Horse feed supplements: When and why are they needed?

Within the equestrian community, there's a lot of confusion surrounding the topic of horse feed supplements. Many people aren't sure exactly what they do, or even what they are. To help clear things up and give you an insight into when and why horse supplements are necessary, we've created this guide, which will discuss the different types of supplements available and what they target. We'll also highlight which key ingredients you need to look out for in each category to ensure your horse is getting all the nutrition it needs.

In the past, a horse feed supplement was considered to be anything that's provided in addition to a horse's natural diet of forage so, technically, anything grain-based was a supplement. However, in more recent years grain-based feeds have been counted as an ordinary part of a horse's diet, and supplements are now only considered to be powder or liquid additives that you can mix with your horse's feed in order to provide them with extra vitamins, minerals, protein, and energy. Read on to learn all about them.

What do you need to consider when giving your horse supplements?

When you're thinking about purchasing supplements for your horse, it's vital that you keep their nutritional requirements in mind — these are what you're trying to fulfil, after all. There'll typically be five key categories you need to think about: fats, carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, and minerals. If you feel your horse is becoming deficient in any of these, you can use the right supplement to fill the void.

It's also incredibly important that you consider the workload of your horse. For example, if they're only in light work, providing them with a supplement that's high in carbohydrates to increase their stamina could lead to an overload, as they wouldn't burn this off.

Much like humans, some horses have a low immune system, making them more prone to illness and lameness. It can also lead to them being slow healers with poor stamina and hoof growth. This is another situation in which providing them with specially formulated supplements would be advised.

Are horse supplements competition legal?

If your horse takes part in any kind of competition, it's vital that you always check the ingredients of the supplements you're giving them, because some won't be allowed in their body while they're competing. This is because some substances can help to improve your horse's performance in an artificial way.

Don't be fooled into thinking natural supplements are a guaranteed safe option, either: even some of these can break the rules of racing and the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI). Common natural ingredients, including caffeine and valerian, are on the FEI's prohibited substances list, for example. So make sure you always read the label of your horse's supplements carefully, and look out for those labelled with "BETA NOPS (naturally occurring prohibited substance)" if you're often out competing with your horse.

While there are some constraints, once you've worked out what your horse needs and what you can give them without breaking any rules, they're likely to be much happier and healthier. So, it's well worth doing your research.

What kind of horse feed supplements are available?

Every horse is unique and comes with its own set of health problems and nutritional requirements. Luckily, there are plenty of supplements out there, which means you should have no trouble meeting their needs. Here, we're going to look at the most common feed supplements and when your horse might require them.

Calming supplements

If your horse suffers from stress or excess levels of energy, you could consider providing them with calming supplements.

When choosing the right product, we would recommend going for one that contains important minerals, such as magnesium, zinc, and calcium. Tryptophan is also an essential amino acid that produces serotonin, which is a mood stabiliser and also known as the anti-stress hormone. It can often be found in protein-rich horse feed but, if your horse isn't getting enough of it, you can supplement their diet with a product like the TopSpec Calmer, as it contains all of the necessary calming ingredients and can be very effective.

If you would rather use a herbal remedy, a camomile-based supplement would be best. The yellow ingredient in camomile is called apigenin, which has been linked to sleep and tranquillity.  Thiamine, or vitamin B1, can also be very helpful, as it's been scientifically proven to manage stress and have a quieting effect on the nervous system.

If your horse is quite nervous, stressed, or has excessive levels of energy, you might be interested in some of the horse calming supplements we stock, so be sure to browse our range!

Joint supplements

Joint supplements are typically required for veteran horses that are 15 years old or over, or performance horses. The ingredient in these is Glucosamine and products with higher levels of this tend to be the most effective. This is because the chemical help to build cartilage, which is vital for helping horses to fight arthritis and osteoarthritis.

Glucosamine works particularly well when combined with Chondroitin, which is a structural component of cartilage, bone, and tough connective tissues. Rather than preventing pain or helping to build cartilage back up, this can help to stave off further breakdowns. Both Glucosamine and Chondroitin can be found in Superflex products from NAF.

Other ingredients known to ease joint stiffness and inflammation are Boswellia and Yucca. Boswellia originates from trees in North Africa and India and has been used to increase blood circulation and promote soundness in horses for thousands of years. Thunderbrook Boswellia comes in a powder form, making it easy to mix into your horse's usual feed, and it contains these very handy ingredients.

Want to see more of the products we stock to keep your ageing horse happy, health, and comfortable? Make sure you check out our entire selection of horse joint supplements for more options.

Hoof supplements

Many horses suffer from cracked and crumbling hooves. This can be due to a number of reasons, such as excess road work, prolonged time in wet conditions, lack of protein in the horse’s diet, inefficient treatment by a farrier, or simply because the horse has inherited weak, brittle hooves.

The main ingredient to look for in hoof supplements is Biotin. It is estimated that to visibly see results from using Biotin, the supplement must provide 20mg a day. It is also important to understand that results will not happen straightaway, and it can take a few months before you notice any improvements. When you're looking for Biotin-rich supplement, NAF Biotin Plus and NAF Pro Feet 5 Star Liquid are great. The latter was developed by veterinary scientists, assisted by leading farriers. This means plenty of heart and knowledge has gone into creating the product.

Want to see more of the horse hoof supplements we stock? Make sure you browse our entire range before making a decision, so you can choose the perfect product to suit your horse's needs.

Respiratory supplements

Horses who suffer from respiratory problems such as heaves (also known as recurrent airway obstruction) can find it difficult to breathe properly during exercise. You might notice this when they're performing dressage movements where the horse is collected, so airflow is slightly more restricted, as well as during cross country when long periods of high intensity work are required.

Other circumstances where you might notice respiratory problems is when your horse is stabled and resting. A chronic cough, flared nostrils, and forced abdominal breathing are signs your horse is suffering from heaves when stationary. The reasons behind this are due to the respiratory system becoming inflamed, increased mucus production, and bronchospasm.

The theory behind horses suffering from heaves is that they can be affected by an allergic reaction to the dust from their bedding and possibly even their feed. The characteristics from this are likened to those found in humans with asthma.

Supplements that are high in Vitamin C are particularly helpful in supporting the respiratory system. The NAF Respirator Boost 5 Star and Pure+ Respiratory are both ideal products for this. We offer a whole host of other horse respiratory supplements, too. So, be sure to browse our entire range to see what kinds of products are out there.

By reading our guide, we hope you've gained confidence in deciding when your horse requires supplements and choosing the right ones to optimise their diet. Supplements can truly help to improve their performance and overall health, so it's well worth doing plenty of research and investing in some of the products we've talked about in order to keep your horse in the best possible condition.

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