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Importance of Nutrition

Minerals play a vital role in the horse’s health but if the horse is not worked, trained or in competition then there is little chance that mineral supplementation will be necessary. There are of course situation that require close care and attention such as pregnant mares that do require support as they develop the foul and after birth while they are nursing the baby. Sport horses and show horses will have more success in all they do if their dietary needs are met.

Organic minerals are much preferred because they are more easily absorbed and we feel its best not to add more strain on the body by introduction toxins. Minerals that are not adequately metabolized can cause a problem in and of themselves, so organic minerals and supplements are highly recommended as they rarely cause any adverse effects. A balanced nutritional plan and good diet prevents muscle abnormalities, developmental orthopedic disease, and other health issues.

Sometimes a vitamin supplement is needed when feeding low-quality hay, if a horse is under stress (illness, traveling, showing, racing, and so on), or not eating well. Grain has a different balance of nutrients than forage, and so requires specialized supplementation to prevent an imbalance of vitamins and minerals.

Interestingly, a horse that is exercised hard and then put away for some time and then worked hard again will benefit from some supplements that aid in flexibility and recovery.  Broodmares are supported in all developmental stages of the foal with minerals and vitamins that keep her strong and active while giving the foal all it needs. Tendon, muscle and bone development as well as other bodily systems are greatly supported by proper supplementation during gestation and after birth. Foals and young growing horses through their first three to four years have special nutritional needs and require feeds that are balanced with a proper calcium: phosphorus ratio and other trace minerals. A number of skeletal problems may occur in young animals with an unbalanced diet. Calcium and phosphorus are needed in a specific ratio of between 1:1 and 2:1. Adult horses can tolerate up to a 5:1 ratio, foals no more than 3:1. A total ration with a higher ratio of phosphorus than calcium is to be avoided. Over time, imbalance will ultimately lead to a number of possible bone-related problems such as Osteoporosis.

Of course a sport horse or any horse that is on a competitive training program will need to be given the best chance to perform to its athletic best with a full range of organic minerals and vitamins. Consider the fact that the goal of horse training is the development of a healthy muscle and skeletal system. While you may be working on providing your horse this training, failure to supply it with dietary minerals on a daily basis counteracts the benefits the horse has already experienced. Additionally, keep in mind that calcium, zinc, copper and selenium, have been proven to not only benefit your animal’s overall health but reduce strain and injury. Hard work increases the need for minerals; sweating depletes sodium, potassium, and chloride from the horse's system.

Therefore, supplementation with electrolytes may be required for horses in intense training, especially in hot weather. Some pastures are deficient in certain trace minerals, including selenium, zinc and copper, and in such situations, health problems,including deficiency diseases, may occur if horses' trace mineral intake is not properly supplemented. One common deficiency is Lysine and can be easily addressed. Lysine is needed for appropriate growth (muscle, blood and hoof building) and bone development. Lysine helps calcium absorption and maintains proper nitrogen balance. Protein may come from a variety of sources, but not all of them are considered beneficial. One tip for those who are concerned about the quality of the protein in their feed: check for the lysine level guarantee. While the amount of the protein is important, the amino acid content ensures digestibility which is key to the horse’s ability to use the nutrients you are feeding. Generally speaking, soybean meal is an excellent protein source for adult horses, while milk proteins are used for young horses.

Kelp is a great all round hero. It is like a multi-vitamin containing a complete and balanced range of naturally chelated micro nutrients. Minerals such as iron selenium, iodine, sulfur, copper magnesium, zinc, beta carotene, Vitamins B1, B2, niacin, C, D, and E and up to twenty different amino acids. This inexpensive supplement is a little power house! 

Hints About Choosing Feed and Supplements

There are seven major classes of nutrients: Carbohydrates, fats, fiber, minerals, protein, vitamins, and water. Most foods contain a mix of some or all of the nutrient classes. Some nutrients are required regularly, while others are needed only occasionally. Poor health can be caused by an imbalance of nutrients, whether an excess or a deficiency.

1.   Protein level, fat percentage and energy are also listed on the tag and are of vital importance to your horse’s overall well being. Keep in mind, however, that the amount of energy listed cannot be broken down into digestible energy and the indigestible kind! Thus, it is wisest to make an overall determination on the digestibility of the energy by turning a critical eye at the fat and fiber contained in the feed. As a general rule of thumb, the more fat and the less fiber a feed contains, the more digestible energy is contained therein.

2.   While consumers like to comparison shop in the supermarket, trying to compare tags at the feed store is like comparing apples and oranges. Manufacturers do not use the same energy values for similar ingredients, nor do they use the same unit measurements.

3.   Keep an eye on the presentation of the feed. Corn that is steam-flaked will provide your horse with a higher amount of digestible energy than a similar amount of simply cracked corn.

4.   Check out the mineral sources, since digestibility varies widely. Sulfates are more digestible than carbonates, yet organic mineral sources are more digestible than sulfates but they are also more expensive. If you do not mind spending the money, look for a tag listing of chelate; and proteinate.

5.   Vitamins need to be a part of a good feed. Make sure the tag lists thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid (B5 is critical in the metabolism and synthesis of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) choline, folic acid, pyridoxine, biotin and B-12 as ingredients.

Minerals (Micro nutrients include antioxidants and phytochemicals)

Minerals are required for maintenance and function of the skeleton nerves and muscles. These include calcium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, and chloride, and are commonly found in most good-quality feeds. Horses also need trace minerals such as magnesium, selenium, zinc and iodine.

Macro Minerals

Calcium is a common electrolyte, but also structural (for muscle and digestive system health, builds bone, neutralizes acidity, clears toxins, helps blood stream)

Chlorine as chloride ions; very common electrolyte; see sodium, below:
Magnesium is required for processing ATP (adenosine triphosphate) and related reactions (builds bone, causes strong peristalsis, increases flexibility, increases alkalinity)

Phosphorus is required component of bones; essential for energy processing. Potassium, a very common electrolyte (heart and nerve health)

Sulfur for three essential amino acids and therefore many proteins (skin, hair, nails, liver, and pancreas) .

Trace Minerals

Many elements are required in trace amounts, usually because they play a catalytic role in enzymes. Some trace mineral elements (RDA < 200 mg/day) are, in alphabetical order:

Cobalt required for biosynthesis of Vitamin B12 family of coenzyme

Copper required component of many redox enzymes, including cytochrome c oxidase

Chromium required for sugar metabolism

Iodine required for the biosynthesis of thyroxin; needed in larger quantities than others in this list, and sometimes classified with the macrominerals

Iron required for many enzymes, and for hemoglobin and some other proteins

Manganese for processing of oxygen

Molybdenum required for xanthine oxidase and related oxidases

Nickel present in urease

Selenium required for peroxidase (antioxidant proteins)

Vanadium (Speculative: there is no established RDA for vanadium. No specific biochemical function has been identified for it in humans, although vanadium is found in lower organisms).

Zinc required for several enzymes such as carboxypeptidase, liver alcohol dehydrogenase, carbonic anhydrase.

Potassium (K): an electrolyte that works with sodium to balance body fluids and maintaining adequate cellular pH. Muscular fatigue and tying-up are symptoms of low potassium levels.

Sodium is a very common electrolyte; not generally found in dietary supplements, despite being needed in large quantities, because the ion is very common in food: typically as sodium chloride, or common salt, often with minerals added.

Sandie Hardman
March 2009