Nutritional supplements can play an important role in keeping your horse healthy, but just because a product is appropriate and beneficial for him now, that doesn’t mean it will always be. It’s a good idea to revisit your horse’s situation annually, to determine whether his current supplement is still needed or if he could benefit from a different product or formulation. In addition, there are three specific occasions that call for reassessing your horse’s supplement needs:
• Change in workload. A horse whose activity level has increased to that of “athlete” (think endurance racing rather than trail riding) may benefit from a dietary supplement. Hard-working horses might need additional micronutrients, more calories—which can be achieved with fat supplementation—or electrolytes if they will be sweating heavily in hot weather. Decreases in workload, however, seldom call for the addition of a supplement.
• New diet. Many supplements are intended to fill in the “gaps” of a horse’s regular ration, so it stands to reason that when you alter your horse’s diet, you’ll need to revisit his supplement needs. For instance, switching from a straight grain diet (such as traditional rolled oats) to a complete feed may make a vitamin or mineral supplement redundant. On the other hand, if your new hay supply comes from an area with selenium-deficient soil, you may need to add that nutrient to his ration via supplementation.
• New diagnosis. If your veterinarian has recently determined that your horse has a disease or another physical condition, you may want to consider a supplement designed to help manage it. The obvious example is arthritis—there are many supplements formulated to support joint health and offset the inflammatory process. Supplements can be beneficial for horses with several other conditions, including shivers and repetitive tying up. On the other hand, in a few cases, a horse’s newly diagnosed medical condition may necessitate removing a supplement from his diet. A horse with hyper-kalemic periodic paralysis (HYPP), for instance, must not be given any excess potassium.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #455, August 2015.