Internally- Used for kidney and bladder disorders and to help arrest internal and external bleeding. Also beneficial for arthritis.
Externally- For bleeding wounds and healing.
Comments: Like many herbs, Horsetail has toxic characteristics and while it can be beneficial in small doses, caution should be taken. Used correctly, this powerful herb can form part of an effective herbal blend. It is best avoided in pregnant mares.
Usages: For nervous system concerns and as a relaxant.
Comments: The oil is used extensively in perfumes and toiletries.
Usages: Used for nervous concerns, colds, fevers and as an aid to PMT (PMS) type behavior in mares.
Usages: For arthritis, bladder concerns, and coughs and as a general tonic. It is also a digestive aid in the prevention of colic.
Comments: Not recommended for pregnant and nursing mares.
Usages: Internally- Particularly beneficial for skin concerns and as an aid to digestion. It also helps induce perspiration and to regulate the estrus cycle.
Externally- Used as a lotion or cream for sprains, wounds and swellings.
Comments: Do not give during pregnancy.
Usages: For digestive disorders including diarrhea. Also used for coughs.
Usages: Internally- Used for urinary complaints, stomach and intestinal disorders and coughs.
Externally- As a poultice.
Usages: For rheumatic and arthritic pain, bladder and kidney disorders and reducing fever.
Comments: Contains salicylic acid, the substance from which acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) was synthesized.
Usages: Best known as a liver tonic, it detoxifies poisons that enter the blood stream. It also promotes milk production.
Comments: Used in the pharmaceutical industry for gall bladder disease and for the regeneration of tissue in cases of liver damage.
Usages: An aid to the digestive system in the prevention of diarrhea and colic. It also induces perspiration and can help coughs.
Comments: Used as an appetizer to help encourage the horse to eat and its strong pleasant smell makes it ideal to add to feed. It can be helpful in drying up a lactating mare.
Usages: Hemorrhaging, anemia, rheumatism, arthritis, laminitis, sweet itch, spring tonic, allergies, milk production, appetite, coat and skin. Provides iron and vitamin C to help strengthen and enhance the circulatory system. Helps in the elimination of waste products of the liver and kidneys.
Comments: Occasionally, a horse can develop a nettle rash in which case it might be better avoided.
Usages: For kidney concerns and urinary infections. Also used for coughs and arthritis.
Comments: Parsley can act as a uterine stimulant and therefore should not be fed to pregnant mares.
Usages: Internally- Used for internal hemorrhaging, chronic diarrhea, hormonal disorders, nose bleeds and mouth ulcers.
Externally- Suitable for use in a cream for soothing and healing inflammatory concerns of the skin and for bleeding piles.
Usages: Psyllium seeds are said to be helpful in the prevention of sand colic.
Usages: A useful aid for the foaling mare. Ideally fed about one month before and after foaling. Tones pelvic and uterine muscles and enhances milk. Can also be helpful in the treatment of diarrhea and mouth ulcers.
Comments: A very good herb to assist in foaling and cleansing although it is better not to give it early in the pregnancy. It is often very effective in treating horses with diarrhea – usually things improve within a few days.
Usages: Internally- Used for coughs, diarrhea and acts as a blood cleanser for skin concerns such as mud fever. It also has calming and sedative qualities and can be helpful in the treatment of melanomas.
Externally- A compress can be used to treat rashes, ulcers, burns and sores.
Usages: Used for irritable coughs. It also has a soothing effect on the nervous system and it can be helpful for excitable horses.
Comments: The seeds have a pleasant nutty flavor.
Usages: Used to promote hoof growth. Can be fed for exhaustion, constipation and as an aid to prevent scouring.
Comments: The high levels of vitamin C (up to 1%) help the body’s natural defenses. Rosehips have been shown to be a good natural supplement to promote hoof growth.
Usages: Circulatory and nervous system stimulant, digestion, rheumatism, and diarrhea.
Comments: Essential oil can be detectable in blood tests.
Usages: Reduces sweating and lactation. Good for coughs, colds and nervous conditions. Also used for gastrointestinal disorders, gas colic and mouth infections.
Comments: Do not give to pregnant mares.
Usages: For respiratory disorders, coughs and colds.
Usages: Internally- An aid for digestion, diarrhea and bronchial concerns.
Externally- For ulcers and abscesses.
Usages: For inflammation of the internal organs, disorders of the female reproductive system, rheumatic pain, stress, anxiety and tension. Is also an effective sedative.
Comments: Not recommended for long term use. Can make fair skinned horses especially sensitive to sun (photosensitivity).
Usages: Used to treat fevers and for kidney and urinary disease. Also helpful in cases of diarrhea and anemia.
Usages: The diluted oil is usually applied externally for conditions of the skin. Good for sweet itch, burns and fungal infections such as ringworm.
Comments: Recommended for external use only. Used in many coat conditioning grooming products.
Usages: Internally- Used for respiratory concerns, coughs, sore throats, digestive concerns and indigestion or wind colic.
Externally- Can be used as an ointment for swellings and warts.
Usages: Calms and relaxes. It is good for nervous over excitable horses and for stressful or anxious situations. Can be helpful in settling the digestive system.
Comments: Does not adversely affect performance in competition. Some governing bodies are testing for the use of Valerian Root during competitions. For those concerned about competitions in the U.S.A. there are other calming herbs that can be used as an alternative.
Usages: A very good herb that can be used for a number of conditions including fevers, ulcers, tension, stress, nervous disorders and liver complaints.
Usages: Contains tannins which are very good for the digestive system. Reduces inflammation and relieves pain. Good for rheumatism, arthritis and in reducing fevers.
Comments: The characteristics of White Willow are very similar to Aspirin. Since White Willow is in effect a natural form of Aspirin it could be regarded as a prohibited substance for competition purposes. It should also not be used long term for pregnant mares.
Usages: Internally- It is used for hemorrhaging from the lungs and for stomach intestinal ulcers and diarrhea.
Externally- Ideal for use as a tincture or cream for bruises and inflammatory swellings, bites and burns.
Comments: Use only externally unless under veterinary supervision.
Usages: To help prevent worms and for digestion and appetite.
Comments: Do not give to pregnant mares.
Usages: For digestion, appetite, fevers, kidney disorders and urinary infections.

There ya have it…I hope this helps you understand the rising popularity of using  Chinese herbs in equine health care. The practice of Chinese herbal medicine may be ancient, but the science of herbal medicine continues to grow and evolve to meet the needs of modern horses and riders.

I shouldn’t have to say this but I will- The information presented in this article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to endorse any product or ingredient and should not be used as substitute for visits to your attending veterinarian.

Peace and Good Feed,  ~The Nerd

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Good Books & Resources on Chinese Herbs:

A Modern Horse Herbal by Hillary Page Self

Concise Guide to Medications, Herbs and Supplements for Horses By David Ramey

Herbs for Horses by Jenny Morgan

Reliable Sources For Herbs:

The two I use & sell at-

Equine Science- Herbs4Horses


Two other great reliable sources-

Wendals Herbs

Hilton Herbs