Whether your horse is a pasture ornament or an upper-level performance horse, he needs proper nutrition to be in the best health. But whether that means he also needs supplementation over and above his basic diet is another question. Few generalizations can be made regarding supplements, since needs depend on hay, grain and pasture, as well as the horse’s work and any health problems he may have.
Some nutritionists claim horses meet minimal nutritional needs just from their hay, fortified grain and pasture without needing any supplements. Others say horses need a little help, especially when in work. We believe every horse needs a few basic supplemented nutrients.
Salt And Electrolytes
Every horse, regardless of age, use or diet, needs supplemented sodium chloride — plain white salt. Hay, grain and grasses simply don’t supply enough salt.
The basic requirement in cool weather is about 1 ounce a day, but it can go as high as 3 oz./day in hot weather. Heavy work leads to sweat losses that involve other minerals as well, at which point a mixed electrolyte supplement specially formulated for replacing sweat losses is necessary.
Salt is salt, so we have no brand choice. However, choose a form the horse takes in readily — loose table salt, chunks or a brick. If you want a mineralized salt, look for one that is formulated specifically for horses. Our favorite salt/mineral mix for horses is Harvest Salt from Buckeye Nutrition (330/828-2251). Equi-Min from Southern States (804/248-0330) is also a red mineralized salt lick formulated for horses.
Heavily sweating horses need an electrolyte supplement to replace sweat losses. Common sense dictates that the ideal composition for that supplement is the same as the electrolyte levels in sweat.
We found Perform 'N Win from Buckeye Nutrition most closely matched sweat losses, but it was pricey and we wish it was a bit more concentrated. Exer-Lyte from Mobile Milling (800/217-4076) is a solid best buy, but you’ll need to add one teaspooon of potassium chloride per ounce of product to get levels you need. Instead, we suggest Perfect Balance Electrolite from Peak Performance (800/944-1984), which is already a perfect match for sweat and in a concentrated form.
Selenium And Vitamin E
Close seconds in the must-have category are selenium and vitamin E. U.S. hays and grains, with the exception of those in the Central Zone, don’t supply sufficient miminum selenium. Many horses could use more.
The problem is that most people are aware of the possibility of selenium toxicity and therefore leery of selenium supplements. However, amounts commonly contained in supplements, even when added to what might already be present in the diet, are lower than those required to produce toxicity. The upper level of recommended feeding also doesn’t take into account the increased need for this essential mineral in heavily worked and stressed horses. Providing every horse, regardless of use, age or diet, with 1 to 2 mg./day of selenium is safe and advisable.
Vitamin E works hand-in-hand with selenium and is also usually low in equine diets.
Deficiency in vitamin E and selenium can cause mild anemia, poor thyroid function, immune-system weakness, decreased fertility and poor ability to control inflammatory processes, which often leads to muscle pain in hard-working horses.
Our choice in E-Se supplements is Mega-Sel (800/527-0375). This liquid formula results in blood levels higher than those achieved with powdered forms. If you prefer to supplement just E because you feed large amounts of a highly supplemented grain, we suggest Vita-Flex E-5000 (800/848-2359).
Iodine receives little attention but is essential for normal reproductive capacity and especially for thyroid function, which affects virtually every system in the body. Like selenium, iodine requirements are low and toxicity can occur from oversupplementation but, also like selenium, levels provided naturally in grains and hays is usually only half of the minimum daily requirement.
Many, but not all, well-supplemented grains and multi-ingredient mineral/vitamin mixes contain added iodine. Since you’re likely to need it, it makes sense to make sure the one you choose has iodine in it. Your daily serving should provide 1 to 2 mg. of iodine.
With major minerals, our favorite solution for balancing and boosting isn’t a supplement at all — it’s alfalfa. Substitute an equal amount by weight of alfalfa for 25% of your grass-hay ration. This solves problems related to calcium, phosphorus and usually magnesium. Bagged alfalfa hay cubes will also do the trick.
If you’re feeding an alfafa/oat hay mix, you could also supplement with Equi-Trace from the Kaeco Group (800/228-1211). For fescue/alfalfa or orchardgrass/alfalfa consider LinPro from Foxden Equine (540/942-4500) or Pro-Pell from Equine America (800/838-7524). Alfalfa and timothy combinations require no supplementation for basic requirements.
If feeding straight alfalfa (no grain), your mineral levels, both major and trace, are imbalanced. Even feeding a well-supplemented grain won’t correct the imbalances, since the grain mixes are formulated to complement grass hays. The best supplement we’ve found for alfalfa-based diets is Race-VM from Uckele Health and Nutrition (800/248-0330), followed by Select I from Select The Best (800/648-0950).
Grass hays vary so widely in their mineral profiles it’s impossible to find any supplement that gives a precise match for all grass-hay types. The closest fit, however, is Triple Crown 30 or 12 from Triple Crown (800/451-9916). The 30 and 12 indicate the supplement’s protein content. We also liked Sport Horse from Uckele as a complement to timothy hay for high-performance horses.
Just about any health problem you can think of can have a nutritional component or be helped by the correct nutritional support. However, because deficiencies and imbalances are common, before you rush out to buy a special supplement be sure any problems with the basic diet are corrected. If the diet is already adequate, that is the time to try specialized supplement products.
Bad Feet: A host of dietary deficiencies go with poor hoof quality. The three major ones are biotin, zinc and methionine, although essential fatty acids, protein in general, sulfur, silicon, calcium, vitamins D and A and the B vitamins can also be involved. In fact, hoof quality is often a good reflection of the quality of the diet in general.
Because we recommend you first fix any problems with the base diet, we wanted a supplement that could supply extra levels of the key nutrients for feet but not disrupt the overall balance of the diet, especially important because you should be using it long term.
We like Biotin II 22X Pellets from United Vet Equine (800/366-8986). However, you can sometimes use one of the multi-ingredient hoof supplements in place of a multi-mineral supplement if it matches the profile of your hay. Two other effective hoof supplements, Su-Per Farrier’s Supplement from Gateway Products (800/421-2828) and Farrier’s Formula (800/624-1873) are also perfect companion products for horses receiving one of the low-calcium, high-phosphorus hays such as oat, orchard grass or fescue.
Ulcers: Pricey prescription medications work, but we found you can also get excellent symptomatic relief from a variety of over-the-counter products. We especially like U-Gard from Equine America, although we initially had reservations about the aluminum in the formula. Since then, the aluminum has been dropped from the maintenance U-Gard Daily powder and is now only found in the new U-Gard paste formula, which is used for the first few days of treatment.
Joints: There are many good joint nutraceutical supplements out there. In powders, we prefer glucosamines, over chondroitins as a rule. If you’re looking for a powder glucosamine, we would recommend Grand Flex from Grand Meadows (800/255-2962). However, our overall favorite for a nutraceutical is liquid Corta-Flx from Equine America due to its degree of and speed of response. For the horse that needs rapid control of pain and inflammation, too, such as during a flare-up or with acute conditions, we like Corta-Flx Plus and Select The Best’s Power Flex.
Bute Alternatives: There’s a crying need for a way to control pain and inflammation without risking the side effects so common with phenylbutazone use. Several herbal ingredients can do just that.
Our favorite overall is Devil’s Claw Plus from Uckele Health. But, remember, devil’s claw is on the AHSA’s prohibited substances list. If you prefer a liquid formulation, we recommend the highly palatable and effective B-L Solution from Equine America. For navicular and laminitis, we like Navilam O from Emerald Valley (888/638-8262), an effective combination of devil’s claw and hawthorne for improved circulation.
Tying-Up: Regardless of the cause of your horse’s tying-up, correct mineral supplementation can often either minimize the problem or eliminate it entirely. In our book, the best in this regard is definitely Tie Free from Peak Performance.
Getting ?''Pumped?'?: Whether you want to encourage muscular development for the show ring or build strong muscle for performance, there are much healthier alternatives than anabolic steroid use. We had the best results from Beta-Advantage from Metabolic Technology (800/478-0059), which contains HMB, a metabolite of the branched-chain amino acid leucine. It’s nontoxic, with obvious results and no side effects.
Controlling Inflammatory Reactions: Whether your horse needs protection from the sore-all-over state of a heavily worked horse, has an acute problem or just seems to be the type to overreact to every little lump and bump or bug bite, nutritional approaches to balancing inflammatory responses can be highly effective. Our long-time favorite in this regard is Antioxidant Concentrate from Vita-Key (800/539-8482). This is a powerful collection of antioxidant vitamins and minerals.
Another possible missing link in controlling the inflammatory cascade is omega-3 fatty acids, sorely lacking in most diets. We prefer whole ground stabilized flaxseed as an omega-3 source and particularly liked Horseshine from Enreco (800/962-9536). However, The Missing Link from Designing Health (800/774-7387) and the Horse Tech products (800/831-3309) were also top choices.
Boosting Immunity: The first step in immune-system health is to guarantee that any holes in your basic diet are plugged. Beyond this, a variety of supplements are available for both rapid short-term stimulation/boosting of the immune system and long-term support.
Our favorites in times of crisis are products containing echinacea. We find ImmunoBoost from Emerald Valley offers a slight price advantage and excellent choice of potent stimulators. If you need symptomatic control of respiratory symptoms, we suggest Equinacea from EquiLite (800/942-5483). For both potent immune stimulation and overall stress protection, we’d reach first for Herbal-Mune Plus from Uckele Health. On the long-term protection front, your best bets are Equine Defense System from Wind Spirit (A Drop In The Bucket 888/783-0313) or Actimune from ActiVet Bio (800/962-3763). We also found GlutaSyn from Vita-Flex helpful, but we needed to increase the dose for tough problems.
Obesity/Laminitis Syndrome: In January 2001, we tackled the difficult problem of easy keepers who tend to be cresty and prone to laminitis, including grass laminitis. We found magnesium supplementation to bring the ratio of calcium to magnesium down to 2:1 in the overall diet resulted in either improvement or complete resolution of weight problems and laminitis pain.
The most economical magnesium source is magnesium oxide, available in bulk from feed stores or in smaller amounts from Uckele Health and Nutrition. Although more expensive, Quissence from Foxden Equine is particularly convenient because it’s a pelleted product, which makes it especially great for ponies getting no grain — which is what they all should doing.
Weight Gain/Poor Digestion: Obviously, the way to help horses gain weight is by increasing calorie intake. However, many horse owners find this an uphill battle. We’ve found that even calorie-dense diets won’t help if the horse’s digestive tract isn’t functioning with a proper balance of microorganisms.
To combat this, we’d reach for the economical digestion-enhancer Ration Plus (800/728-4667). It’s a little different from probiotics in that it contains no live organisms, but it does result in a production of the metabolites that encourage the health and reproduction of the existing beneficial strains of those ?''digestive bugs?'? found in the horse’s digestive tract and in regular probiotics.
We’ve found older horses, especially, seem to benefit from the addition of Ration Plus to their ration, although it also aids those prone to low-grade colic, those with lackluster appetites and those that simply seem to stay ?''skinny.?'?