March 3, 2024
Horse Vitamin Supplements

Equine supplements are big business, and no wonder. Almost every concerned horse owner wonders at some point if they should feed their horse vitamin supplements. Whether it’s an older horse who becomes stiff or has trouble maintaining weight, a performance horse under extra stress due to a busy showing schedule, or just a trail ride buddy whose hooves tend to crack easily, there’s a supplement marketed for the problem.

So, why would an equine need to take a horse vitamin?

In nature, the horse gets all of the nutrition it needs from foraging on grass and herbs. Natural selection means that horses who have difficulty surviving on the available roughage are less likely to reproduce, resulting in small, tough, thrifty wild horses. Once humans domesticated the horse, though, they started breeding for specific traits other than thriftiness; things like size, speed, jumping ability, and pulling power. If an otherwise excellent animal tended toward skinniness, it was given more feed in the form of concentrates like grain, but would still be bred.

At the same time, horses were removed from their natural environment where they roamed vast distances, eating a variety of different plants. Domestic horses may spend at least part of their lives on pasture, but it is generally in a limited space, often a few acres or less. Hay may be cut from a pasture containing only one or two species of plants: orchard grass, or alfalfa and timothy, for example. Unless the soil in these pastures contains an ideal nutrient profile (which very few places have), then the forage grown from that soil will be lacking in certain vitamins and minerals. And the horse that eats the forage will also be lacking, and will require a horse vitamin supplement to achieve ideal health.

Signs that something is lacking in a horse’s diet may be subtle or obvious. No one doubts that a thin horse is lacking something, but a horse who is always fat, even on very little feed, may have an underlying deficiency causing a thyroid problem. Similarly, a horse in good flesh may have a dry coat which sunburns, or changes color, easily in the summer. It may have weak hooves, prone to splitting and breaking. The mane and tail may be short and ragged-looking, with split ends. Nutrient deficiencies may cause nervousness or lethargy, depending on what’s missing.

The only way to know for certain what is deficient in a horse’s diet is to have each load of feed and hay nutrient-tested at a laboratory; an expense and hassle which most horse owners are unwilling to undertake. Otherwise, the best approach is to feed a comprehensive horse vitamin and mineral supplement which is formulated to provide the minimum necessary requirements of everything, without providing toxic levels of nutrients which are already present in the feed. In this way, a horse owner can cover all the bases, ensuring that his or her horses can reach their full potential.