For most horses or ponies fed on a good, balanced diet with access to high quality forage there is little or no need for additional supplements to their feed. However, many equines are in need of nutritional support, whether due to a predisposed medical condition, an injury or simply old age. Even the healthiest of horses can require help to stay that way!
Horses competing regularly at high level will benefit from being fed supplements to improve their power, strength and stamina. Older or arthritic horses can be supported with joint supplements to aid mobility but the list doesn’t end there. Many medical conditions, such as Tying-Up (Azoturia) or Laminitis can be prevented or the severity lessened by the use of targeted supplements, meaning the horse has a greater quality of life and therefore increases the life expectancy and comfort of that animal. Some illnesses are region specific, such as sand colic (sandy grazing) and myopathy (selenium deficient soil) and there are even supplements to minimise the risk of these occurring in horses or ponies kept in these areas. The cost of each individual supplement can vary but are generally cheaper than a vet call out and course of treatment.
However, it is very important to carry out research when choosing supplements as the quality and ingredients can vary greatly. The most expensive supplement may not always be the best for your horse, nor the cheapest be the least effective. Some people believe in the placebo effect of certain supplements such as calmers, but it is important to ensure you choose products with the correct active ingredients. Use the internet, your local riding club and speak to horsey friends as part of your research into what is the right product for you or call the manufacturer/distributor for advice.
Some horses can be fussy eaters so many owners can struggle to get the horse to eat a feed which is “laced” with a supplement. The addition of unsweetened apple juice tends to help with disguising any bitter or new tastes. Supplements can come in powder, paste or liquid form – and the absorption rate is believed to be highest with powder but this has not been scientifically proven. Some however should be fed in the evening feed as they have better absorption rates when the horse is at rest. Individual packaging should provide all feeding instructions necessary but a good port of call is the retailer or manufacturer if you are unsure.
The final thing to remember when considering supplements is the “loading” and “maintenance” doses. Some products require a loading period, where you feed larger doses initially to saturate the system, this is usually a period of around 3 to 10 days but does vary from product to product. You will then move onto a maintenance dose, which is the minimum required in order for the product to work fully and remain effective. Most supplements are designed to be fed on an on-going basis and others just in times of need (such as calmers or pain relief). It is vital you speak to the retailer or manufacturer if any part of the feeding program is unclear. Supplements can be an expensive addition to your horses feed and it is essential they are fed correctly in order to work to effectively.
Kelly Fossett is the Equine Sales Co-ordinator for http://www.esup.co.uk/, one of the UK’s leading online retailers of equine supplements and accessories. Should you have any particular questions or concerns when it comes to supplements, she can be contacted on 01306 401306 or email@example.com