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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One comment on “Over Supplementing Horses
  1. Ichiigo says:

    but if the horse goes for meat, you’ll probably get paid stniohemg, and at the very least the horse dealer will take a really unwanted critter off your hands for free, and with no risk of you getting injured). I understand this because I’ve seen it all, and I personally screwed up once. Like most people I could not deal with the notion of putting my favorite mare (a beautiful chromed arabian, \been there, done that, got the T-shirt\ the kind of horse any kid would sell their soul for) down. I raised her from a weanling. We went everywhere, did everything, got all the T-shirts. At 26, her health went south. I saw it. I recognized that she was slowly wasting away and losing interest (and the diagnosis was \she’s old\), but she didn’t seem to be in any real pain the conventional wisdom of the equine community seems to be, that after 25 years in my care with now obvious escalating issues, I should have passed her on to die in someone else’s backyard. I wasn’t going to do that, but I couldn’t bring myself to put her down, either. She did not come in from the field one night and we found her down, marginally conscious, twitching in pain, in the pouring rain in a puddle in the very back corner of the pasture. It took an hour to get a vet out to finally put her out of her misery, and then we had to chain her up to the 4 4 and drag her up into the yard where she sat under a tarp for days until the rendering firm could come and winch her into their truck. No one wants to put a horse down at home. Trust me, I get that. The next time I had to put a horse down on the farm, the young ambulatory vet screwed up and a 1200lb mare (in a lot of pain) nearly killed both of us and took out a fence before she finally went down and then I had a dead horse in my arena for almost three weeks in the middle of summer because the rendering company flipped one of their trucks on the freeway. This is definitely the dark side of horse ownership. But pretending that it’s not there, or blithely passing it on to someone else, is just plain irresponsible. In contrast, I have a beautiful 19-year-old that I just keep watching. He’s the kind of horse that (still) stops traffic just stepping out of the trailer. No one’s ever tried to tell me that it was inhumane to have the surgeons lay him down (multiple times) to repair his fractured leg when he was young but I can guarantee you that when I decide that it’s time for him to go peacefully, before stniohemg truly awful happens, I will catch absolute hell for making that decision.And I will make it anyway because that’s what responsible horse owners do. Someone go ahead, make the argument that I should have \found a nice adoptive home\ for my 26-year-old Arabian mare, my 36- and 37-year-old childhood ponies, a beautiful eventer (absolutely not a pasture pet) with a painful fracture in his back or the drop-dead-gorgeous 19-year-old frolicking around in the pasture in the wind right now. Don’t skirt the issue that ALL horses end up as 1000lb disposal issues, generally at 25 or less.

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