One of the basic tenets of Horse Journal philosophy is “back to the basics.” It may seem we violate that principle when we print so many articles on supplements, but we’re not. Good nutrition is a basic.
We’ve often heard grumblings like, “We never fed supplements 20 years ago, and the horses did just fine” or, “My horse eats better than I do, but I do just fine.” It’s true that basically healthy adult horses and humans do OK with dietary deficiencies and imbalances, but that’s not the same as saying they wouldn’t be healthier if these were corrected.
Many of the foods people eat are fortified with vitamins and minerals, the selection and levels of which are determined by studies that pinpoint common deficiencies in human diets. Human diets are also more varied than equine diets.
In addition, the haying process decreases many vitamins. Restricting our horse’s intake to one growth stage and only one type of plant rigidly fixes the mineral profile of the diet. You still may get away with this, or you may run into one of the many health problems that have nutritional links, such as foot/coat/skin trouble, allergies, muscle problems, poor immunity, infertility, laminitis/obesity, arthritis, or developmental orthopedic disease. However, this doesn’t mean you have to feed your horse 101 different supplements either.
The first step, and many times the only step, is balancing the basic diet. You need to look at the vitamin, mineral, protein and calorie content of the hay and grain your horse receives to see if his total intakes are adequate for his level of work and if the nutrients are balanced. You can’t make intelligent supplement choices until you know what the horse needs, and you can’t tell this just from the nature of the problem.
For example, a horse with problem feet may have a diet deficient in essential fatty acids, essential amino acids, zinc, biotin, calcium, or even vitamin C.
Many horsemen combat this type of problem by trying different supplements higher in one thing or another to see what works, possibly complicating things by creating other imbalances in the process. Others use the “shotgun” approach and give him a supplement that covers all of these at a higher price.
However, you can save time and money by simply analyzing the diet to see where the problem lies. If you don’t want to do it, hire a nutritionist. With many chronic problems, a dietary analysis is probably the simplest, least-expensive and most-effective first-line defense. Then, just the right supplement can seem almost magical.
’Til Next Month,
-Eleanor Kellon, VMD