There are many nutritional and nutraceutical supplements available for horses today. Some supplements address basic nutritional needs while others address specific conditions that may affect your horse’s health or performance. An understanding of basic feeding management and nutritional principles is necessary to understand when your horse might benefit from a particular supplement. Therefore, the following discussion is going to be based on the following principles: 1) your horse is receiving all the good quality hay and/or pasture he/she wants, 2) fresh clean water at an appropriate temperature is available at all times, 3) grain and/or commercial feed products are being fed in the smallest amount necessary to maintain the horse’s body condition and energy level; and 4) the horse’s dental care, hoof care, vaccinations and de-worming are all current.
Minerals and Vitamins
An adequate intake of essential minerals and vitamins is important for normal metabolism of protein and energy as well as immune function and exercise. Horses deficient in minerals and/or vitamins will often exhibit poor hair coat quality, poor hoof growth, less than desirable performance and other health related issues. Most commercial feeds are designed to provide an adequate intake of minerals and vitamins when fed according to label directions. Traditional type feeds such as sweet feeds, or pelleted performance feeds need to be fed at a rate of 6 to 7 pounds per day or more in order to provide an adequate intake of essential minerals and vitamins. If you are feeding less than this because to feed 6 or more pounds of feed per day would mean your horse would end up looking like a basketball with four legs then you need to feed a completely different type of product or add a mineral and vitamin supplement to your current feed. Likewise, if you are feeding plain grain such as oats or are blending oats with a traditional type horse feed you may be providing a mineral deficient diet to your horse. This situation is easily fixed by 1) adding a mineral and vitamin supplement such as EquiVision’s Equine Nutrimix to the current diet, 2) adding a ration balancer such as Triple Crown 30 to the current diet or 3) changing feed selection to a more concentrated product designed to be fed at lower rates such as Triple Crown Lite.
Many horses exhibit digestive disorders from time to time that range from poor appetite to colitis. Discovery of the primary cause of a digestive problem sometimes requires a bit of Sherlock Holmes style investigation with remission of symptoms being the golden rule for successful treatment. Gastric buffers are sometimes effective in preventing gastric ulcers but supplement products that also contain functional ingredients that support a healthy inflammatory (immune) response or cellular replacement are usually more effective than buffers alone. Triple Crown’s AlfaLox is an example of product that provides buffering, immune support and cellular growth support. AlfaLox is proving to be especially effective in high stress situations such as horse shows. Many horses that are off feed due to stress will consume AlfaLox when they will not consume anything else and their appetite will return to normal shortly thereafter. Horses that have a change in temperament, a reduction in compliance or performance often suffer from intestinal inflammation. Intestinal inflammation needs to be addressed via immune support, anti-inflammatory activity from something other than NSAIDS, and a shift in primary microflora. Probiotics can benefit horses with intestinal inflammation but they only address one of the three areas requiring attention. Digestive aid supplements can also benefit horses with intestinal inflammation but most only address 2 of the three objectives. EquiVision’s 21 day Hind Gut Health Program was the first program to address all three objectives and is clinically proven to be effective help horses obtain and maintain normal intestinal function.
High performance horses and horses that have been ridden for several years often have joint inflammation to one degree or another. There are many supplements on the market that claim to address joint pain and inflammation and many horses have reportedly benefited from their use. However, not all horses experience joint discomfort for the same reason and therefore not all horses are going to respond favorably to the same joint supplement. Joints can be problematic for an individual horse due to cartilage breakdown, inadequate synovial fluid production, tendon or ligament strains and/or changes to bone structure due to arthritis. Many supplements take a multiple approach and attempt to cover as many of these conditions as possible and from a preventative standpoint some supplements are fairly effective in this regard. However, when an individual horse is known to have one or more of these conditions severe enough to interfere with comfort and performance then supplement choice should become more specific for the condition affecting that individual horse. Working with your veterinarian is the place to start in order to ascertain what the exact condition of your horse’s joint(s) is; then he or she can help guide you in terms of specific supplement selection in addition to developing a program that may include injectable products and revised exercise schedules to support your horse’s joints. The most common functional ingredients found in joint supplements include: 1) glucosamine and chondroitin to support normal cartilage health; 2) MSM to provide anti-inflammatory activity to bone, cartilage and tendons and 3) hyaluronic acid to support normal synovial fluid production. In addition to these “standard” ingredients some horses may benefit from fish oil which has been proven to reduce inflammatory markers in the synovial fluid of exercising horses as well as other ingredients found in popular joint supplements. The take home message in regard to joint supplementation is one size does not fit all in regard to providing relief to a horse with joint discomfort. Work with your veterinarian to determine the cause of the discomfort and then experiment over time with different products from reputable companies to evaluate which one provides the most relief for that individual horse.
Metabolic and Energy Issues
Horses with metabolic issues such as insulin resistance and myopathy first need to have their basic diet adjusted to support these conditions. Horses with myopathy issues are usually placed on a low soluble carbohydrate, high fat and high soluble fiber diet, however, horses with insulin resistance should receive a low soluble carbohydrate, low fat and high soluble fiber diet. From a supplement viewpoint, horses with myopathies may benefit from products that increase production and metabolism of cellular energy sources such as EquiVision’s Moving Up while horses with insulin resistance can benefit from products that support stabilized blood glucose and insulin levels such as EquiVision’s Fish Oil Factor or Turbo-Mag which is high in magnesium and chromium. Keep in mind that horses with metabolic issues have genetics that predispose them to these conditions and therefore any supplement product is going to work over an extended period of time, there are no quick fixes for these conditions.
Behavioral and Temperament
The use of supplements designed to calm and focus horses has become more popular over the past several years. Products currently on the market have varying degrees of effectiveness depending upon the specific issue and metabolism of the individual horse. If you would like to be able to use one of these products for showing or racing be sure that the product does not contain any ingredients that may result in a positive drug test or otherwise disqualify your horse from competition. If you have any doubts it is usually best to contact the manufacturer directly to obtain a valid answer to this question. EquiVision’s Engage product can be used in all disciplines and jurisdictions and has been proven effective for horses that may be a bit fearful or nervous when exposed to new venues. A nice feature about Engage that makes it a bit different from other products in this category is that horses learn while they are receiving this supplement and therefore only need it for a relatively short period of time.