Odds are the answer is yes.
As the term implies, supplements are nutrients added to supplement those already present in the horse’s base diet. At the most basic level, supplementation is done to provide nutrients that are not present in adequate amounts or to correct imbalances.
A vibrant coat, healthy hooves, high energy and freedom from diseases are outward ——————————indicators of a solid diet.—————————————
It’s important to realize that nutritional problems are not necessarily a matter of life and death – although when severe they can be. The most common scenario is a horse that is not functioning in optimal health. This can manifest in many different ways including skin/coat issues, hoof quality, muscling, fertility, performance, bone/joint/tendon health, disease resistance and more.
The wide spectrum should be no surprise since the horse’s body does not function on air. Growth, strengthening and the maintenance of all body systems depends on nutrition. The horse’s body is equipped with mechanisms that allow survival in the face of nutrient issues but surviving is not the same thing as thriving.
Supplementation is more important for the horse than for you or I. The reason is simple. We eat a very varied diet that incorporates different foods on a day to day basis. The horse on the other hand typically eats the same meal every meal, 24/7 for months on end. In contrast, a feral horse will roam over as much as 20 miles a day, consuming a variety of vegetation growing on widely divergent soils and nutrient contents.
At least 50% of the horse’s diet is hay or pasture. It is the major source of protein, vitamins and minerals. Nationwide surveys of different hay types performed by the USDA has revealed widespread mineral deficiencies and imbalances. Protein levels also have a wide range. It is clear that supplementation is in order. The question is what and how much for the individual situation.
Next time I’ll look at supplemented grain mixes and balancers; what they can (and can’t) do.
Eleanor M Kellon, VMD