July 16, 2020 4 min read

Our horses rely on vitamins and minerals to maintain essential bodily functions and good general health. Just like all living things, they would die without them.

So how do we work out what they need and how do we choose a good supplement once we know what’s likely to be missing?

First of all, we need to determine what their needs are. This is based on a few factors, bodyweight, work status and health issues. Then we need to compare this to what their current intake is.

NEEDS minus CURRENT INTAKE = Supplement amount

If the needs are being met within the current diet then no more is required, it's easy really! More is not better, actually more can lead to toxicity.

Mineral ratios are also extremely important, for example, the excess of one mineral like Iron (all equine diets are extremely high in Iron) can interfere with the absorption of a mineral-like Copper (already often low in the average diet). This will lead to a relative deficiency and is often the cause of health issues.

It can be very confusing when trying to choose a Dietary supplement for your horse, every company wants you to believe that theirs is the ‘Must Have’ addition to your horses’ diet. It is also easy to accidentally double or triple up on some minerals that you defiantly don’t need too much of!

For example, Selenium is often included in mineral mix formulas, but also it’s a common addition to bagged premixed feeds. Selenium has a narrow therapeutic index which means that horses definitely need some for health but just a little too much can be toxic.

Another example is Vitamin C, supplementation can be useful in horses with health issues, lung irritation, musculoskeletal problems, infections or wounds, as a support for the body’s natural antioxidant defences. However, if your horse is on good quality pasture and hay, and has no major health issues, then supplementing Vitamin C is likely a waste of money!

Then it gets even more complicated when you realise just how many supplements are out there, and that many of them are designed to target different ailments.

You have supplements for:

  • Vitamin and Mineral Mixes – sometimes called Balancers
  • Joints
  • Gut and probiotics
  • Omegas
  • Calmers
  • Muscles
  • Electrolyte
  • Protein and Amino boosters
  • Inflammation

As a baseline, the first supplement you should be looking at is one that provides the building blocks for good nutrition, and this should be based on what is commonly found to be lacking in the average Horses diet.

So, we’re talking a small number of targeted and high dose ingredients. However, what we often see in supplements is a huge number of ingredients, often in tiny amounts per serve.

A quality and effective mix need to include the main vitamins and minerals that are lacking AFTER the forage has been taken into consideration. The ingredients should be high quality and in amounts that actually make a difference!

The main ingredients we need to look for include:

  • Zinc and Copper in a ratio of 3:1, the daily dose around 1200mg for Zinc and 400mg for Copper. These may sound like high doses when compared to other supplements on the market, that’s because they are! This is important in order to balance the common mineral ratio issues and to guard against Iron and Manganese toxicity.
  • Iodine and Selenium –A daily dose of around 2-3mg each
  • Amino Acids – Lysine 8-12g and Methionine 2-3g are important if you believe that the protein level in the feeds could be low.
  • Electrolytes Sodium and Chloride – Important for baseline electrolyte needs but is easily supplemented as plain white Salt. Potassium is rarely needed as grass and hay tend to be high already.
  • Vitamin E– An important antioxidant, levels of 2000iu plus per day, double or triple if the horse is undergoing stress or ill health.
  • Biotin– 20mg per daily dose, most important for horses with hoof issues.
  • Magnesium– 7.5g per daily dose. Can easily be fed separately as magnesium oxide, this is cheap and can usually be purchased at any good stockfeed. Look for the Causmag AL4 brand that is mined in Australia and is lower in Iron than imported forms.

There are other specific and targeted ingredients that may be necessary if your horse is suffering a particular health issue, or if your horse is growing or on oxalate pastures, however the above ingredients are the main ones for the healthy horse on a foraged based diet.

In Summary

  • Keep it simple
  • Stick to the ingredients that are lacking in pasture and hay and feed them at high enough doses
  • Avoid the ingredients that are already in abundance
  • Steer clear of products with masses of small dose ingredients as you’re likely wasting your money on ingredients that are too low to have any beneficial effect. At worst you may be tipping your horse over into a toxic state of over-supplementation!

A final note - Reading feed labels can be tricky, please contact us if you need help formulating a diet for your horse or deciphering the label on a product. Products should always have clear labelling and companies should be happy to answer your questions about their products.

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