I hear this all the time. ”I’ve had horses for 50 years and never supplemented,” or ”My horses are racing fine, why should I change anything’” If your goal is simply to keep the horse alive and maintain status quo, fine. Don’t change anything. But nutrition is more than that to me. It’s a way to maximize your horse’s health and performance in the most basic way possible.
It’s not enough to just make sure intake is over the minimum recommended. Balance is very important. Cells function in many ways like microscopic batteries. Batteries work by maintaining different concentrations of ions — charged minerals, like electrolytes. However, the recipe for this biochemical soup is critical to having it work well. Do you think your car battery would work if you poured Gatorade into it’
The number of equine issues that can be directly influenced by nutrition is staggering. Externally, skin problems, coat problems, thrush and poor hoof quality often have a strong nutritional component. In fact, the hooves are such a reliable indicator of trace-mineral status that well-formulated hoof supplements are among the best overall mineral supplements out there.
The effects go much further than skin deep. Vitamin E is the only treatment for equine motor neuron disease. Simple supplements to support nitric-oxide production is the only effective symptomatic treatment for degenerative suspensory ligament desmitis.
Some examples: A combined-training horse hitting the wall on the obstacle course was completely restored to prior performance by adequate salt supplementation. An endurance horse being pulled for metabolic or poor gut function was also corrected with the addition of adequate plain salt. Nagging muscle spasms, even gait abnormalities, may disappear with correct magnesium intake.
A large Thoroughbred breeding farm was feeding a diet suggested by a major grain company’s balancing software. They were running double-digit problems with OCD in their babies. When the diet was corrected to provide 200% of the minimum recommended amounts — in the correct mineral ratios — the OCD disappeared except for one specific bloodline cross that was easily recognized as an issue after it appeared two years in a row.
Things are even changing in the human field. The prescription arthritis drug Limbrel is a natural nutraceutical extract of two plants, officially classified as a ”medical food.” We had two similarly formulated equine supplements in our alternative anti-inflammatory trial this summer.
The next time you think your horse’s diet is ”fine,” ask yourself if it’s really all it could be. Your goal should be ”optimal.”
Eleanor Kellon, VMD