Question: I have seen pictures and heard people talk of giving horses alcohol like wine, beer and vodka. How do these effect horses? What benefits or health risks are there? One of the horses at our stable seems to like wine, but I am concerned that it may be harmful. What do studies and research indicate?
Answer: This is a great question for the holidays! Actually horses have been drinking various fermented products for millennia in various amounts (just go to Ireland and see the racehorses fed Guinness stout on a daily basis). And it is quite safe. In the normal digestive process the bacteria and protozoa in the horse's gut ferment the whole grains and fiber in order to aid the digestive process. This is why they can eat hay or raw grains and we cannot--we do not have a fermentation vat in our cecum (actually we do not have a cecum, all we have is an appendix). So, we prefer the grains to be fermented in a vat, then poured into a bottle before we partake of it.
Also, we have to look at body weight here as that has an effect on the amount of alcohol one can take in before becoming drunk. An average small horse weighs 1000 pounds, while many of our warmbloods and heavier horses weigh in at 1500 pounds or more, with draft horses in the one ton range. So a bottle or two or three of beer or wine and even of hard liquor would be distributed through a large body mass. Many horses will drink wine or beer happily but I doubt there are very many that will get through a bottle of vodka.
The reality is you will go broke buying beer or wine long before you will get your horse drunk or hooked on alcohol. A glass or two on a regular basis will not harm any horse or pony (just use the plastic glasses, not real glass). There is an off chance that an allergic horse could react to the preservatives in many beers and wines (sulfites and the like) so if you have one of those sensitive beasts, buy organic booze. Many of the dark beers have high mineral contents and are fairly nutritious, especially Guinness.
Research has not been done on this exact issue, probably because the beer companies have failed to recognize the market potential. If every racehorse got a pint a day, think what profits could be made! So, give your pint to your horse this holiday season--you will be in better shape to drive home, and your horse will eat his hay with a smile on his face.
Dr. Joyce Harman is a veterinarian and respected saddle-fitting expert certified in veterinary acupuncture and veterinary chiropractic; she is also trained in homeopathy and herbal medicine. Her Harmany Equine Clinic is in northern Virginia.
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