The Everywhere Mint: Peppermint for HorsesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · December 21, 2015
Everywhere you turn, peppermint turns up: toothpaste, chocolates, teas, and curiously strong breath mints. Even your tack room is not immune, as peppermint flavoring infuses many horse treats. Can horses overdose on peppermint?
Not likely, says Catherine Whitehouse, M.S., an equine nutritionist with Kentucky Equine Research (KER).
From a botanical perspective, peppermint is a hybrid, a crossbred combination of wintergreen and spearmint. Make no mistake, from a palatability perspective, most horses relish peppermint.
“Before the peppermint craze hit the equine marketplace in the form of prepackaged treats, some horsemen would disguise drinking water with a handful of the well-known red-and-white mints. By doing this at home, unfamiliar water can be similarly spiked, effectively tricking horses into thinking the water is known to them,” said Whitehouse.
With the advent of other products, including flavored electrolytes and a specialty product named Drink-Up (available in Australia), horsemen have fewer problems with horses refusing to drink strange water. But that hasn’t dampened the use of peppermints around the stable and at shows.
“I've used peppermint candy a lot in showing conformation horses on the line. Horses are fast learners, and before long they are clear what the crinkle of a peppermint wrapper means,” said Wallace Battles, a breeder and owner of hunter-type Quarter Horses and warmbloods. “Once they know a peppermint is in the offing, they usually puff up and showboat a little—arch their neck, starch their ears, fix their gaze. Instant interest! Only one of mine didn't like peppermints, but that filly liked root beer barrels.”
Hundreds of similar stories abound in barnyards and showgrounds the world over. Yet the question remains: how much is too much peppermint?
“Peppermint-flavored treats made especially for horses and peppermint candy won’t likely cause any problems, especially if they’re given sparingly, such as once a day,” said Whitehouse. “Hog-wild consumption, of course, is not recommended. Horses should derive most of their calories from tried-and-true menu choices: pasture, hay, and well-fortified concentrates, if necessary.”