Ideally, a natural grazing diet would meet all of your horse's nutritional needs, but that isn't always possible or practical. How, then, do you know if supplements are necessary, which ones may be best and how they can benefit your horse?
Why You Might Need to Consider Supplements
There are many reasons why adding supplements to your horse's diet may be helpful or even necessary. While every horse has different nutritional needs and not every horse will require supplements even in the same circumstances, factors that can influence a need for supplements include…
- Pasture Quality: If the only pasture available for grazing is bland and poor, supplements can help improve a horse's nutritional intake. This can happen after a fire or flood may impact pasture lands and horses are unable to graze for better quality forage.
- Feed Prices: Different suppliers may offer feed at different prices, and in years with poor crops or high demand, the highest quality feed may be too expensive for your budget. Adding supplements can help improve lower quality feed when needed.
- Changing Nutritional Needs: The same horse will have different nutritional needs at different stages of its life. Young horses need different nutrition than seniors, and a horse that is pregnant, nursing, sick or recovering from an injury may need supplements.
- Special Nutritional Needs: If you have several horses, it is possible that one animal has distinctly different nutritional needs than the rest of your horses. In this case, supplements can help improve the diet of that one horse without disruption the diets of other horses.
- Activity Level: A very active, strenuous lifestyle will deplete a horse's nutrition much more quickly than a sedate, sedentary lifestyle. Horses that are working hard or training for competitions may need more supplements to meet their needs.
- General Condition: A horse that has one certain health condition – arthritis, poor hoof growth, colic, poor stamina, low weight, etc. – may benefit from appropriate supplements until that condition has significantly improved.
Before adding any supplements to your horse's diet, it is important to consult your veterinarian to assess the animal's exact nutritional needs. This will help determine the best supplements to provide superior nutrition to your horse without unbalancing their other dietary needs.
Types of Horse Supplements
Supplements come in a variety of different forms. Any enriched grain or natural additives such as alfalfa, wheat germ, vegetable oils or yeast that are added to your horse's regular feed can be considered supplements, and even bits of fruits or vegetables regularly included in feed could be considered a type of supplement. Manufactured compounds are another type of supplement, and may be vitamins, trace minerals, proteins or even fats that are lacking from the rest of the feed. Supplements are often administered in liquid, block, pellet or powder forms, or could be added to your horse's daily rations or offered as treats.
Using Supplements in Your Horse's Diet
Supplements should only be added to your horse's diet under the expert guidance of your veterinarian. Their use should be carefully monitored to ensure the desired effect upon your horse's health, and adjustments may be necessary until the proper balance is achieved. Using supplements can help correct specific deficiencies in the animal's diet and help meet their needs, but supplements alone will never replace overall good nutrition, proper management and the conscientious care that can keep your horse in good health.