As a specialist retailer of equine supplements, we understand how confusing selecting a supplement can be. There are a wide variety of supplements on the market, each claiming to have a specific benefit to your horse, but what should you look for in a supplement? And which supplement would be best for your horse?
What is a supplement?
Before you can decide which supplement would best suit your horse, it is important to first understand what is meant by the term “supplement.” A supplement is defined as, “something that completes or enhances something else when added to it.” Therefore, any supplement you add should improve or complete your horses’ diet. There is no doubt that a correct program of supplementation can improve performance (often dramatically), prevent injury or illness, and speed recovery times after intense effort. When nutrients are used in this sense they are often referred to as nutraceuticals. Conversely, a diet which is over supplemented can have just as dramatic ill-effects on a horse’s performance, and even affect its general health and well-being.
Nutritionally balanced diets
People often do not realise the importance of a correctly and nutritionally balanced diet. For your horse, that means a diet which contains the correct ratio of forage to grains, along with a calculated intake of vitamins and minerals. Studies have shown that sub optimal nutrition will have harmful effects on key body systems and functions. Even personality can be influenced for better or worse with improper nutrition.
Horse owners are often confused by the array of feeds available, many of which are called “balanced feeds”. Complete horse feeds are nutritionally balanced, however unless fed at exactly the correct quantity they easily become unbalanced, and often do not take into consideration the quality and quantity of forage fed. If horse owners actually fed their horses at the manufacturers' recommended daily quantity, many horses would be overweight and too ‘fizzy’ to ride. It is therefore vital to ensure that you are aware of the quantities of vitamins and minerals your horse is ingesting, so you are able to make an informed choice as to which supplements they require.
The only way to get a completely accurate evaluation of nutritional intake is by having feed and hay analysed by a laboratory, which is expensive and rarely practiced. However, a fairly accurate estimation can be made using the quantities of vitamins and minerals given on the reverse of your feed bag. If you find that your horse is lacking in vitamins and minerals, supplementing their diet is a good option – broad spectrum vitamin and mineral supplements are inexpensive, easy to feed and widely available.
Vitamin and Mineral Supplements
Most supplement manufacturers make a vitamin and mineral supplement, also called a “balancer”. Choosing the correct one can be daunting, but there are a few things you can look out for, which will assure you that the supplement is of high quality and good for your horse. Firstly, there is a list of essential vitamins and minerals, which are recognised by the National Research Council as being required in a horse’s daily diet. These should be included in a balancer and can be found in the table below:
|Major Minerals||Trace Minerals||B-Vitamins||Vitamins||Amino Acids|
|Phosphorus||Fluorine||Folic Acid||Vitamin D|
|Potassium||Iodine||Pantothenic Acid||Vitamin E|
Secondly, it is important that the minerals contained in the balancer are at the correct ratio to one another, as an incorrect balance between minerals can prohibit uptake of others. Vitamins and minerals within the horse are very much intertwined and act alongside one another. This can make it impossible to pinpoint which vitamin or mineral your horse is lacking. The chances are, if your horse is deficient in one mineral, he will be deficient in another, making his dietary intake unbalanced. The best way to rectify this would be to feed a balancer, which should provide your horse with the correct ratio of all essential vitamins and minerals. There are many factors that affect your horse’s nutritional requirements, and therefore the best balancer to feed. These factors include: teeth and digestion, age, exercise, breed, pregnancy, illness, location, injury and general health. It is also worth noting that many manufacturers have created balancers which are specific for certain types of horses, such as broodmares and competition horses.