Saturday, October 3, 2009

Are You a Supplement Junkie?

A lot of horses get supplements - it's something I'm really aware of since I make up the feed at our barn every day for 11 horses - all but one gets some sort of supplement. I used to be anti-supplement - I expect because I thought a horse that is healthy doesn't need one. I still basically believe this, but also now understand that there are some conditions even healthy horses can have which may (possibly) benefit from supplements. The "possibly" is because I think the benefits of many supplements are really unproven, but if they can't harm the horse, there's no reason not to try. Supplements are also big business, and I'm a skeptic about product marketing in general. And I firmly believe that the best way to a healthy horse is good nutrition - quality hay, grass and feeds - tailored to the needs of the specific horse - and as much turnout as is possible: movement helps all horses, particularly seniors.

Just for fun, this morning I wrote down all the supplements the horses at our barn receive. I'll start with my own horses:

Noble (QH, age 29, gelding) - all he gets is Aspirease (form of aspirin that is easier on the stomach) for the comfort of his arthritic joints.

Dawn (TB, age 12, mare) - she gets U-Gard for ulcers, Mare Magic (raspberry leaves) for "marishness" - we're on trial with this - and a magnesium/chromium/selenium/vitamin E supplement specially formulated by our chiropractor/vet for insulin resistance - Dawn has asymptomatic "pre-Cushings", probably brought on by the anabolic steroids she likely received when she was racing. We suspected this because her neck had been getting a bit thick, although she isn't cresty in the classic sense.

Maisie (TB/Trakehner cross, age 12, mare) - she gets U-Gard for ulcers and Aspirease for arthritis pain relief.

Now on to the other horses in the barn - their owners decide what supplements they get:

Fritz (Appendix QH, late teens, gelding) and Fred (TB, age 23 or so, gelding) - they both get Aspirease and Vita-Flex MSM for their joints.

Blackjack (Tennessee Walker, age 30+, gelding) - he gets buffered aspirin and Senior-Flex, a supplement containing a number of vitamins, as well as yucca, glucosamine, MSM, and chondroitin sulfate for joints. I may suggest to Blackjack's owner that we reevaluate this supplement due to Blackjack's age and the gluclosamine it contains (see below).

Sugar - (QH, age 12 or so, mare) - she gets Grand Complete, which is a general supplement containing vitamins, minerals, biotin, fatty acids, glucosamine and MSM.

Scout (Appendix QH, age 6, gelding) - he also gets Grand Complete, as well as Matrix 5 + H/A, a joint supplement containing hyaluronic acid.

Joe (Appendix QH, age 27, gelding) - he gets D-Carb Balance (this is a supplement similar to the one Dawn receives for insulin resistance), pre/probiotics - I use these as well for horses that have been receiving antibiotics to help restore gastrointestinal function, Vetri - HA, a hyaluronic acid supplement for joints (but no glucosamine - see below on this), and cyproheptadine, also for his insulin resistance. Joe is the king of supplements at our barn!

Charisma - (Morgan, age 20, mare) - she gets the same supplement for insulin resistance that Dawn does, but at a larger dose, and also gets pergolide and U-Gard.

Misty - (QH, age 16?, mare) - she gets no supplements, although she would benefit from Aspirease for her arthritis - she was on it for a while but it irritated her mouth.

And every horse in our barn receives a small amount of Cocosoya Oil, for essential fatty acids and vitamin E.

A couple of things that are good to remember about supplements:

1. Just because some is good doesn't mean more is better - this applies to the supplements themselves and their components. Some things that are OK in small doses can be toxic in larger doses, and this applies to herbal/natural supplements as well. Some things are toxic, period - make sure you understand what you are feeding your horse and what its effects might be.

2. Supplements are additive to whatever your horse is eating - and that includes hay, grass, vitamin/mineral balancer pellets (which all our horses receive) and grain. We have our pastures and hay tested to know what we are dealing with, and know what each horse receives in its feed by weight - which varies by horse. The vitamin/mineral balancer pellet we use, CPI Equibalancer, is specifically formulated for our part of the country and complements our hay and grass.

3. Supplements can interact with medications. If your horse is on supplements, make sure that your vet knows this and what is in them - for example, the anesthetics used for dental work, or other cases where sedation is needed, can interact adversely with certain supplements, particularly some of the herbal ones.

4. Our chiropractor/vet believes that senior horses, or horses with insulin resistance, should not receive supplements containing glucosamine.

What supplements, if any, do you use, and why, and what has your experience been?


  1. I feed HorseGuard vitamin/minerals in a bit of grain/alfalfa pellets to all my horses. It makes a difference in hair and hoof quality, so I assume it does good things on the inside too.

    I've fed a chromium/magnesium supplement in the past to my fatties, but they hate the taste. I've also fed joint supplements in the past, but I'm not sure they made a difference. They're so expensive it doesn't make sense to feed them if the results are so subtle you can't tell for sure they're working.

    1. Have you tried the new Horse Guard product? Simplete?
      I used to feed Horse Guard, add MSM and mix it with Omolene. It added up quickly! I know feed this one product Simplete Senior which is only 2 lbs a day and has MSM and Glucosamine included, along with flax seed oil for inflammation and extruded soy beans for weight and hair shine. Simplete is so all inclusive. I love the ease of the products and my horses love the taste

    2. I just wrote a reply, but not sure it went through. I feed Horse Guard as well. However I just came across there new product a few weeks ago and I am in LOVE.

      It is a "complete supplement". 2 lbs a day. I used to feed HG, add MSM, and mix with Omolene. It added up quickly! Now I just feed Simplete Senior. It included a daily dose of Horse Guard, Joint Support (MSM, Glucosamine), flax seed oil for inflammation and extruded soybeans for weight and a shiny coat. I love the ease on me and my checkbook and my horse loves the taste. He literally is standing at the fence and pushes on me till I feed it to him, even when he has his hay in front of him. Simplete is so simple and affordable and has everything I need already mixed!

  2. Interesting post! I've always marveled at people who feed all kinds of supplements. At some point, it seems like overkill but maybe I'm wrong, maybe they work. I have had Tucker on Grand Complete for a couple of years now, which is a multi-purpose supplement that seems to have everything I wanted - biotin, omega-3's, glucosamine, yucca, flax seed, plus a good balance of vitamins and minerals. Last month, I added SmartGut for ulcers (which has a combination of antacid plus pro/pre-biotics) and Cool Calories for weight gain. His weight has substantially improved since I added these two, and he seems to eat more calmly and hasn't had a "temper tantrum" since he's been on them, so I'm a believer as to both. Cool calories is essentially powdered vegetable oil though, from what I can tell, so for financial reasons (even though it's not terribly expensive) I'm considering just adding oil to his feed. So, even though three supplements seems like a lot to me, that's where we're at right now...

  3. I used to be the supplement queen many years ago - I had them all in my feedroom. My horses wanted for nothing as far as supplements went! Now I have the huge advantage of being married to Jason and designing my feed program with his help. It certainly saves a lot of money! Neither of us is anti-supplement at all and we use them as needed, but Jason does hate to see so many horse people wasting so much money every month on un-necessary supplements. His philosophy is that horses are an expensive enough hobby so why not eliminate expenses where you can, especially when it does not compromise on care.

  4. Neat post and very interesting since I have never heard of the Aspirese.

    Wa was raised with Timothy hay/ Milk Pellets and 2 cups whole oats with Horse guard vitamins with organic selenium.

    Since I have been boarding her for the past 4 years in various places...the hay has changed and amounts I am alotted. She has lost wieght in a few barns to the point of me being told not to ride her. So If she is getting the right amount of premiun fermentable ruffage... I may not need Milk pellets for Protien.

    I also use "Sprintime Inc." Garlic/ Gamma Oil(good for ulcers) and sometimes "Daily Calm" if I trailer out alot.
    I recently started to use "Bee Pollen" from Springtime too.

  5. I used to be a great supplement feeder. Since Sam entered our family I have tried a few different things with him. I tried a lot of biotin suplements for his dreadful hooves and have found a herbal mix that works extremely well. I also feed a herbal mix for his joints. I found he had a better response to the herbal than the glucosamine/chondrotin mix. He also reacts to certain herbs and refuses to eat others.

    So Sam is now on Seaweed meal - for vitamins and minerals, Chamomile for digestion, Joint Yoga and Hoof Herbal mix. If he has upset tummy - worming, long trip, change of feed I add peppermint for about 2 weeks as well. He is paddocked 24/7 but no feed in it, so he gets 8kgs of hay, 0.8kg Prydes Bio Mare cubes 1.5kg of oaten and lucern chaff. His hay will be cut back to 6.5kg due to his fat belly!!!!!

  6. My personal philosophy regarding supplements is similar to yours: I believe if you are meeting all your horse's needs with proper nutrition, you shouldn't need supplements.

    I have a similar approach to vitamins for people, and actually, a lot of my feelings on supplements for horses have to do with the research I've done on supplements for us. For one thing, our bodies don't absorb supplements very well, so most of it just passes through. I can't think why it would be much different for horses. More importantly, though, and a nutrition book I once read put it best: The only thing a supplement can cure is something that's being caused by a deficiency in the first place.

    I'm pretty suspicious of product marketing, myself. I believe a lot of supplements -- for people and animals alike -- are nothing more than snake oil, usually based on unclear results in a single study. If it's a nutrient that your horse is genuinely needing, and that you are unable (for whatever reason) to provide via diet, I think supplements can be helpful -- but I think this ought to be viewed as the exception rather than the rule.

    1. I agree with you that within the supplement world there are a lot of "snake oils". I also agree that a supplement can cure something that is caused by a deficiency in the first place. However I think the deficiency and supply your horse with proper nutrition is where the hick-up is. In certain areas of the US, in particular the Northwest and the East Coast with Selenium. We require 3 mg added to our horses diet through supplements whereas the rest of the US requires 1.24 mg.
      I knew of a endurance horse, 12 yrs old, that was selenium deficient and nearly died from it, he wouldn't get up for water or food because his muscles were tied up.
      I have been using a great selenium product that only used 100% Organic Selenium. Within 6 weeks of having his horse on this product the horse was getting healthy again, walking around and even loping out in the pasture.
      The product also had supplements for improved gut health, hoof health and joint health, plus the main vitamin & mineral package (with 3 mg of 100% organic selenium)
      Currently I feed all my performance horses the product. Its called Trifecta and they are looking beautiful and feeling good. I used to top dress the product with rice bran, but now the company (Horse Guard) has a new product that is a complete feed at 2 lbs per day and thats all I feed. Simplete is what it is called.

      Its good for insulin resistant and cushings horses too. There is no sugar added and low starches so my performances don't get hot, but get their calories.

      Anyway, hope this helped some and answered her questions above. I'm new to blogging!!

  7. I have a question- and the answer is probably staring me in the face here somewhere... Why no glucosamine for older/ insulin resistant horses?

    Thanks to all that Sonny has been through in his five years, I notice some stiffness and changes in his movement. I'd *like* to find something to help him out some, but I'll tell you what- the sheer numbers of supplements with all their fancy advertising makes my head spin. (Either that or it's spinning from too much coffee...) In fact, I have seriously considered using what I use for him (Flex-A-Min, which has glucosamine, MSM, chondrotins, and HA. We tried it about 6 years ago now, and both Dear Husband and I notice a SIGNIFICANT difference in how we feel/ move.)

    Sonny has also been on locally grown grass hay, and will soon be starting on grain. Long story there, but the gist of it is I can't find a feed here in the south that I like as well as Blue Seal from up North.... trial and error in the works I suppose!

  8. Mrs. Mom - I believe it's something to do with how gluclosamine is metabolized, but I'm not clear on the details. It sounds like the Flex-A-Min is working well for Sonny, which is great. A lot of people seem to have good results with the joint supplements. I've tried some of them for myself (not the horse versions!) without much success - but my attitude towards them is if they work, then use them.

  9. My husband and I take a glucosamine/MSM supplement and it does noticeably help us be less "creaky." I haven't noticed what I'd call creakiness in my mare (or my dog), so they don't get joint supplements.

    At this new barn, everybody eats timothy and alfalfa hay and gets one pelleted supplement, a ration balancer from LMF. All the other horses look amazing - their whites are snow-white, and the dark bay mare wasn't at all sunbleached at the end of summer. I'm excited to see how Dixie looks after a couple months!

  10. Goodness, I could write a whole post myself on this one!

    My boy gets a vit/min supplement because I'd rather he was on poorer, older meadow-type grazing and make up the difference than put him on lush grass and risk any more laminitis. Although it's important to note that it should make up for any deficiencies in the soil and hay being fed (something I'd not gotten around to having tested this year, oops!).

    I've also got him on a joint supplement, the most vegetarian one I could find (no bits of sharks or anything like that) because he has kissing spine and is starting to show changes in the bone of some joints.

    He also gets linseed oil. And yea-sacc. The latter being very important too. He is showing signs of a common trend nowadays between gastric upset, impaired gut function and laminitis, so I feel it's important to support his gut function in this way. After doing a lot of reading up I discovered pretty much anything that isn't yea-sacc actually raises the acidity level of the digestive system.

    The joint supp is something that I'd rather not risk being without now, it's by far the most expensive supplement he gets but the alternative is risking faster onset of arthritis!

    Great topic Kate :D

  11. Danni, I think it's interesting that you mention the vegetarian thing. I'm actually careful about giving my horse peppermints, because some contain gelatin, which is an animal product. I also use Cowboy Magic shampoo and conditioner because it's not tested on animals. I think if my horse knew what that all meant, he'd appreciate it. :o)

  12. Geeze I can tell I was mega under-cafinated when I wrote that... lol...

    Dear Husband and I already use the Flex-A-Min. I am tempted to put Sonny on it, since it works so well for us ;)

    Thanks for the info too! It's worth keeping in mind. Great topic Kate!

  13. Lily and Cibolo have Platinum plus and Lily is getting glucosamine. She's sound now, so I'm assuming it's doing the job. Or it was the injection.

    I don't have a good sense of horse nutrition, really. I don't know how to evaluate what they are eating...

  14. Breathe - Jason at Paradigm Farms (where Lily and Norman are retired) did a series of excellent posts on equine nutrition that I'm going to put on my sidebar for people to access. I think the whole topic is a hard one to get your hands around.

  15. There is so much information out there on supplements and nutrition and herbs, etc. It can be overwhelming. This is a great topic. It always amazes me how everyone uses totally different "concoctions". My three year old isn't really on any supplements. She gets beat pulp with Flax Seed Oil to help maintain her weight as she grows like a weed. My 13 year old warmblood gets Recovery EQ HA (for joints and old tendon injuries), Perfect Balance Electrolytes, Bee Pollen since she is not out on grass pasture, Vitamin E (oxidant, and also because no pasture). I've experimented with various herbs, but honestly have not seen any significant improvements/changes. Both horses get Apple Cider Vinegar. I did a post on its benefits a while back. Good for people too!

  16. Taking herbal products as dietary supplement have great effects on eliminating disease and improving the immune system. It also enhances the metabolism which helps in shedding extra pounds.
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