Do Horses Really Need Supplements?

To stay alive – no.  To have the most vibrant health possible – yes! I’m not talking about specialty supplements here, like joint or hoof, just the core essential nutrients of protein/amino acids, vitamins and minerals.  Somewhere on earth there may be a perfectly balanced forage with adequate total levels of all nutrients – but I doubt it.

These photos show what proper balancing can do in just one month:

Coat color before supplementation

Horse’s coat color one month after proper supplementation was started

The horse above had an unbalanced intake of iron, manganese, zinc and copper. This is a very common scenario. In addition, the supplemental forms of minerals being used were not very bioavailable so not getting into the horses body.  The coat changes when the situation is corrected because production of the skin and coat melanin pigments depends on an adequate supply of copper and zinc.

Horses eat exactly the same meals 24/7, typically for months on end.  Even if you are feeding a well balanced supplemented feed, the majority of calories, minerals, protein and vitamins are coming from the hay – which is not balanced.  Even if you gave the horse the equivalent of an equine one-a-day that contained the required daily minimum amount of all minerals you can still have deficiencies. This is because most minerals compete for absorption sites.

Picture a lottery machine with 99 black balls and 1 white ball.  The black balls are a mineral present at excessive levels.  The white ball is a mineral present at its recommended minimum. What color is most likely to make it to the chute (the absorption site)?

Minerals are for much more than bone formation. In addition to pigment production mentioned above, energy generation, DNA transcription, immunity, hormonal balance, muscle and nerve function, digestion and absorption of nutrients, blood vessel health, pH balance, fertility, tendon/ligament strength, hoof integrity, vision, enzyme activity – virtually anything you can think of relies on one or more minerals.

Hay or pasture analysis is by far the best way to determine what nutrients need to be supplemented and in what amounts. If this is impossible, regional analysis figures can be used.

All species can survive, even perform and reproduce, in the face of nutritional deficiencies.  That doesn’t mean you should ignore them. To really thrive and reach their true potential they need optimized nutrition. The investment required is minimal but returns can be huge.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD


About Dr. Kellon

Graduate of University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School. Owner of Equine Nutritional Solutions,, industry and private nutritional consultations, online nutritional courses. Staff Veterinary Expert at Uckele Health and Nutrition .
This entry was posted in Equine Nutrition and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Do Horses Really Need Supplements?

  1. Jan Barratt says:

    As always Dr Kellon, wonderful information. Thank you


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.