Baskin Robbins Ice Cream used to be famous for its 31 flavors. These days, there are probably more flavors than that at any ice cream stand you go to, but in 1945, 31 flavors was an impressive variety. I'm not that old...I looked it up.
I've been thinking of this because of a new flavor conditioning program I've put my horses on. Last summer, when Percy had a hoof abscess and was very lame, I asked the vet for some bute. She sold me bute powder but when I opened it, I was surprised to smell that it was orange flavored. When I presented it to Percy, he was quite sure I was trying to poison him. Their sense of smell is so good that he wouldn't even approach his feed tub having sniffed it. The vet said that most horses like it. Mine aren't "most". They are very fussy and I had to get my hands on some old fashioned bute tablets and use my mortar and pestle to grind them up so I could add a peppermint in (Percy LOVES peppermint) and then add water and put it all in a big syringe for him.
|my own peppermint bute recipe|
This experience reminded me of hearing Ken Ramirez talk about teaching animals to accept a variety of flavors. This was quite some time ago so I'm fuzzy on the details but it goes along with a post I wrote about being unpredictably predictable. If my animals are so set in their routine, or food, or environment, or friends, then they can be upset in a change in any of those things. I also talked about this in a post about whether horses truly need a schedule or if that is simply a factor of them becoming reliant on a schedule that we humans set for our own convenience.
In any case, I decided it was time to vary my horses' palates. My first change was thanks to my daughter who reminded me that we used to give our horses orange flavored gatorade on cross country day to replenish electrolytes. I purchased some gatorade powder and put a tiny bit of powder on each horse's dinner. I'm sure it didn't hurt that it was very sweet, but they all ate it just fine and I gradually increased it until I could put a good tablespoonful in and nobody batted an eye. I know that the bute itself probably has a smell but the next time I needed bute for Percy (it was a summer of abscesses thanks to no rain and the resulting hard ground), he was happy to have the orange flavored bute in a syringe.
I then remembered that the equine nutritionist I worked with had sent me a pdf on picky eaters when you want to add supplements. I pulled that up and found a number of intriguing ideas for adding flavors. I had avoided using that idea because it seemed like just more to add and get them used to but for the project I decided to give it a try. My horses' diets are heavily grass-based in the summer. They get a little hay when they come in midday to escape from flies but other than that, they eat grass. In the winter, they love their timothy balancer cubes soaked in a mash but in the summer, it either pales in comparison flavor-wise or they are just not hungry enough to bother. In hopes of increasing my chances of success, I began my flavor introductions once they were happily eating their balancer cubes again. In the late fall, when grass was getting slim, I started up their cubes and they deigned to eat them.
I already had the gatorade and I thought mint flakes would be a good thing since they liked their peppermints so much. I also checked the picky eaters list and decided to give beet root powder, anise powder and carrot powder a try. The list said that different horses like different flavors so I was prepared to keep a running list.
|adding the gatorade to Percy's favorite hay stretcher pellets before trying it in his dinner was a necessary step to recover from the bute fiasco|
I started with just a 1/4 teaspoon of the anise powder. The pony mares said absolutely not. Everyone else was ok with it and I gradually increased the amount I added up to a teaspoon. I wanted to be sure there was a strong flavor they were adjusting to. Next I tried the beet root powder (which is a wonderful bright pink color!). They all ate that up fine and so I added more and more to be sure that was ok. The same with the carrot powder- no objections. At that point, I began to rotate the flavors. I lined them up in the drawer alphabetically (to help me remember). Anise powder one day, followed by beet root powder the next, then the carrot, then mint flakes and then orange gatorade. They had a five day rotation. NOTE: Kizzy pony who is insulin resistant does not get the gatorade powder due to the sugar in it. She just gets her plain feed on the day everyone else gets the gatorade. The other flavorings are not sweetened.
Kizzy is my pickiest eater. You wouldn't think that a pony would be that fussy but I was very challenged adding her pergolide powder in the summer, even though it is supposedly apple flavor. Previously, I had given her the tiny tablets which she was happy to have popped in the corner of her mouth as it was followed by a couple hay stretcher pellets. I had switched to the powder to be able to fine tune the amount and she was amazingly careful at being able to sort it out, even when I dampened it all. She's licking her bowl clean right now so I hope that these flavors keep her eating in the summer. One day I made a mistake and put the anise in everyone's tubs...the pony mares cleaned it up. Had they adjusted to new things or was winter simply a time they weren't going to be fussy?
While the flavors do change each day, I also want to keep introducing new things. I think that's the only way to help them accept novel flavors when it comes in the form of medication (does anyone remember the banana flavored wormer decades back? I wore a lot of it the summers I worked on a breeding farm and was responsible for getting wormer into foals.)
After the above flavors were happily being consumed (when it's below zero and the horses come in to tubs of steaming, flavored timothy mash, it's very satisfying to watch them eat), I got some spirulina powder. The smell of that about knocked me off my feet and I was hesitant, but the horses gobbled it up. Most recently I've added cocosoya and a new Vermont based mineral supplement. No questions asked. Waiting to be introduced are raspberry leaf and citrus bioflavonoid. I am careful to add things from the list so that I know they are safe for horses. They include:
- Anise seed powder
- Apple fiber
- Beet root powder (this is number one in my horses’ book)
My favorite day is the mint leaves day. I add a lot more of that than the powder (probably less weight wise) and the steam that rises off when I add the hot water makes the whole barn smell minty!
We will see if things change when grass returns but that's still months away so we have more time to experiment, and I hope that if anyone needs any meds, they won't be as alarmed by the smell or taste of the meds, especially if I add a familiar flavor to it.