It can be difficult to determine exactly what sort of diet your horse needs and what sort of supplements are needed to complete and round out his nutritional intake. In this article, we review the basics of a good diet for a healthy horse. We also introduce and explain the various types of horse supplements you may wish to use to provide your horse with a well-rounded diet. Read on to learn more.
What You'll Learn Today
- 1 The Best Basic Diet For Horses
- 2 When Is Supplementation Needed?
- 3 Top Horse Supplements
- 3.1 1. Forage Supplements
- 3.2 2. Daily Vitamins
- 3.3 3. Joint Supplements
- 3.4 4. Hoof Care Supplements
- 3.5 5. Weight Gain Supplements
- 3.6 6. Skin, Coat, Mane & Tail Supplements
- 3.7 7. Gastric Ulcer Prevention Supplements
- 3.8 8. Colic Prevention Supplements
- 3.9 9. Calming Supplements
- 3.10 10. Senior Supplements
- 4 Frequently Asked Questions
The Best Basic Diet For Horses
For most horses, the best diet is based in high quality forage, that is good pasture and/or good hay.
If your horse is able to graze freely and has free access to a good quality of hay, you may not need to give him much in the way of grain or supplements.
Unfortunately, these days very few horses have access to unlimited pasture. Hay can be hard to come by due to unpredictable weather and other challenges that can limit the hay crop.
Generally speaking, a good complete feed that is formulated for your horse’s age, activity level and health will provide a full array of nutrients.
When Is Supplementation Needed?
If your horse has special needs, such as trouble maintaining weight, pregnancy, old age, very high activity level, supplementation may be necessary.
Lack of access to good forage may also make supplementation necessary.
Top Horse Supplements
1. Forage Supplements
If hay and grass are limited, it’s a good idea to supplement your horse’s diet with forage replacement such as beet pulp and/or Timothy pellets or hay cubes.
These packaged forage supplement should not make up more than 50% of your horse’s forage intake.
2. Daily Vitamins
Vitamin and mineral supplements can also be a good idea.
If you’re giving your horse a complete feed, formulated grain or a concentrate, be sure to read the ingredients label and follow the instructions regarding the amount of feed your horse needs daily.
Compare the vitamins and minerals listed on the packaging with the supplements you have in mind. Be careful not to duplicate benefits or overdo it a some vitamins can be toxic in excess.
It’s always a good idea to consult with your vet before adding a vitamin and mineral supplement to your horse’s diet.
3. Joint Supplements
Older horses can benefit from the addition of joint supplements to their diet. Just as with older people, older horses tend to have achy bones.
Younger horses who are very active and participate in showing, jumping, rodeo and other challenging events can also benefit from the use of joint supplements.
Supplements that provide joint care may contain:
- Chondroitin Sulfate
- Hyaluronic Acid
- Devils Claw
- Vitamin C
- Ester C
This type of supplement can help ease aching joints and bones while boosting the production of cartilage and fluid in the bursa sac.
4. Hoof Care Supplements
Hoof health is of the utmost important for all horses. Hoof health supplements should provide:
- Omega Six Fatty Acids
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids
These nutrients can help strengthen the hoof wall and prevent chipping and breaking.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see results from hoof care supplements right away. Remember that it can take six months to a year for horse’s hoof to grow out.
You won’t see the results of the supplement in hoof it’s already showing. It will be evident in the new hoof.
5. Weight Gain Supplements
Some horses can’t keep on weight even when they do have ample access to good forage and a well-rounded diet. In this case, weight gain supplements are necessary.
These supplements typically include nutritional sources of calories and safe carbohydrates such as:
- Vegetable Fats
- Amino Acids
- Flax Meal
- Rice Bran
If you’re having trouble keeping weight on your horse, don’t just assume that he needs a weight gain supplement. Have your vet examine your horse before you begin any weight gain feeding regimen.
6. Skin, Coat, Mane & Tail Supplements
Some underweight horses may also have ragged looking coat and mane. The supplements you feed for weight gain will also help improve the condition of your horse’s skin and coat.
To further benefit skin and coat care, look for coat supplements that include:
- Soybean Meal
- Amino Acids
- Rice Bran
- Flax Seed or Chia Seed
- Vitamin E
If you are feeding for weight gain and skin and coat improvement, be careful not to double up on the same nutrients.
7. Gastric Ulcer Prevention Supplements
Horses who live on pasture and get ample access to good grazing and hay seldom have gastric ulcers. Those who live in paddocks and stalls and don’t have ample, high quality forage are prone to gastric ulcers.
To prevent the development of this problem, you can feed a gastric supplement that includes:
- Sea Buckthorn
- Soluble Fiber
It’s also a good idea to reduce any stress your horse may be experiencing. Given him as much turnout time as you can so that he can rest and recreate.
Be sure he has free access to hay at all times. If your horse tends to wolf down his hay all in one sitting, invest in a hay net to slow him down and keep hay available constantly.
8. Colic Prevention Supplements
Colic is another big problem for horses, especially those experiencing stress or those who have had a sudden change in diet. Colic causes very severe abdominal pain.
To prevent the development of colic, look for a digestive supplement that contains probiotics:
All of these help promote the growth of friendly fauna in the gut along with helpful digestive enzymes.
Horses prone to colic will also benefit from a reduction in stress and an increase in the availability of forage and turnout time.
9. Calming Supplements
Horses that tend to run hot can really benefit from a calming supplement.
If your horse is high strung, difficult to handle and potentially dangerous, don’t give up hope. A regular addition of a calming supplement to your horse’s diet can really make a difference.
These supplements contain a combination of vitamins, minerals and herbs that improve central nervous system health and instill a sense of calm.
The best calming supplements include:
- Vitamin B1
Don’t expect the supplement alone to do all the work. When you have a high strung horse, you must be very careful not to feed him a diet that is high in sugar and simple carbohydrates.
You must also be sure that he gets plenty of handling and ground work so he can learn good manners and plenty of exercise to burn off excess energy.
10. Senior Supplements
In the old days, a twelve or fourteen-year-old horse was considered old. Today with improved diets and conditions, horses can live to be in their mid-20s or even into their 30s. Just like older people, older horses need specialized nutrition.
A complete senior diet for your horse may contain all of the supplementation necessary to keep your senior horse at the right weight with a strong immune system, a healthy digestive tract and strong, pain-free joints.
When seeking out a senior feed, be sure to read the labels very carefully. You should not need to add supplements to a high quality senior feed.
If you are considering adding supplements, be sure to talk with your vet first to avoid overdoing it on supplements that may cause toxicity.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, horses should have 1-6 milligrams of iodine daily. This may be delivered through feed supplements and/or in iodized or mineralized salt.
Horses should free feed on salt products. They will typically consume only what they need to meet their requirements. There is usually not enough iodine or mineral content in salt and mineral blocks for excessive consumption to be possible.
Soy has high lysine content and can provide a great deal of protein if it is “full-fat extruded” soy. This is important because this is a natural and safe way of extracting the soy bean fat. Some soy meal is processed using harsh chemicals that detract from the nutritional value of the soy.
A one thousand pound horse needs about 3000 milligrams of vitamin D daily. For the most part, horses will be able to fulfill this need in a balanced diet consisting of grain, grass and good quality hay.
Before you begin your journey, boost your horse’s vitamin E levels to help combat the effects of stress. Prepare for your trip by acquiring enough of your horse’s accustomed hay to feed throughout the trip and for a week or so after you arrive at your destination. Allow your horse to free feed on hay (in a hay net) continuously while traveling. Provide regular water breaks and maintain your horse’s regular feeding schedule throughout the trip.
If you have an hour to take a deeper dive, we recommend this video from Michigan State University.