Supplements for a Young Horse

I have an AQHA filly that just turned 2-years-old. Everyone is giving me their thoughts regarding horses ‘supplements.’ I thought that if she is receiving a good quality feed plus plenty of quality hay and pasture to graze upon, she would be fine. Now I am starting to wonder if I should be giving her something along the lines of supplements too. She hasn’t had any issues as her weight is stable between 800-900 lbs. Thoughts?


Dear Melody,

It sounds like you have some well-meaning friends who want the best for you and your filly. They’re probably concerned that the nutritional needs of a young, growing horse can be much different than the needs of a mature adult. In an earlier question this month, I pointed out that Coastal Bermuda pasture and hay alone–which are relatively low in protein–might not provide enough nutrition for a two-year-old. The sixth edition of Nutrient Requirements of Horses says an adult horse doing no work needs 540 grams of protein per day while a 24-month-old growing horse in no work needs 770 grams. Likewise an adult horse only needs about 20 grams of calcium per day while a young horse needs almost twice that much for normal, healthy bone growth.

You mention you’re feeding “good quality feed” as well as forage so you’re filly may be getting the protein, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients she needs at this stage of her life through this combination of feedstuffs. I suggest reading the label on the grain bag carefully to make sure you’re feeding the recommended amount for her age and size and if not, consider adding a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement or ration balancer to make up the difference.

As your filly grows up and you begin to train and compete her, consider whether she has any specific problems that a supplement might be able to solve. For example, are you involved in a rigorous discipline like reining or jumping that might create wear and tear on her joints? Or could her coat be shinier so she stands out in the halter ring? Does she have brittle hooves that chip easily or don’t hold a shoe well? Maybe she needs electrolytes to encourage her to drink more water? Once I’m certain a horse’s basic nutritional needs are met, then I address any individual issues especially as they relate to her particular sport.

[Ed. note: from the AAEP Ask a Vet]

Lydia Gray, DVM MA, is the Staff Veterinarian for SmartPak. Prior to joining SmartPak, Dr. Gray served as the first-ever Director of Owner Education for the American Association of Equine Practitioners. She has authored numerous articles in publications such as The Horse, Horse Illustrated, Western Horseman and a variety of veterinary journals and magazines. Dr. Gray is also a frequent speaker at horse expos, veterinary conventions and other events. After graduating with honors from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine and receiving her Master's Degree in Interpersonal and Organizational Communication, she practiced at the Tremont Veterinary Clinic for several years. Dr. Gray is active in the American Veterinary Medical Association and Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association. She enjoys training and showing her Trakehner, Newman, in both combined driving and dressage, and is a USDF “L” Program Graduate (with distinction). Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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2 comments on “Supplements for a Young Horse
  1. stacy says:

    Without testing your hay it is impossible to know what you are feeding and which supplement is best. NRC has recommendations, but feeding supplements that are ‘balancers’ etc doesn’t mean it will balance the hay in your barn to NRC recommendations. Reading grain labels is only part of the diet.

    • Kelsie says:

      So, Stacy, what would you suggest? Does she not feed a supplement because she has not tested her hay? How does she get the hay tested? Could you specify the NRC recommendations and what they mean for the rest of us who are unaware, or possibly direct us to a site that would help explain?

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