There are a huge range of equine supplements available on the market in various forms including powders, liquids, tablets and herbal blends - exploring these can be a little bit of a minefield especially as there is so much conflicting advice and misinformation regarding the use of supplements.
Why is a Balanced Diet Important for Horses?
Most owners know that a balanced diet is key for allowing their horses to live a happy and healthy life. A balanced diet is crucial for horses because it provides the necessary nutrients for overall health, growth, and performance. It ensures proper energy levels, supports the growth and repair of tissue, provides essential vitamins and minerals and supports physiological processes in the body. No two horses are the same, every horse will have different nutrient requirements depending on their individual needs. Some things that may affect this include age, breed, temperament, workload and overall health status.
Many owners will feed supplements in order to ensure their horse’s nutrient requirements are being met, when in fact the majority of your horse’s nutrient requirements should be met by feeding a diet based on a high quality forage or grazing. We recommend applying caution if using vitamin and mineral supplements as the over supplementation of certain nutrients can actually be detrimental to your horse’s health and wellbeing. Supplements should NEVER be used as a substitute for a healthy and balanced diet.
Here we will outline some of the most common horse supplements and discuss their purpose in a balanced diet:
What Should Be in Our Horse’s Diet?
Skin & Coat Supplements for Horses
Many horses will suffer from skin and coat conditions, whilst many of these can be supported externally using topical treatments, some may require additional support from the inside out - this is where skin and coat supplements come into play.
Skin and coat supplements are often packed full of anti-oxidants as these will support the removal of toxins from within the body making them a popular choice for owners who’s horses suffer from allergic conditions such as sweet itch.
Many skin supplements will also contain ingredients with naturally occurring anti-inflammatory properties and have a high content of Omega fatty acids, again making them a good option for horses with allergic conditions and those who suffer from itchy skin.
Calming Supplements for Horses
Calming supplements are another very common supplement with many owners feeding them to their spooky, reactive and anxious horses.
Horse calming supplements are formulations designed to alleviate anxiety, stress, and nervousness in horses. These supplements aim to promote a more relaxed demeanour, improve focus and enhance overall well-being, particularly during periods of heightened stress or changes in routine.
Many calmers are formulated to be fed on a long term basis but you won’t often see results instantly when using these as it can take a number of weeks for the levels to build up in your horse’s system. Other calmers are formulated to have more of a sedative effect and can start to work very quickly. These are ideal if your horse only becomes stressed in certain scenarios. Caution should be taken if using a sedative calmer as these can greatly reduce your horse’s reaction times and may lead to injury, particularly if riding.
Joint Supplements for Horses
Joint supplements are possibly one of the most common supplements used by horse owners.
Many common joint supplements including glucosamine, chondroitin and green lipped muscle are most often derived from animal sources. Horses are herbivores meaning their digestive systems are adapted for consuming only plant matter. Horses will actually struggle to digest animal based products and may not get the most benefit possible from these. For this reason we recommend avoiding these types of supplements or consulting with the manufacturer to determine the source of these ingredients.
Plant based joint supplements are widely available and more suitable for horses. Plant sources that can be fed to promote joint health and mobility include turmeric, boswellia and linseed oil. We recommend avoiding oils with a higher omega 6 content such as corn oil, soya oil and sunflower oil. Contrary to popular belief, these oils can actually exacerbate joint problems as Omega 6 promotes an inflammatory response within the body.
Gut Supplements for Horses
Gut supplements are also relatively common due to the prevalence of digestive issues in horses. Gut supplements have been formulated to support a number of conditions ranging from gastric ulcers to hind gut upset.
Ulcer supplements are often fed to act as a buffer for stomach acid by regulating the pH in the stomach to minimise irritation as a result of acid exposure. Some ulcer supplements also contain a high mucilage content, this forms a protective coating over the ulcers and the stomach lining to prevent further irritation and promote healing.
Pre-biotic for Horses
A prebiotic is a type of substance found in certain foods that helps support the growth of good bacteria in the horse's gut. Prebiotics are not digested by the horse but instead provide a source of nutrition for helpful microbes in the digestive system. By promoting the growth of these good bacteria, prebiotics contribute to a healthy and balanced gut environment in horses, which is important for proper digestion and utilisation of food.
Pro-biotic for Horses
A probiotic is a type of supplement that contains live good bacteria, similar to the ones naturally found in a horse's gut. Probiotics are given to horses to help maintain or restore a healthy balance of microorganisms in the digestive system.
Respiratory Supplements for Horses
Many horses suffer from respiratory conditions ranging from allergies and coughing to equine asthma (COPD). Respiratory problems can be uncomfortable for your horse and may decrease athletic performance.
Respiratory supplements for horses aim to support lung health, reduce stress, and manage allergies. By providing ingredients like antioxidants and bronchodilators, these supplements can enhance respiratory function, aid recovery from illnesses, and improve overall performance. Respiratory supplements often have a high mucilage content, this can help soothe irritated airways and manage symptoms of respiratory distress such as coughing.
Supplements for Performance
Not only can strategic use of supplements help improve your horse’s health and wellbeing, they can also be used to help enhance and improve athletic performance. Care should be taken when giving supplements to performance and competition horses as a large number of ingredients deemed to have ‘performance enhancing’ qualities are actually forbidden for use in competition under regulatory guidelines. If found to be using one of these ingredients, riders and owners will face disciplinary action that may even see them disqualified from competing in future competitions.
Prohibited and controlled substance lists are regularly being updated by awarding bodies. Owners should make themselves familiar with these lists before feeding any supplement to horses they are hoping to compete. For latest guidance on prohibited and controlled substances, we recommend checking the FEI database.
If you are unsure on what supplements your horse may or may not require, it is worth consulting with a vet or nutritionist who will be able to advise depending on your horse’s individual needs. A vet can assess your horse’s overall condition and analyse their diet and advise on appropriate supplementation. An equine nutritionist can also assess the nutrient levels of your horse’s diet and can advise on supplements that may benefit your horse. Consulting with a vet or nutritionist is a great way to prevent over supplementation and save money being wasted on unnecessary supplements.
When used correctly and effectively, supplements can be extremely beneficial to your horse’s overall health and wellbeing. Before feeding a supplement, it is important to be aware of your horse’s individual needs and consider what ways a supplement may effect them.