Farm Ireland

Tuesday 22 May 2018

Rural living/horses: Going down a treat with picky eaters

Meath teenagers Kate and Annie Madden have successfully launched flavoured feeds for horses

Two Co Meath schoolgirls have developed flavoured feeds which are taking the equine world by storm
Two Co Meath schoolgirls have developed flavoured feeds which are taking the equine world by storm
Siobhan English

Siobhan English

You can take a horse to water but you cannot make him drink it. The same can often be said for feeding horses, but an ingenious idea by two young horse enthusiasts has changed the way 'picky eaters' feel about their daily grub.

Rated recently by the Irish Independent as one Ireland's hottest 30 start-up companies, Fenuhealth, which produces a range of tasty supplements for horse feed, has seen teenage sisters Kate (14) and Annie (13) Madden go from schoolsgirls to young businesswomen overnight.

As members of the Meath Pony Club, Summerhill-based Kate and Annie often had difficulty getting their ponies to eat their hard feed after a long day in the saddle.

The problem set them thinking and it was only when they began doing some research during the 2014 Dublin Horse Show that they realised they had a viable project on their hands for the 2015 BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition.

Having previously examined the possibility of horses running faster if fed on Mars Bars, Junior Cert student Kate decided to get her sister on board for the 2015 exhibition when she joined her at Loreto College, St Stephen's Green in September.

"From the start horse feed company Connolly's Red Mills offered us great support and helped us to get it going. Our parents, Flor and Orla, have also been fantastic," Kate said.

Through the media they then circulated a survey and received 110 responses from horse and pony owners willing to take part in their project.

"We did a lot of research into flavours to see which might encourage a horse to eat their feed. These were caramel, vanilla and fenugreek. We also tried feed with no flavouring."

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While we are all familiar with caramel and vanilla, the fenugreek plant is more exotic, but Kate and Annie soon discovered that horses were attracted by its distinctive sweet smell.

Fenugreek is often used in Indian cuisine as a herb (dried or fresh leaves), spice (seeds) or vegetable (fresh leaves, sprouts, and microgreens) in the preparation of pickles, vegetable dishes, daals, and spice mixes.

Of the 110 horses and ponies the Madden sisters trialled, 70pc preferred flavoured to unflavoured feed.

The clear favourite was fenugreek, preferred (38pc of animals) compared to 30pc choosing no flavour.

Another 17pc went for caramel and 15pc chose vanilla.

Through a family contact in Britain, the girls were able to try various forms of fenugreek such as seeds and herbs until they came up with the right formula for their product which is now available as a powder.


It is mixed with warm water and placed on the top of feedstuffs with different strengths for ponies, sport horses, foals and yearlings, and thoroughbreds.

Though fenugreek is available from various equine supplement companies in the Britain, this is the first time it had been tried in Ireland.

Within weeks of them placing second in their category at the Young Scientist exhibition, the positive response from trainers, owners and horse feed companies in Ireland was overwhelming.

"We were delighted when Foran's also came on board to help us, and Dr Pearse Lyons of Alltech has been fantastic. He called my sister Annie and came up with a way of reducing our costs in pricing and packaging."

The fact that it is 100pc natural is a major selling point, one which has this past week received full approval and support from Simon Coveney, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

The product conforms with the requirements of EU and Irish legislation governing the manufacture of animal feeding stuffs.

It has also been tested for the presence or absence of naturally occurring prohibited substances according to a threshold set by the Jockey Club, SJAI, BSJA and FEI.

Michael Connolly of Connolly's Red Mills has been a big supporter of the product and he accompanied the two girls to the German equine fair, Equitana, two weeks ago.

"That was a great success and through this trip we sold 1,000 units to Qatar. We also met some other influential people in the industry and had the poster printed off in 12 different languages," said Kate.

Back at home, Fenuhealth is growing day by day and in addition to the online shop, the products are available in several outlets across the country, starting at €4 a pack.

These include the Horze store in Trim, Equestrian World of Maynooth and Birr Veterinary Clinic.

While Kate and Annie seem to be taking this all in their stride, they are among the brightest new kids on the equine block, and their business idea seems to be going down a treat with their target audience.

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