If you think your scoop of compound feed and daily dose of supplement contains everything your horse needs to balance their forage (hay, haylage and grass) or have a therapeutic effect, you might well be wrong.

Are you feeding the full recommended amount of that compound (mixed) feed? Do you know how much you are actually feeding? Do you know what your supplement supplies and is it enough to have any effect on your horse? Are you ‘label aware’?

The quantity of compound feed you choose to give probably depends on your horse’s workload and condition, but these mixed feeds should be fed at the full recommended amount, because if not they will not balance your horse’s diet. If that full recommended amount would cause your horse to put on too much weight, change to a pelleted balancer which supplies the essential vitamins and minerals without the extra calories. If that’s not required, simply feed a multi-vitamin and mineral product. If you prefer to continue with the current compound feed at a lower-than-recommended level, then add half a dose of a multi-vit and mineral product to balance it. You will need to weigh your chosen feed (just once) to find out how much you should be feeding to supply your horse with the correct level of vitamins and minerals, and this especially applies to balancers, which differ in density from each other.

If you’re using a high-temperature dried chaff for condition then you will need to feed a large quantity, in terms of volume. Adding a stubbs scoop of alfalfa chaff will not have the desired effect because it is so little in weight. For example, 1 kg of alfalfa chaff supplies about 11 MJ of digestible energy; a useful amount for an over-thin horse. But one stubbs scoopful weighs about 200 g, which supplies just 2.2 MJ of energy; a pointless amount for an over-thin horse.

To feed your horse correctly, you need to consider the weight of your feeds, not just the volume.

Moving onto supplements… are you feeding levels of ingredients that are high enough to have an effect? Don’t assume that your product contains such levels, and don’t believe everything you read. There is no regulation that ensures the supplements you buy contain useful amounts of active ingredients, despite what the label contains. It really is a case of buyer beware.

If detailed information on content is not available on a website or literature, don’t hesitate to contact the seller or manufacturer and ask exactly what a supplement contains, and – just as importantly – how much. Some manufacturers give levels per kilo of supplement, which is not very useful because you have to convert that into levels per daily dose – which might be anything from around 10 g up to 100 g – to know what your horse is getting.

If you want to learn more about nutrient requirements to find out whether or not 10 mg of vitamin E is useful to the horse, then consider a nutrition textbook with nutrient requirement tables. The same goes for herbs – if you have a human herbal textbook, as a rough guide multiply the dose by about 7 for a 500 kg horse.

Supplement ingredients may be given in milligrams or grams, so you need to understand how to compare. 1 gram is equal to 1000 mg, so a product that gives your horse 10 000 mg of MSM is also giving them 10 g. Don’t be lured by lots of zeros!

And finally, don’t always assume that more is better, especially where essential nutrients are concerned. Some products contain very high levels of vitamin A or iron, both of which are not only unnecessary but could be harmful to your horse if fed along with other products containing high levels of these nutrients.

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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”.