We are regularly asked whether horses can really choose in a mineral buffet or whether they will always choose the tastiest. After all, is the modern horse still close enough to nature to be able to make “healthy” choices? And what about mineral buffets, are they healthy or not? And how do you offer a mineral buffet?
In terms of genes, horses are close to nature
All modern-day horses are still very close to the primal horse in terms of genes. Whereas humans actually no longer resemble primal man at all, the horse has always remained close to itself. Digestion is basically unchanged and needs have also remained the same. So in terms of nutritional requirements, the modern (sport) horse is still the same as the wild horse. This means that the instinct for finding the right nutrients is also still present.
Horses grow up unilaterally
What mainly is a problem with the modern horse is that they grow up nutritionally monotonous. Weeds are removed from the land, they are given standard pellets, haylage and no herbs or branches at all. And the moment a horse opts for black soil once in a while, there is immediate panic and means are resorted in order to prevent it.
We as humans have actually made our horses “dumber” than they are from their instincts and genes. We have deprived horses to make their own choices, to think for themselves about what is good for them. As a result, many horses have stopped learning to choose certain herbs or to extract minerals from the soil. But it is still in there, just look at all the horses that lick sand, those horses start with that to be able to solve a deficiency in minerals.
A mineral buffet is to offer a choice
With a mineral buffet, you give the horse the opportunity to choose between plain standard water, or water with an additive. This gives your horse another choice and that is a very nice piece of enrichment and development that the horse gets to experience. Via a mineral buffet, the horse can learn to take in certain nutrients in a different way and the horse can start to feel in its own body what it needs.
A mineral buffet can be made as extensive as you want, for instance liquid nettle, liquid rose hip, liquid dandelion, Celtic sea salt, green clay, peat dren, Bering Sea water, etc.
So it is very healthy to offer a mineral buffet to your horse, provided you do it responsibly and you guide your horse in this.
Horses need to learn!
Some people have a fear of a mineral buffet because a horse will only choose what it would like best. But we as owners are there to help, because you don’t just have to offer a certain bucket constantly. You can alternate this! And with that, the question is then: does the horse choose that bucket constantly because it likes it, or because it has a huge deficiency and is therefore trying to supplement? Is the horse suffering from something and is this a signal that you as an owner should look a bit further?
Horses that have grown up very monotonously and need to learn to use a mineral buffet. After all, these horses have never had the freedom to make a choice. Sometimes you see that those horses want nothing to do with a mineral buffet, because they don’t know it. And sometimes they try everything to see what it is. So it is a very nice learning process for the horse where you give them the opportunity to develop themselves and come back to nature.
Don’t offer everything at once!
What is important with a mineral buffet is not to put 10 buckets down right away. Start small with 1 or 2 extra buckets. Start with safe choices (nettle, rose hip) and see what the horses do with them. Fill the buckets no more than once a day, that way you avoid drinking too much. If you notice that the horses use them well and really start making choices, you can choose to add an extra bucket with something new.
And choose, for instance, to offer the same thing for a maximum of three weeks in a row and then change to something else. A period of no extra buckets is also good! In nature, not everything is constantly available. There are periods of scarcity and periods of abundance in nature, which you can also mimic with your mineral buffet.
Conclusion: horses can choose for themselves, if they are taught!
So, as a horse owner, you don’t have to fear a mineral buffet. Horses that have grown up versatile can make these choices very responsibly, other horses have to learn this. So then you offer a mineral buffet with policy.
And if a horse drinks extremely much of a particular mineral/herb, this is a signal that there is either a major deficiency or an underlying problem. The chances of the horse continuing to drink it because it is “tasty” are slim. After all, that is not the way horses think, they live by instinct and feeling.