Selecting the Right Supplements for Your Horse

Posted by The Vet Group on

Recent studies have significantly enhanced our understanding of the nutritional needs of horses and ponies. These insights help ensure that our equine companions remain healthy, happy, and full of life.

Various factors, such as increased physical activity, travel, competitions, aging, and certain health issues like joint and muscle stiffness, post-viral recovery, respiratory problems, poor hoof quality, or behavioral issues, can alter these nutritional needs. Supplements can help address these changes by adjusting the horse's diet to provide additional support.

Types of Supplements

Supplements generally fall into two categories:

  • Broad Spectrum Supplements - Cover basic, everyday nutritional needs.
  • Targeted Supplements - Address specific nutritional deficiencies or requirements.

Broad Spectrum Supplements

All horses and ponies require a diet based on forage, whether from pasture or preserved sources like hay. Additional energy from concentrated feeds may be necessary for horses involved in activities such as work, growth, breeding, or maintaining condition.

Despite most concentrated feeds being fortified with vitamins and minerals, they might not fully meet the horse's micronutrient needs. Hay and haylage, often lack essential minerals like selenium, copper, and zinc. Therefore, horses on minimal or no concentrated feed diets need a broad-spectrum mineral and vitamin supplement to ensure a balanced diet and overall health. These supplements come in various forms, including powder, liquid, and pellets, to cater to different preferences and situations.

Some broad-spectrum supplements include added prebiotics and probiotics to support the horse's digestive system and maintain a healthy hindgut microbiome.

All horses and ponies need salt, which can be provided through a lick. Those engaged in strenuous activities and sweating heavily may require an electrolyte supplement to replenish lost salts. 

Targeted Supplements

Targeted supplements cater to specific nutritional needs. Commonly used supplements in this category support joint health, respiratory function, and management of nervous or excitable behavior.

Joint Health Supplements

Horses and ponies, especially those that are older or work hard, often experience joint wear and tear. Nutrients crucial for joint health, like glycine, manganese, glucosamine, collagen, chondroitin, and hyaluronic acid (HA), can help maintain joint function and comfort, extending their working life or ensuring a comfortable retirement.

Many joint supplements also contain ingredients like MSM, turmeric, Boswellia, and yucca, which are believed to have antioxidant properties that support joint and muscle comfort.

Respiratory Supplements

Horses and ponies kept in stables face respiratory challenges from fungal spores and dust, affecting their breathing and performance. Some also struggle with pollen. Respiratory supplements aim to support respiratory health by enhancing airflow and providing immune support. Look for ingredients like eucalyptus, menthol, echinacea, garlic, nettle, and astragalus in these supplements.

Calming Supplements

Horses and ponies, being "fright and flight" animals, may overreact to new or stressful situations. Nutrient deficiencies, such as a lack of magnesium, can exacerbate these reactions, causing nerve and neuromuscular excitability and leading to a stressed and anxious horse. Calming supplements often contain magnesium, calcium (which works with magnesium), and thiamine (Vitamin B1) to help manage anxious behavior.

Key Considerations

When selecting a supplement, ensure that the manufacturer has the necessary industry quality certifications, indicating that the product is made to high safety and contamination control standards.

Look for products that list ingredients individually, as required by law, rather than as vague "plant or botanical extracts." This transparency helps you know exactly what you're feeding your horse.

Remember, supplements are not cure-alls but can provide essential support in specific circumstances.


Source: Deborah Lucas MSc.Eq.S., CBiol., R.Nutr.

Equine America UK

Share this post

← Older Post Newer Post →