One of the most important duties, and probably the least understood by the average groom, is the preparation of food out of the usual routine. As with human patients, so with horses, recovery may be often said to date from the first tempting meal the sufferer can be induced to eat. It is a matter of common knowledge that horses in health are often fastidious about food, and will reject it when offered in a bucket or other vehicle that is not perfectly clean; much more is this the case in sickness, and we have too often seen cooked food offered that has been burned or otherwise spoilt in the preparation. The invalid should be tempted by variety, no great quantity offered at one time, and what is left should be scrupulously removed before the patient has "blown" over it and become distrusted.
Where no food whatever is voluntarily taken it is sometimes necessary to introduce aliment in other ways, as by drench and enemata, and this should be done as quietly and gently as possible; a golden rule, to be observed in all dealings with sick horses, as unnecessary noise and excitement is at all times prejudicial to an animal so highly nervous as the horse.
The food used for sick horses should always be of a nourishing or sustaining character, and in some instances it is an advantage if it possesses laxative properties.
In the first class we include eggs, milk, biscuits, bread, meals, beef-tea, and the popular forms of alcohol, as wine, spirits, and malt liquors. Some of these the patient may be induced to take voluntarily, and others will have to be given with more or less coercion. In the second class are included some foods that are of nutritive value, but whose chief characteristic is their effect in keeping the bowels in a lax condition and reducing the tendency to constipation and fever.
Eggs and milk are frequently given together, by whipping both the yolks and the whites, and adding the milk gradually. If the patient can be induced to drink such sustaining and easily assimilated food, it may be mixed in the proportion of half-a-dozen eggs to a gallon of new milk, but some horses will be found to take separated or skim milk though refusing the "whole". If it has of necessity to be given in the form of a drench, it is desirable to reduce the bulk and give as much as three eggs whipped with a quart or less of new milk, and at shorter intervals than would be allowed where a greater quantity of nutriment is taken at one time.
It is always more or less distressing to the patient to be coerced with food either in liquid or solid form, and when this becomes necessary the temperament of the individual should be considered. One horse will take a fluid from a bottle more readily than in the form of a ball, while another that has been carefully handled may be sustained with balls made of oatmeal and treacle, or linseed, or capsules containing concentrated foods, as bovril, Brand's essence, or hard-boiled eggs carefully minced.
The Laxative Foods include green meat of all kinds, as grass, lucerne, vetches, sainfoin, clover, carrot-tops, green maize, wheat, oats, barley and rye, parsnips, beet, mangolds, turnips, kohlrabi, apples, linseed gruel, oatmeal and linseed mashes, linseed oil, linseed tea, bran mashes, and hay tea, sugar, molasses, and boiled grain.
The Green Foods cut and carried to the sick-box should not be cast down in a heap to ferment and become stale, but a small quantity only should be given at a time; neither should such fodder be served with a heavy dew upon it, but should be spread out for a little while in the fresh air until the surface moisture has been for the most part removed.
If rye grass and clovers have been grown very fast and are of a watery nature, they should be chaffed with a little hay, which serves the double purpose of ensuring perfect mastication and correcting its too laxative action.
In the tropics, bamboo and sugar-cane are used as green fodder, and boiled moong, urud, and kulthee.