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Does Your Horse Need Supplements?
 By mosquito   •   2nd Sep 2010   •   4,249 views   •   2 comments
Most horse owners love their horses, and would do anything for them. They get the very best stabling, feed, and care, and are always looking for products and items that can make their horse feel better. But are some owners going too far?

Does Your Horse Need SupplementsOne of the most common products horse owners buy for their horses are feed supplements – products that add extra vitamins, minerals, and other substances to the horse’s diet, in the hope that they will look and feel better. But are these supplements necessary, and can they do more harm than good?

What does your horse really need?
The first thing to work out is what your horse is actually getting already. Take a look at the nutritional information on your horse’s feed bag. If you can’t find it, or you aren’t sure if it’s the right feed – or you are feeding the right amounts- for your horse, then call your feed supplier. Almost all of the major feed manufacturers have nutritionists that will help you determine which is the best feed and the right amount for your horse.

Next, if your horse is out on pasture, you need to find out what nutrients it is getting from the grass that it eats. Chances are, if your horse is on decent pasture for eight hours or more, that grass is the bulk of its diet. Getting a soil sample test is one of the best things you can do to determine how nourishing your pasture is, and if there are things you can do to improve your grass quality – some tests will even turn up parasites hiding in the soil. Soil test kits can be bought at most farming supply stores, or from university agricultural departments. Soil quality is important – I remember back in the 80s when an epidemic of tired and sick horses in Maryland turned out to be caused by selenium-deficient soil!

Hay can also contain a lot of nourishment. If you are feeding bagged haylage (part-fermented hay), then check the bags for information on protein content. Take a good look at your hay, and talk to your vet about how much hay you are feeding, and the quality of your hay. There can be a lot of hidden nutrients in good hay! If you soak your hay, dunk the hay net for a few minutes – soaking in tubs for hours makes little difference from rinsing in terms of dust and seeds, but long soaking extracts most of the valuable nutrients from your hay.

Does Your Horse Need SupplementsWhen your horse needs more:
After you have analyzed your horse’s diet, and you find there’s a deficiency, then you can look for the right supplement. There are hundreds of different supplements to choose from, from expensive vitamin and mineral concoctions, to organic and herbal remedies, and even simple home supplements like garlic powder or coconut oil. Look carefully at the labels before you choose, and look for a supplement that meets the specific needs for your horse.

There are certain times when a horse may need extra vitamins and minerals. Broodmares with foals may benefit from extra calcium. Horses working hard in hot weather might need electrolytes to prevent dehydration. Any horse under stress or in very hard work could need a ‘top up’ of certain nutrients iron and the B-vitamins are often given to horses recovering from illness or injury to help speed up recovery. Biotin is commonly recommended to help improve hoof quality too. In these cases though, supplements should be given under the direction of a veterinarian, and stopped when your horse doesn’t need them anymore.

Don’t overdo it:
Choosing the wrong supplement, or one that your horse doesn’t need, is not only wasting your money, it can even harm your horse. Some vitamin and mineral ingredients are dangerous in large quantities. Some vitamins, like B and C, will be excreted by your horse if it gets too much and are hard to overfeed, but the ‘fat soluble’ vitamins A, D, E and K, are stored by the horse’s body and if overfed can cause illness. Vitamins A and D are often added to grain feeds already, because they are very difficult for a horse to get from hay. Your horse may need a vitamin supplement in winter if it is going to be living on hay, but once your horse is back on spring grass you can probably stop the supplements so you don’t risk overdoing it. It’s important to remember that your horse’s dietary needs will change during the year – what your horse needs in winter may be very different from what it needs in the summertime. Don’t get stuck in a rut with your supplements!

Some minerals too are very dangerous in large quantities. Horses need more salt than we do, but adding salt directly to your horse’s feed is dangerous. The best way to make sure your horse gets enough salt is to offer a salt lick or brick that your horse can go to when it feels the need. Some salt licks also contain essential minerals, and are a good way to ‘top up’ your horse’s diet in a gentle way. Adding supplements that are high in iron, calcium, potassium, or selenium can lead to very serious complications over time if you aren’t sure if your horse’s grain and hay have enough minerals, talk to your vet before adding a supplement with minerals – there is a very real risk of doing more harm than good!

Other remedies:
There are countless herbal and alternative remedies available for hoses too, and some are very expensive. In most cases, it is very difficult for these supplements to make any difference to an animal as big as a horse, but most won’t do any harm to anything other than your wallet. Some however, do contain other ingredients, and should be used with caution. Some can even contain prohibited ingredients – often hidden in a ‘herbal’ ingredient – which could cause your horse to fail a drug test. Many of these claim to make huge differences to your horse’s health, behavior, or even give a shiny coat, but in practice many of these supplements do more to make the owners feel better than they do for the horses.

Often horse farms, riding schools, and boarding stables have horse owners that will claim the supplements they use make all the difference to their horse. It would be great if a scoop of a powder or a tablespoon of liquid could really keep your horse healthy, shiny and free of flies, but in reality most of these claims are exaggerated. Instead of looking for a miracle remedy, think of supplements as an element of your horse’s diet, along with grain, hay and grass. Research your horse’s feeds and forage, and choose a supplement that is right for your horse at that time – you may even find you don’t need anything at all – then you can spend that money on carrots and apples instead!
Does Your Horse Need Supplements?
Does Your Horse Need Supplements?
Does Your Horse Need Supplements?
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