Over Supplementing Horses

Hi, I am really worried and all this is very confusing. We just had a horse nutrition talk at our barn and they said that we do not need to add supplements to the horse feed, that the horse feed already comes with all the nutrients and vitamins balanced, that we can cause an unbalance especially on vitamins and minerals, and this is going to be against our horse’s health. I am talking about commercial feed on pellets from the big companies, especially formulated for senior, junior, mares and high performance horses. Am I overdoing and putting my horses at risk?? GE, Texas

Dear GE,

I know exactly what you’re talking about and I think I can easily clear this up for you. When a commercial horse feed company representative talks about causing an imbalance of nutrients by feeding a supplement in addition to their product, they’re talking about “doubling up” by feeding the full recommended amount of fortified grain on the bag as well as the full recommended amount of multi-vitamin/mineral supplement. As you can see by our chart, we agree this combination is unnecessary.

However, the chart also shows there are certain situations when a horse needs a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement, such as when a horse is not being fed the full recommended amount of fortified grain or when a horse is not being fed fortified grain at all. You see, fortified grains were originally designed for hard-working horses that needed a lot of calories. Vitamins and minerals were added to grains such as corn and oats to provide race horses, draft horses and other horses that worked for a living all the nutrients they needed.

The problem with most fortified grains is that calories are tied to nutrients. That is, if an owner needs to increase the amount of fortified grain fed to a hard-working horse to keep him from losing weight (like one that competes in three-day eventing or endurance riding), the amount of vitamins and minerals he’s getting is automatically increased. However, because most horses don’t work this hard for a living, the opposite problem occurs. That is, with more and more owners becoming aware that medical problems like Equine Metabolic Syndrome, laminitis and even arthritis are made worse by obesity, they’re cutting back on the amount of fortified grain they feed their horses, if they feed grain at all. Now you have a situation where a horse isn’t getting enough vitamins and minerals because the full recommended amount of fortified grain isn’t being fed, in an effort to reduce calories.

That’s where a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement or ration balancer comes in. By adding the appropriate product to a horse’s diet, his vitamin, mineral and even protein (amino acid) needs can be met without adding extra calories. Some multi-vitamin/mineral supplement lines—like SmartVite and Mega-Cell/Mega-Mag—are even designed to complement the type of forage a horse eats, whether it’s grass or alfalfa.

Finally, let’s talk about addressing specific problems in a horse, such as poor quality hooves and joint wear and tear. When picking supplements based on your horse’s needs, feeding multiple products does not necessarily mean that there’s an increased risk of over supplementation. In fact, a well-designed “strip” of SmartPaks with multiple products may actually be more appropriate (and necessary!) than one that contains just a couple of similar products (like 2 multi-vitamin supplements!) Here’s an example of a SmartPak that may seem large at first, but is actually quite thoughtfully put together:

1. SmartVite Performance Grass (as a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement)
2. Cosequin ASU (as a joint supplement)
3. Farrier’s Formula (as a hoof supplement)
4. Perfect Balance Electrolite (as an electrolyte supplement)

Each of these products contains specific ingredients designed to address specific needs. As such, there’s very little overlap. The point is: do your best to provide your horse with a complete and balanced diet primarily consisting of good quality forage (hay or pasture) then make up any specific deficiencies with a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement and other products as necessary.

Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA SmartPak Staff Veterinarian and Medical Director Dr. Lydia Gray has earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and a Master of Arts focusing on interpersonal and organizational communication. After “retiring” from private practice, she put her experience and education to work as the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s first-ever Director of Owner Education. Dr. Gray continues to provide health and nutrition information to horse owners through her position at SmartPak, through publication in more than a dozen general and trade publications, and through presentations around the country. She is the very proud owner of a Trakehner named Newman that she actively competes with in dressage and combined driving. In addition to memberships in the USDF and USEF, Dr. Gray is also a member of the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association (IDCTA). She is a USDF “L” Program Graduate and is currently working on her Bronze Medal. Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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