The amount and complexity of supplements on the market today can be completely confusing. Still, customer surveys indicate that as many as 75 percent of horse owners supplement their horses’ diets with something. In order to make the fog a little less dense, let’s classify supplements into four different categories: nutritional, herbal, electrolyte and nutraceutical.
Nutritional supplements make up the largest and most common of all the supplement groups. Primarily these supplements are used to make up deficiencies in your horse’s normal diet. Often supplementation of this type can be avoided by feeding the proper diet. For example, Triple Crown® Lite is designed for easy keepers and you can provide all the proper nutrients in your diet by feeding only two pounds per day for a 1,000-pound horse.
Equimin® Horse Mineral added to the diet will also help provide the proper vitamin and mineral requirements and is balanced well to work with any of the Southern States horse feeds. Typically, removing the need for supplements will reduce the total cost of feeding your horse (feed plus supplements). If your horse is already getting the recommended daily amount of feed, most of the nutritional supplements will be on a pile in the stall or the pasture later in the day.
Herbal supplements are recommended in the diet for some horses. Herbs are used as calming agents, for digestive disorders, expectorants, immune and appetite stimulants, and a whole list of other maladies. Be careful not to use the promise of herbs to fix things that are the result of genetics or inadequate training. Electrolytes are important in the maintenance of a healthy horse. Two of the primary nutrients lost in sweat are sodium and chloride, or salt. That is one reason salt blocks should always be available to horses. But be aware that salt blocks, whether they are white or the brown mineral blocks, are still just salt blocks. Equimin, used as a supplement to your feed every day or offered free of choice in place of salt, will provide you with a daily electrolyte. Electrolytes should also always be salt-based and not sugar-based to meet the horse’s need for sodium and chloride. These are the mineral elements needed in greatest amount by the exercising horse.
The last category, nutraceuticals, includes joint supplements, probiotics, prebiotics, organic minerals, etc. Some of these supplements have research and FDA approval, while many do not.
Horse feeds like Legends® contain biotin, yeast cultures, organic trace minerals, and now an organic form of selenium. Triple Crown horse feeds include the same nutrients and also probiotics, a broader range of organic minerals, yeast derivatives to aid with mycotoxin and pathogenic bacteria challenges, digestive enzymes, kelp meal and yucca. Other nutraceuticals, like chondroitin, glucosamine, or hyaluronic acid products and chromium supplementation, cannot be added legally to feeds and still need to be supplemented, if necessary.
Supplements do fill needs within the diet for some horses, but looking at your entire diet and using the right feed for the right horse can save you time and money.
Eric Haydt is General Manager, Equine Specialty Feed Company
For more information, including guidelines for decision-making about supplements, see this article at www.EquuSSource.com.