An introduction to horse supplements

By Admin

Supplements are feed products that complete or enhance your horse’s basic diet. There are two distinct groups of supplements available: those that balance the diet i.e. add essential nutrients that are missing from the basic diet, and those that have a beneficial overall effect.

Supplements that balance the diet are usually multi-vitamin and mineral products, but can include others such as calcium supplements (for balancing cereals including oats and barley, and straw) and vitamin E and selenium (for horses with higher than normal requirements). High calorie oil-based supplements could balance a diet short in energy (calories).

Other supplements include a huge variety of nutraceuticals such as joint, respiratory and calming products, herbs and digestive-supporting products.

Supplements can have a big impact on your horse’s health and performance. Diet balancers are essential and your horse will eventually suffer from deficiencies if their diet is not balanced. Nutraceutical supplements and herbs can support your horse’s health and recovery, and their optimal performance.

You should select supplements for your horse with care, ensuring they are appropriate. The first step to assessing your horse’s diet is to work out if it is balanced. A balanced diet supplies all the essential nutrients the horse requires every day, without an overall loss or gain. If you feed less than the full recommended amount of a vitamin and mineral-fortified compound feed, or none at all, you should always feed a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement such as PegaVite®.

Even the best UK pasture is short of essential minerals. Photograph courtesy of Clare MacLeod.
Even the best UK pasture is short of essential minerals.
Photograph courtesy of Clare MacLeod.

If you don’t first balance the diet for vitamins and minerals, other supplements are unlikely to be as effective. After balancing the diet, then consider if your horse will benefit from another type of supplement.

You need to study product labels and learn about active levels of ingredients, because unfortunately not all manufacturers include useful levels in their supplements. Pegasus Health has information about every product we sell online, so that you can check information about that product. Pegasus is transparent about the ingredients in all their own-brand supplements, to ensure that you can make an informed choice.

Deciphering product labels can sometimes be challenging, partly because there is some information that has to be included for legal reasons, but doesn’t tell you much about the product. The analytical component of every feed and supplement product – usually in terms of the ash, protein, fibre and oil – must be listed on the label or accompanying literature, and these figures must be within certain constraints. Note that these are analytical components, not actual ingredients, so your supplement does not contain actual ash! Ash is what is determined in the laboratory by literally burning the supplement, and it tells us something about the inorganic matter – mostly minerals – that the product contains.

You may need to get your calculator out to find out how much of an active ingredient is supplied by your product, if they are not listed on the label per serving. There is no point in knowing how much of an active ingredient 1 kg of your product gives your horse if you don’t know how much is in one serving.

Unit conversions
1000 mg 1 g
1000 g 1 kg
28 g 1 oz
455 g 1 lb
2.2 lb 1 kg
1000 ml 1 litre
Examples of amounts per serving from amounts per kg
1 g/kg 50 mg/50 g serving
500 mg/kg 25 mg/50 g serving
Examples of percentage inclusions
10% rosehips 2 g rosehips per 20 g serving
25% protein 12.5 g protein per 50 g serving
30% flaxseed oil 15 ml per 50 ml serving

Once you’ve decided which supplement is appropriate for your horse, introduce it gradually to ensure palatability – unless the label states otherwise – and ensure you feed it for long enough to assess the effect. Many supplements need to be fed for at least a month if not a little longer before you can get a good idea of the effect, although some, for example herbal tinctures, might show effects much more quickly. Joint supplements containing glucosamine should always be fed for at least 6 weeks before an assessment of effectiveness is made. Hoof supplements should be fed for 9+ months for a whole new hoof capsule to be grown so that you can assess the new horn at ground level.

Offer all horses access to salt.
Offer all horses access to salt.

For a step by step guide to feeding your horse correctly, including how and when to use supplements:

  1. Select appropriate forage (pasture grass, hay, haylage), choosing an energy (calorie) content that is right for your horse
  2. Balance that forage to ensure all essential nutrient requirements are met
  3. Use a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement if your horse requires less than the full recommended amount of a fortified compound feed or if you use straights like oats or sugar beet
  4. Offer electrolyte salts
  5. Once the diet is balanced, consider adding other supplements to support individual system health e.g. musculoskeletal, respiratory, hoof, digestive, coat and skin, temperament (calmness) and immune