Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Responsible Nutrition

I'm often asked what I think of "this supplement" or a particular feed.
As most people I discuss equine (and human) nutrition with know, I don't believe in "magic bullets". I am adamantly against fear-based promotion (if you don't do this, your horse will die and you are a bad horse owner).
I do subscribe to some basic principles
  • You are responsible for what goes into your horse's mouth. This doesn't mean you need to have a college degree in nutrition, but you should have an understanding of what your horse needs and how to supply it.
  • Most commercial supplements/feeds are based on NRC guidelines and are amazingly similar. However, they can't address deficiencies/excesses in the specific forage base you are feeding - there is no "one size fits all".
  • I, personally, avoid supplements or feeds with "proprietary" formulas - i.e., they won't disclose ingredients/amounts because of ...? No one's going to steal their formula - they're all based on NRC guidelines. Non-disclosure reduces any flexibility I might have in my feeding program and can be potentially dangerous if an ingredient is not compatible with another supplement or herb I might want to use. Good examples of full disclosure include HorseTech supplements and Triple Crown feeds.
  • If it works, don't fix it. If your horse is healthy, sound, has excellent hoof and coat condition, great recoveries after work and an enthusiastic attitude, figure out what you're doing right and keep doing it.
  • If it's not working, take the time to figure out what and why; don't just toss the kitchen sink (or the newest magic bullet) at your horse. Part of the responsibility of owning a horse is not just throwing your hands up in the air and accepting what any one person says, but sorting through the advice, claims and advertising.
Although a commercial supplement can't balance your particular forage, there are a number of excellent supplements on the market which meet or exceed NRC minimums and don't contain potentially injurious ingredients (excess iron, excess levels of vit A or D, etc.) The best ones are mostly pretty basic - they contain flax (Omega-3), generous levels of copper (125 mg or more), zinc (360 mg or more) and vitamin E, some iodine and selenium. A healthy horse usually doesn't need anything else; additions beyond this should be customized to the individual horse/work/stress levels and their forage/feed intake.

Also, don't be misled by lengthy guaranteed analysis lists in supplements. For example, all supplement bases (flax, alfalfa, distillers grains, etc.) contain some amino acids. When nutrients such as lysine or methionine are expressed in "mg" rather than the normal "g" or "grams", that's a tip off that there is no added amino acid and the entry in the analysis is just there to impress you - "400 mg" looks like a lot more than "0.4 g". If there is actually added lysine or other amino acid, it should be listed in grams and also show up in the ingredient list.
On the other hand, some ingredients we don't want or need (iron, manganese if your hay has excessive manganese) won't show up in the "guaranteed analysis" - but you will see them listed in the ingredients.


  1. Wonderful post, Patti. Having an IR and iron overloaded horse who is sensitive to certain ingredients has taught me to be very aware of labels. I am constantly amazed at what certain companies will not disclose.

  2. Can you take a look at the equine supplement SeaBuck Complete and let me know what you think?

  3. Looking at the SeaBuck Complete website, there is absolutely nothing said about anything. It's really difficult to form an opinion about something when there is zero information. I certainly wouldn't waste my money.