Yes! Horses can drink beer. It’s a long-standing tradition for many horsemen to give beer to their horses. To some it is an “old-fashioned” remedy and to others a gesture of goodwill toward their four-legged steed. When given in moderation, giving beer to horses may offer some health benefits.
Though none of these reasons are based on scientific evidence, common reasons owners give beer to their horses include:
Treatment for certain medical conditions
A special treat
Does Beer Affect Horses?
Due to a horse’s size, it is unlikely that a beer a day will have a significant impact on its body. The calories and nutrients in one beer are only a small percentage of what is required for the average 1,000-pound horse. Since a beer is an insignificant amount, horsemen are merely hoping for the following benefits:
Beer is a rich source of B vitamins. B vitamins are responsible for helping the body’s metabolism to function properly and generate energy, as well as, to help the body maintain a healthy skin and hair coat.
Horses that are on a good quality feeding program will produce their own B vitamins in their gastrointestinal tract through fermentation of the food they eat. While horses do not need additional B vitamins, a little extra won’t hurt. Any B vitamins the body does not need will be eliminated through the urine.
Yeast is a vital component of beer-making. This single-celled fungus consumes sugars from the hops and barley in the beer. During this process, it produces carbon dioxide and alcohol.
One of those strains used to make beer, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, is also used to formulate equine probiotics. This strain of yeast has been shown to help stabilize the equine hindgut and may be useful in medical cases of colitis. It may also be used as a supplement to promote a healthy gut.
Before we get too excited about the benefits of yeast in beer, remember that most commercial beers are filtered and pasteurized. Due to this, the helpful live yeast is no longer present in the actual beer. You may be able to find an unfiltered beer for your horse; but there is no guarantee that there will be enough live yeast present to make an impact on your horses’ large digestive tract.
Beer is made of grains, and grains are delicious to horses. Many horses do enjoy the taste of beer and may even show preference for which ones they drink. If your horse is a known beer-drinker, you may add a little to their bucket of water, especially when dehydration is of concern, like when traveling, enduring strenuous exercise, or during cold winter days when horses are not as interested in drinking. This is one of the most useful reasons to give your horse a beer.
Hops are the flower part of the hop plant (Humulus lupulus). Hops add a bitterness, aroma, and flavor to beer. Equine researchers at the University of Kentucky have been investigating the potential for hops to control gastrointestinal imbalances as well as in helping prevent pasture laminitis.
Research is still in the early stages, and even if hops were found to be a treatment for this disease, beer would not be the best source for them. Additionally, it is important to note that while hops have been fed to farm animals in small proportions, they are toxic to dogs; so it is best to be careful about having them around the barn where a neighborly canine may get into them.
Unlike humans, horses cannot easily get drunk from beer. Horses produce an enzyme in their liver called alcohol dehydrogenase. This enzyme is good at converting the alcohol in beer to simple sugars for the body to absorb. Furthermore, a horse would have to drink a lot of beer to get drunk since their bodies are so big.
Why Do Farmers Give Horses Beer?
Many racehorses and performance horses are often given a beer after an event or race. Since beer is a good source of carbohydrates, iron, and vitamins that can be useful to help muscles recover from strenuous exercise, their trainers believe it promotes better recovery. It is also a tasteful treat for a job well done. Research is still ongoing as to what, if any, health benefits beer provides for horses.
Can Beer Help Horses Sweat?
Maybe. Anhidrosis is a potentially life-threatening condition seen in horses that live in hot, humid climates. This is a condition where the horse does not sweat. Horses with anhidrosis typically have an increased breathing rate and noticeable lack of sweat after exercising or being in the heat.
Sweating is a horse’s predominant method of cooling themselves. If they cannot sweat, they run the risk of developing heat stroke, which could lead to organ failure and death. What causes these horses to stop sweating is unknown and there is no proven treatment to get them to start sweating again. The most reliable way to get them help is to move them to a cooler environment. Since changing a horse’s environment or moving them is not always possible, equine scientists are trying to find a medication to treat them.
One such method of treatment is to give them a beer a day. Unfortunately, using beer as a treatment for anhidrosis has not been scientifically proven.
Occasionally a horse that is given a regimen of a beer a day will start sweating again, but it is impossible to say whether they are responding to the beer, some other change in their environment, or whether the anhidrosis has resolved on its own.
Determining what percentage of horses may respond to this treatment is also impossible since there are no controlled studies or large surveys of equine veterinarians recording the use of beer as a treatment for anhidrosis. Instead, it is often offered as an “old-fashioned remedy” that may or may not work.
Since there is no known harm in giving your horse a beer a day, and there is the potential to treat a severe disease, most veterinarians will agree to giving it a try.
What Kind of Beer Can Horses Drink?
Horses can drink almost any type of beer. Most fans of the idea recommend a dark, stout beer made with hops, barley, and yeast.
An unfiltered and unpasteurized beer will have more beneficial active yeast cultures and more B vitamins than a pasteurized one.
Light beers are generally not recommended as they are often made with rice, which is not as appetizing or nutritious as barley.
The best way to share a beer with your horse is to either mix it in the feed or water, or just pour it into a bucket to drink. If you are going to mix it in their water, make sure clean, fresh water is also available as an alternative.
How Much Beer Can Horses Drink?
If you are going to give your horse beer, do so in moderation. One to two beers a week would be suggested and certainly no more than one beer a day is recommended. Too much could have the potential for adverse side effects like weight gain and an upset gastrointestinal tract.
Also, one beer is not known to cause a positive drug test, but check with your local sports governing organization before taking your horse to a competition. As always, seek the advice of your veterinarian before giving anything to your horse.
Beer is best used as an occasional treat or to entice your horse to eat or drink in specific circumstances. Other proposed reasons to give your horse beer are mostly based on wishful thinking.
Featured Image: Getty/Galinast
Loly, S. Nursing an Acute Equine Colitis. Southwest Veterinary Symposium. Fort Worth, Texas. 2022.
Ralston, S. Can My Horse Have Beer? Practical Horseman. May 2014.
Mallicote, M. Anhidrosis: Help – My Horse Doesn’t Sweat. University Of Florida Large Animal Hospital College of Veterinary Medicine.
Janicki, K. Study: Hops Can Help Reduce Fructan Fermentation. University of Kentucky Ag Equine Programs. 2014.
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