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What Desperate Horses Eat
 By Winniefield Park   •   29th Dec 2016   •   1,212 views   •   0 comments
BC SPCA VernonPhoto Credit: BC SPCA Vernon

A man near Vernon, BC, Canada is facing charges after some of the 110 horses he cared for were found in an emaciated condition. The seventy-year-old claims he did not neglect his horses, although three horses of sixteen horses in dire condition died. The horses had been put to pasture for several months and when the man checked them in late fall, he found they had lost weight. Ice apparently prevented him from putting out round bales, so he tried to feed small squares by transporting them with an ATV. In court, the man claimed he was trying to take care of those that needed extra assistance, and continually denied that he had neglected them. Obviously, if the new story is accurate, itís easy to find lots of holes in his story that indicate that either through unintentional, or perhaps intentional neglect, the horses were not getting the care they needed and this man didnít have the resources or knowledge necessary to look after that many horses.

Related: Canadian Faces Charges After 110 Horses Found Neglected
Related: What Happens When A Horse Starves

One SPCA representative mentioned that she saw the horses eating wood. That, she said, was something she hadnít seen before. Wood eating, however, is very common, and it may as weíve explored before, not necessarily be a sign of hunger. In this case, itís likely it was. And, it could have contributed to, rather than alleviated the dire condition of horses that it. But, horses will eat almost anything in sight if they are hungry enough.

After grass, weeds are the next choice of the hungry horse. Many weeds are fine to eat, some in moderate doses may even be beneficial. Dandelion, for example, is high in some vitamins and minerals and are just fine for horses to eat. Thistles and nettles donít look very toothsome to us, but nettles, in particular, are very nutritious and donít seem to sting a horse the way they can irritate us. But, there are many weeds that a hungry horse may eat that arenít good for them.

There are weeds that are a problem if a horse eats too much of them. Buttercups, St.Johnís Wort, Pokeweed and Bracken Fern are among the wild growing plants that can harm a horse, starving or not. Some like Jimson Weed, Mustard, and Russian Knapweed are downright deadly.

While a mouthful wood shavings from your horseís stall isnít likely to cause a huge problem, wood splinters from branches, fence or barn boards might. Wood isnít very digestible either. Itís hard for a horse to extract enough nutrition from any type of wood, so a starving horse might be fulfilling an urge to eat, but what itís eating isnít providing what it needs to be healthy. Impaction colic and choke are other problems that can occur when a horse eats a lot of woody material.

There are also trees and woody shrubs that are toxic to a horse. Red maple and oak, Black Walnut, Privet, Japanese Yew and Horse Chestnut are just a few that are bad news for a horse, starving or not.

An empty belly and an instinct to graze may compel a horse to eat non-plant material too. In an apparently healthy horse, this is called pica. But a hungry horse will sample whatever it can get its teeth into out of desperation. Dirt and manure are often sampled by horses. Any fiber, such as old feed bags or fabric could be fair game too. Horses will even eat meat if they have to. They are really not natural hunters by nature, but people have seen horses eat small birds and other animals.

Horses that are very hungry may also consume water to try to feel satiated. If the weather is cold, drinking cold water, or eating snow can lower their body temperature, which makes it even hard for them to stay healthy.

So, if these horses were hungry survival would be the name of the game. Perhaps if it werenít for the bark from the trees, more horse would have been even worse off than they were. Just because pastures look green doesnít mean thereís something there for horses to eat. And, you just canít turn horses out without checking, preferably daily, that all is okay.
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