Something topical this week, based on an article that caught my eye as I read the 2 May issue of Horse & Hound magazine. It is concerning how many equine professionals including vets miss the absolute foundation of good nutrition – a balanced diet. Although I have covered this topic before, I felt that another blog would emphasize the importance of a balanced diet.

Despite an overall well-written, balanced article entitled ‘Is barefoot any better?’, vet Richard Stephenson states that ‘Diet can influence hoof quality and there are many supplements available, most of which are based on biotin…’

Even the best pasture lacks essential minerals for horses.
Even the best pasture lacks essential minerals for horses.

But Stephenson fails to mention diet balance, i.e. is the horse receiving all the essential nutrients he needs every day? You cannot expect any of the horse’s body systems, including hooves, haircoat, heart and lungs and immunity to function at their best without a balanced diet.

If your horse has a problem with a body system, don’t just reach for a bespoke supplement! First, check the diet balance. There is absolutely no point in adding hoof-supporting nutrients if the basic diet doesn’t supply enough zinc and copper (both common deficiencies in horse diets).

Adding biotin to the diet of a horse with poor hooves in a regular routine (stabled and turned out to grass) who is fed less than the full recommended amount of compound feed such as mix or nuts is wasting your money. Instead, add a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement then reassess the hooves after a couple of months. It is quite likely that a biotin supplement will not be required.

Many horses and ponies need a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement to balance their diet.
Many horses and ponies need a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement to balance their diet.

There are some cases where supra-optimal supplementation is required, e.g. biotin to promote hoof health, but probably a lot less than we realise. Assessing hooves takes patience because they may take 6-9 months to grow down to the ground, where changes in horn quality will be most evident. However, sometimes you can see the difference growing down just a cm or two from the coronary band when the horse finally receives all the essential minerals he requires and has been short of for some time!

The only reason that nutrients necessary for a balanced diet are called ‘essential’ is that horses cannot be optimally healthy without them. We do not add multi-vitamin and mineral supplements to give the horse a ‘health boost’ or a ‘top up’ but to simply balance a forage based diet that is short of nutrients. Only horses fed the full recommended amount of a good quality compound feed will not require multi-vitamin and mineral supplementation.

For many horses, a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement should be at the top of the feed and supplement shopping list!

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About Clare MacLeod

Clare MacLeod MSc RNutr is one of the UK’s few registered independent equine nutritionists who also has expertise in health and fitness. She advises private and commercial clients in all sectors of the horse world and is a hands-on horse owner herself. Clare is passionate about correct nutrition as a foundation for good health, without which peak fitness is not possible. She states “Good nutrition isn’t everything, but there’s nothing without it”.