Tonka Tries Chamomile

By Terry Golson

Herbivores are generally either grazers or browsers. The grazers eat grass in wide open spaces. Think domestic cattle. Browsers prefer brush and climbing thorny things. Like goats. My goats will ignore a lush lawn and head on over to the roses for their meal. (A reason why Pip and Caper are not allowed to roam the backyard.) Horses are mostly grazers, but they also browse. They’ll nibble at bushes, chew on bark and taste vines. (If you have an appaloosa, then your horse likely eats everything, including turkey sandwiches, but that’s another story!)

Tonka spends his days in a grass paddock. This is a luxury in our woodsy, rocky part of the world.


At night he gets hay and a small amount of commercial horse feed. The quality of both the grass and hay is excellent and he’s eating what he needs in order to thrive, but, honestly, the diet is rather boring. In animal welfare circles, enrichment is a buzzword, and rightly so. Making an animal’s life more interesting with variety and appropriate challenges improves their mental and physical welfare.

I try to give Tonka opportunities to eat in interesting places with a variety of tastes and textures to choose from. Last week he got to forage in a friend’s pasture after a ride through her woods and fields. There were tall grasses and legumes like vetch to select.


This made Tonka quite cheerful.


Lately, I’ve been following a funny Instagram account – it features a paint horse with an attitude. He’s in Australia, and his owner feeds him chamomile flowers. I did a bit of research and it turns out that this is common practice in that part of the world. Some feed it as the dried whole flower, others give it to their horses in herbal formulations, like this one for mares. I rarely use alternative therapies, and even if I were to, Tonka doesn’t need the calming properties that herbalists claim for chamomile. However, I do like to drink chamomile tea, and I even have chamomile in my herb garden.


Perhaps Tonka would like some to liven up his bland diet? I’d tried feeding Tonka herbs before, and it’s an understatement to say that he wasn’t thrilled. Tonka loves his peppermint candies, so last year I offered him fresh mint. He was incredulous that I thought he’d eat it.

Still, I had plenty of chamomile in my garden, so I cut a bunch, stems and all, and brought it to the barn. When presented with this bouquet, Tonka gave me a look. Usually he gets a banana when he’s in the wash stall. This was unexpected, and initially quite the disappointment.


But, then, just like in the commercial for Life cereal, he tried it and he liked it!


I love that look of surprise on my horse’s face. Does your horse have the opportunity to browse as well as graze? What do they like?

4 thoughts on “Tonka Tries Chamomile

    • Terry Golson Post author

      I read that all of the olympic horses love banana, so I offered some to Tonka and he looked horrified at the thought. But now I’m at a barn where all of the horses like banana, Tonka decided to try it, and now it’s his favorite. They can develop tastes for things because of their surroundings and culture, just like us!

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