Though I am certainly no expert, I know a little bit about what horses like to eat. The ones we have had prefer bluegrass to brome and brome over fescue. They will nip their preferred forage down to the dirt and leave the other stuff belly high. When it comes to hay, they prefer grass blades over seeds and stems and they prefer alfalfa over everything else, so far as I can tell. Well, everything else except sweet feed. On second thought, we did have one horse that left sweet feed to go eat alfalfa hay. So, I know that horses really like alfalfa.
What I don’t know is why any horse would love mulberry bark. My lack of explanation, however, does not refute the observation.
In addition to other joys this week, I cut down two of the dead pine trees that form the fence line on the west side of our little paddock. Being as how I already had the chain saw out, I decided to go ahead and trim off the lower branches on the two maples and the mulberry tree growing in the pasture. Some of those branches were over twenty feet long. So, I trimmed the smaller branches off of the big branches and then sawed everything into sections that a scrawny old geezer like me could drag off without too much trouble.
While I was stacking the old dead pine branches onto the burn pile, I noticed our gelding nosing around the mulberry branches. As I watched for several seconds, I saw Journey start to nibble on the cut end of the branch. Without a minute or two, he had stripped off two feet of bark. Not being sure whether or not it was good for a Rocky Mountain Horse to ingest a bunch of fresh mulberry bark, I shooed him away.
I finished dragging, toting and tossing branches onto the big pile for a New Year’s bonfire. Then, I stopped by the shed and fed Journey some sweet feed and alfalfa.
The next day, I looked over at the big brush pile and was surprised to see several gleaming white sections among the dull gray mat of rough-textured grays. That horse had nosed around in that big pile and eaten the bark off of those mulberry branches, leaving them slick and shiny.
I have no idea why a horse would want to gorge himself on mulberry bark. Maybe it’s a vitamin or mineral deficiency, maybe it’s the flavor, maybe it was just something to do on a long night. I do know, though, that horses do share some similarities with humans. One of those common traits is that just because they love eating or doing some particular thing is no proof at all that it’s good for them.