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Horse Supplements: Just the Basics

By Kentucky Equine Research Staff · October 1, 2014
 
Forage is a horse’s natural food, and all equine diets should be built around this material. Young growing horses and equines in moderate to heavy exercise may need the important nutrients and additional energy provided by grain meals. Beyond forage and grain, many horses don’t really need to have their rations boosted with extra powders, liquids, or granules of this and that. So why are there so many shelves of equine nutritional supplements displayed at every horse supply store?
 
 


Owners should consult an equine nutritionist if they have questions about the best choice in supplements that could help their horses stay comfortable and perform to the best of their abilities. 
Though the average horse in light work gets along fine on grass and a little grain, horses with special needs may do better with just a little bit of dietary help in some areas. No two horses are exactly the same, and their nutritional needs will vary according to their metabolism, age, and work level.
 
Hoof supplements are designed to provide the specific nutrients that are necessary for the growth of strong, healthy hoof tissue. If a horse has hooves that tend to split or chip easily, it may be hard to keep him from losing shoes, and he might become lame because of hoof cracks. A supplement that contains biotin, methionine, zinc, and iodine can improve the strength of hoof tissue, though it will take many months to grow down from the coronary band.  
 
Exercise is necessary for equine health, but intense or long-term exercise can lead to joint strain. To help maintain joint health, prevent injuries, and keep arthritic changes at bay, hard-working horses can benefit from joint supplements that contain glucosamine hydrochloride and chondroitin sulfate. These substances aid in maintenance of joint integrity and minimize wear and tear on joints. Other supplements may contain hyaluronic acid, a component of the fluid that is essential for lubricating joints and minimizing inflammation. While idle or lightly exercised horses may not need increased nutritional support for joint health, these supplements can keep equine athletes comfortable as they exercise and may extend their active careers.
 
Pastured horses that get no grain, are at healthy body weights, and have normal metabolisms are at a low risk for digestive problems. However, the risk increases as horses are stalled, fed grain, put in exercise programs, trailered to events and competitions, given varying types of hay, or subjected to any type of stress. Horses with gastric ulcers, obesity, equine metabolic syndrome, Cushing’s syndrome, and other health challenges may also be more likely to have digestive upsets that can lead to colic or laminitis. Digestive system supplements are designed to buffer excess gastric acid, maintaining the correct pH level in both the foregut and hindgut. For many horses, this action can minimize problems such as depressed appetite, colic, gastric ulcers, hindgut acidosis, excess gas production, and loose manure.
 
In summary, unless a horse is completely healthy and spends most of its time in the pasture, it may benefit from some type of dietary supplement. Owners should consult an equine nutritionist if they have questions about the best choice in supplements that could help their horses stay comfortable and perform to the best of their abilities. 
 

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