In the wild horses will roam across vast areas of land. If they become unwell they will seek out specific plants, herbs, essential oils, algae, clay and other natural remedies, not in their normal diet, to restore themselves back to good health.
ZOOPHARMACOGNOSY (Zoo = Animal, Pharma = drug, Cognosy = knowing), commonly known as Self-Selection, is the term used for this innate ability animals have to recognize which medicinal plants they need.
When a medicinal plant is required by an animal for its therapeutic properties it will taste sweet and palatable. If the animal is healthy the same plant will taste bitter, deterring consumption, and therefore stopping the animal from eating it. This prevents over eating of nature’s pharmacy ensuring nature always has a supply of medicinal plants.
Zoopharmacognosy is not new, in fact it is the oldest therapy in existence. At one time the only medicine available was what nature provided and many conventional drugs used today, for both animals and humans, are still based on medicinal plants.
Horses are not the only animals to seek out natures medicines.
In the wild scientists have observed gorillas, chimpanzees, monkeys, elephants, birds, rhinoceros, and many more species, ingest, rub on the skin, roll in, and line their nests with plant species known to have medicinal healing properties, for the specific needs of the animal, whether anti-parasitic, anti-bacterial, anti-microbial etc.
So how does this relate to our own horses?
Although to a large extent our own horses have become domesticated, they still have these innate abilities and needs. But unfortunately with paddocks being sprayed and managed as they are, our horses no longer have access to the medicinal plants they would in the wild.
Many of the conditions that are common in domesticated horses are rarely, if ever, seen In the wild. Good examples of conditions rarely seen in the wild are Laminitis and Sweetitch. This is because historically the horse in the wild would seek out the plants needed to correct the imbalance in the system before the condition started to show symptoms. There are many physiological changes happening in the system before symptoms are shown.
Applied Zoopharmacognosy is where we give our horses access to these plants allowing them to select the ones they require.
A small amount of each herb or remedy is offered to the horse and if they need the herb or remedy, they will show an interest by either ingesting, inhaling, or rubbing on the remedy (if needed to be topically applied).
Often we feed herbs to our horses based on our judgement of what we think is needed, but if we apply the principles of Zoopharmacognosy we would give the horse the chance to choose which remedy is needed. Not only will this save us money but this often speeds up the recovery, as the remedy is more specific to the condition.