Category Archives: Nurtition & Food Safety

What’s In A Supplement?


This month’s article for you is about supplements.  I know that I’ve written about it before, but its just so important to know what you are feeding, why you’re feeding it and whether current research actually supports its use (this goes for human supplements as well!).

So many horse owners get lured into feeding supplements that claim to benefit performance (joint supplements), assist in calming their horses (hormonal mare or nervous horse anyone?), or help to aid in digestion (probiotics).

I have no problem with supplements that actually contain proven, biochemically appropriate ingredients.  What do I mean by that? Every animal has a different digestion mechanism and different inherent biochemistry.  What works in our human bodies does not necessarily work in a horse, a dog a cat etc.  At the very least you might be wasting your money and at the worst you might be feeding something that is actually toxic to your horse.  On top of that, the supplements industry is not regulated, so what is advertised to be in a product might not really be there in the appropriate concentrations (or even at all – see this link as one recent example).  The bottom line is that you need to do the research to see if there is any solid evidence that the supplement will work for horses.  Don’t waste your money on something without good scientific backing – after all, supplements can be quite expensive!

“Natural” Vitamin/Mineral Supplements

I often get asked if I carry a “natural” vitamin/mineral supplement for horses – which I don’t at this point.  I often refer owners to several of the locally prepared supplements which are all pretty standard formulations, and all contain reasonable ingredients.  However, if one actually takes the time to look at their current feeding ration, many horse owners might be surprised to find out that they are over feeding vitamins and minerals every day.  This is both costly, and could be unhealthy for your horse.
Most commercially prepared feeds, including Genesis, contain some added vit/min in them.  This is mainly to balance rations for those needing extra nutritional support (breeding, growing, higher level performance etc.), those with poorer quality hay, or even those in areas with mineral deficiencies in their soil, like here on Vancouver Island.  Interestingly, with the exception of selenium, all of the nutritional reports that I have generated for clients indicated quite a bit of over supplementation of vitamins and minerals in their horses’ daily diet.  Like us, horses actually get most of their nutrients from the basic feeds around them.  Below is a compilation of some common vit/min for adult horses at maintenance, including amount required to maintain daily health and some of their common sources.  When looking at the values, keep in mind that some vit/min will pass through the body when unused (like Vitamin C), but others, the fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and K, are stored in the body for long periods of time and generally pose a greater risk for toxicity when consumed in excess.  So, we should all take a closer look at our supplementation to see if it is appropriate, and if we are feeding in excess of what our horses truly need.

Winter Feeding

Many horse owners notice weight loss in their animals during the winter months.  No matter where you live in Canada, our climate does tend to take a toll on any creature living outside (or at least spending a good part of the day out).  It is important to review your feeding regime in the fall as winter approaches, and again in the spring before the pasture grasses begin their rapid growth.  If you continue to ride and train in the winter, or if you have growing or breeding horses it is important to make sure that they continue to get enough calories for their daily needs.  I always encourage owners to take a moment to weigh and record their horse’s daily intake and get a sense for the amount and calorie content that they are feeding.  Remember that during the cold and rainy months, body temperature regulation burns calories.  So, even if you don’t increase your horse’s daily physical activity, he might still need additional good quality calories to maintain weight.  The best way to get additional calories is to increase the daily amount of good quality hay.  You can also add a fat source to your horse’s diet, such as flax (a great source of Omega-3 fatty acid), or rice bran (also a good source of Omega fatty acids, along with gamma oryzanol which helps with muscle building).  If purchasing ground flax or rice bran, just make sure it is stabilized both to preserve nutrition content and so that it doesn’t go rancid due to the high fat content of these products!  Better yet, buy whole flax and grind it yourself as needed.

I Am NOT A Hippie

What does it mean to be “Green”?  I asked my 5 year old son.  His answer?  “Well…it means to wear a green shirt”.  Then we talked a little bit about what it meant to me.  “Oh, so being green is good for the Earth!” he excitedly proclaimed.  If a five year old can understand the concept, why don’t many North Americans?

My realization that I wanted to do better for my family and our planet didn’t come overnight, but now that I have chosen this path I want to share my knowledge and teach others what I have discovered.  Sometimes I think that many of my friends, particularly those that have known me a long time, are unsure of what to make of this relatively new outlook on life and what I want for my family – I used to work in the petroleum industry, for a big oil company, so I can’t really have jumped on this environmentally friendly bandwagon right?  Maybe moving to BC has addled her brain a bit – it is the “left coast” after all.

So, have I become a Vegan, granola-loving, Birkenstock-wearing, non-leg-shaving, organic, recycling, Greenpeace touting, bra-optional, hippie Earth-Mother?  Not exactly.  I still shave (I’m actually a bit OCD about that one!) and haven’t owned a pair of Birkenstocks since university.  I don’t eat much granola, and I’m not a vegetarian by any stretch of the imagination.  Greenpeace does some good work, but often times they seem to wreck their own credibility because their members are out on the fringe of acceptable public behaviour and tend to disrupt the peace.  So, how would I describe myself?  I think that I am an Earth and health conscious stay-at-home mom who wants to do what’s best for her family and our planet.  What more motivation does one need to adopt a green lifestyle than looking at that little gummy smile that my youngest son gives me every morning when he wakes up in his crib?  Why wouldn’t I want to make sure I did the best I could for them, and the world that they, and their children will grow up in?