THE ability to browse on a range of trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, roots and mosses could be important for the health and well-being of horses, says an equine researcher.
Mariette van den Berg, a professional equine nutritionist and researcher at the University of New England, is giving horse owners the opportunity to contribute to her research by participating in the National Horse Foraging Survey.
Ms van den Berg moved to Australia from The Netherlands in 2009.
She founded MB Equine Services, which provides specialised equine nutrition and horse property design and pasture management.
"In designing pastures as part of the business, I started to investigate the role of alternative forage sources as a drought reserve," she said.
"And a bit of research made me realise that, in nature, horses browse a lot.
"This raised the question, 'How do domesticated horses cope with an enclosed environment in which there is limited or no access to browsing?'
"Is there something in browsing that might be important for their nutrient balance or gut and dental health?"
She was hoping to provide some answers through her research towards a doctoral degree at the university.
She has invited horse owners to contribute their own observations of browsing to the National Horse Forage Survey and hoped the survey would enable her to make a list of plants, other than grasses, horses prefer as food.
"I like the idea that people can make a valuable contribution to horse research in this way," she said.
"I'd like to compile a list of foods that are safe for horses to browse on and a list of those that are unsafe," she said.
The survey also gives the option of uploading photographs of plants if an owner was unsure of the species.
"Farmers know planting shrubs and trees on their properties has a range of environmental and agricultural benefits and this possible advantage for their horses could add to that list of benefits."
The survey is available online at surveys.qualdata.net.au/s3/horseforage-survey.