Can Horses Eat Clover?

Written by: Annemarie Dutton
Last updated on:

As winter ends, the humid weather slowly ushers in lush spring pastures.  These abundant fields provide the perfect breeding ground for clovers.

Clover often grows with the hay on the grass of the pasture fields.  Horses grazing on these pastures eat clover along with the grass and hay.

If you are interested to find out if horses can eat clover, its nutritional value, and its possible risks, please read on.

Can Horses Eat Clover?

Yes, horses can eat clover. Clover is a valuable forage or feed source that offers adequate protein, energy, and fiber to help meet a horse’s daily requirements.

It is often given in hay mixes. Three different clover varieties grow on horse’s pasture: Red Clover, White Clover, and Alsike Clover.

Nutritional Value of Clover

Nutritional information per 1 cup (85 grams) of clover sprouts:

NutrientAmount
Calories25
Carbohydrates3 g
Protein3 g
Fats0.5 g
Vitamin C10% of the daily value (DV)
Iron4% of DV
Fiber8% of DV

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Benefits of Clover for Horses

Clover flowers can be used on horses in many ways. It makes an excellent blood cleanser, and it is a wonderful remedy for skin disorders such as sweet itch. 

Remember that most horses go through a healing crisis when they start eating red clover. This is because their body is expelling toxins. If the skin condition worsens, this is a cause for celebration. 

If your horse has been ill and depressed for a while with no definite diagnosis by a vet, red clover makes an excellent tonic.

Horses with bronchial conditions such as flu have also responded positively to red clover. 

You can make a cough syrup by mixing 1l water, 45g dried red clover, and 100g xylitol and boiling until it reaches a syrup consistency. Allow to cool, and give one tablespoon three times a day. 

You can also make tea: add 40g of dried herbs to 300ml water, boil, then add the herbal tea to your horse’s feed. Do this twice a day.

If your horse has mange, crush fresh red clover flowers and rub them into the affected area. If you do not have enough flowers, boil what you have in 5l of water until the water changes color (usually after 10 minutes). 

Wash the affected skin and allow it to dry. Remember to discuss all illnesses and remedies with a vet first.

Is Clover Toxic to Horses?

Not if the clover is healthy and fresh. Clover will cause problems relating to your horse’s health if contaminated with mold or fungus.

The clover plant itself is not toxic and can be eaten by the horses under strict supervision.

However, the affected clover with mold and fungus can cause Clover Poisoning. Moldy clover often contaminates the hay as well.

Health Problems Caused by Moldy Clover:

Slobbers

When a horse drools after eating clover, it can be the first symptom that the horse is feeding mold or fungal infected clover. A horse suffering from slobbers can fill up to a 5-gallon pail with saliva in one day.

Plants infected with the fungus Rhizoctonia leguminicola produce slaframine, a mycotoxin that promotes drooling.

If the horse is diagnosed with slobber, give it enough water daily to avoid dehydration and take the horse off pasture till the fungus problem is resolved.

Photosensitivity

Black botch disease in Red, White, and Alsike Clover is a lesser-known problem. Horses consuming clover affected with Black Botch disease may develop bad sunburn and photosensitivity.

Photosensitization occurs when the non-pigmented areas of the horse’s skin become reddened or thickened.

It will look like a sunburn at first, but the skin soon becomes crusty, dead, and may begin to peel. Luckily, this sunburn is treatable.

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Liver Damage

The fatal effect of long-term exposure to affected clover is liver damage, also known as big liver syndrome, where progressive liver destruction happens.

Due to different toxins in the clover, the liver quickly becomes damaged. The cell within the liver continues to die, causing liver scarring or cirrhosis.

Some of the symptoms of liver damage from moldy clover include loss of appetite, weight loss, depression, lethargy, jaundice, colic, and death. If you observe any of these signs, consult the vet immediately.

Bleeding

A result of eating moldy white and yellow sweet clover is bleeding.

Horses tend to bleed when they have been eating a large proportion of this clover for several days.

The mold changes a cumarol in sweet clover to dicumarol, a blood-thinning drug. You can treat it by fencing out the horse from the pasture.

The horse is injected with Vitamin K injection or blood transfer in some cases. Vitamin K injections restore normal blood clotting.

How To Prevent Health Problems From Moldy Clover:

  • Fence your horses out of clover-rich pastures in very wet years or periods of high humidity.
  • Mow, thin clover stands, or improve water drainage to create airflow and lower the chances of mold.
  • Allow clover more time to dry when using it for hay. Clover, especially red clover, takes longer to dry than other forage species.
  • Use an herbicide to remove clover from your pasture or hayfield. 
  •  When using an herbicide, carefully follow all grazing and harvesting restrictions and additional information stated on the herbicide label.

To Conclude:

Clover can be a good feed source for most horses because it provides useful energy and adequate protein and fiber. You can use clover in hay or pastures.

Clovers can sometimes mold, which causes slobbers, photosensitivity (reactivity to light), and bleeding. These conditions can occur after horses eat either fresh or hay-affected clover.

We recommend that you seek medical advice for illnesses and remedies from your vet before deciding on a treatment.

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