The horse’s sense of taste

...and on the eighth day God created the horse in perfect image, to romp, graze, gallop, play and make manure wherever it darn well pleases, in divine grace.

Did you ever see your horse just picking at his grain or his hay, and wonder why he isn’t consuming it? Gotten concerned because he left some of it laying, thought he might be sick? Some simple deduction might arrive at the conclusion that you had given him some fabulous second cutting orchard grass hay or some really sticky sweet feed the day before.

He wasn’t sick, he’s just being picky.

Horses are like people, they have preferences on what they like to eat and things they really enjoy.

I had this one old boy that had come up from Texas. He had hardly any teeth so I’d take those Wrangler pellets, 3 pounds, and add hot water to make a soup.

That horse thought he was in heaven, and he would actually close his eyes and take long sips of it, savoring it like a person. I can see him yet. (1)

Horses have taste buds, just like people, and they function as chemical receptors. The Glosso-Pharyngeal nerve or the Trigeminus nerve may become activated.

The majority of taste buds are located on the base of the tongue or the soft palate, and are Ovoid in shape. (2)

The horse has some extra taste buds located on the Epiglottis, that funny- looking flap of skin that hangs down in the back of the mouth. The Epiglottis covers the windpipe opening during the swallowing process, and he gets an extra burst of flavor on the way down. (3)

The horse does not have any taste buds on the tip of the tongue.

The cheek teeth grind food into small particles and this is mixed with alkaline saliva. There are three pairs of salivary glands, the Parotid, the Submaxillary and the Sublingual. Of these, the Parotids are the largest and are located behind the jaw and under the ear. The Submaxillary glands

are located partly under the Parotid glands, and partly inside of the jaw bone itself. The Sublingual gland is found under the tongue, and can be felt just under the skin, in between the bones of the jaw. It’s like a little bubble that will flex when you push on it. (4)

Horses when full grown can secrete up to 10 gallons of saliva per day! (5)

Horses should eat slowly, although they sometimes gobble their grain. Grain should take about 5 to 10 minutes per pound to consume. Hay is consumed at their leisure, and usually it takes about 15 to 20 minutes to eat pound of hay. Hay will absorb four times its weight in saliva, and oats will absorb slightly more than that. (6)

Saliva is the digestive juice that acts on starches and sugars, and lubricates the food for swallowing, helped by the tongue as it pushes the food towards the pharynx.

When the horse drinks, the tongue is used like a piston on a suction pump, drawing the water back, just like we do when we drink from a straw. The horse consumes ½ a pint of water per swallow. Have you ever watched your horse take a long pull of fresh water? You can see his ears wiggle while he drinks, with the ears going forward as he pulls the water and falling back as he swallows. (7)

And you thought you were the only one who likes spearmint gumdrops or peppermint sticks.

Remember to keep horse grain bins and water buckets clean, and only serve fresh, clean grain and water.

Closing with the immortal words of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, “Happy Trails to You.”

1: Appendix Quarter Horse, “Old Joe,” from Waco, Tx.

2-7: “Horseman’s Veterinary Encyclopedia,” by Will A. Hadden III, DVM