Walk into any feed or horse supply store and you might quickly become overwhelmed by the shelves of equine feed supplements. Visit a horse show or event, and you will see booths giving away free samples, with ads telling you your horse needs it. With so many options, how do you decide which products your horse might need?
Does My Horse Need a Nutritional Supplement?
The answer to this question is it depends. Horses on pasture and hay only might be deficient in some nutrients, depending on the type and age of forage and its nutrient content. Horses receiving a commercial feed at the minimal recommended amount are likely meeting their nutrient requirements. Regardless of diet, horses should receive free-choice salt. They have an appetite for salt and will eat to meet their needs. Because horses lose salt in their sweat, owners will need to provide more salt in the summer, when exercising, and any time horses sweat profusely.
To determine if your horse needs nutritional supplements, work with a nutritionist or veterinarian to first determine your horse’s nutritional needs, then evaluate whether the diet provided is meeting these needs. Not all horses have the same nutritional requirements. For example, horses that sweat excessively might need supplemental electrolytes. A horse with poor hoof quality might benefit from a supplement with biotin, methionine, sulfur, and other nutrients related to hoof growth.
Which Supplement Should I Try?
With so many options, it can be difficult to decide which supplement to try. Don’t be afraid to ask whether a manufacturer has performed research on the specific supplement in horses. Also ask if the supplement has been approved by the National Animal Supplement Council. This is a voluntary regulatory agency, but approval shows the company is working with state and federal agencies to meet rigorous quality standards.
How Do I Know if the Supplement Is Working?
Make sure the supplement won’t interact with other components of the diet. For example, supplements high in phosphorus can cause issues with calcium absorption and lead to weak bone. Horses receiving more protein or amino acids than needed will require higher water intake to flush out the excess nitrogen. Feeding multiple supplements at once can cause overfeeding of nutrients or negative interactions.
Once you choose a supplement you should give it to your horse, follow packaging instructions and observe your horse closely for changes or improvements. Have an idea of how long it will take before improvements manifest. Most supplements must be fed at least a month before you can observe changes. For example, hoof supplements can take up to a year (or about how long it takes new hoof growth from the coronary band to reach the ground surface) to produce noticeable changes. If you don’t see improvements after the expected amount of time, discontinue use of the supplement.
Work with a veterinarian and qualified equine nutritionist before making changes to your horse’s diet. Also be aware of competition regulations in case a governing body places limits on amounts of certain ingredients a horse can receive.