Category Archives: Equestrian

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.

What Do You Look for When Buying Hay?

How do you decide which hay you are going to purchase for your horses?  Do you go with a local supplier or do you purchase from a hay broker?  Is a hay analysis important for you to purchase?  Do you do a visual inspection to check quality?  Do you prefer first, second or third cut – why?  Or, do you simple go with whatever you can afford?  All of these are important questions.In analyzing nutritional rations for horses on Vancouver Island, I have come across a wide range of hays, from local Orchardgrass to imported alfalfa and timothy mixes all with different nutritional breakdowns.  One of the biggest mistakes I see horse owners make is the assumption of the nutritional value of their hay.  Not all hay is created equally.  In fact, not all hay of one species or location is created equally either.  Hay quality from the same field can vary every year, based on the spring temperatures, whether or not the field was fertilized (and with what), when it got cut, how much rain the area had etc.  Similarly, Vancouver Island grown Orchardgrass is extremely variable across the island.  I am sometimes lucky enough to get a hay analysis from a local farmer if they are kind enough to share with me (and if they are one of the ones that actually test).  I’ve kept these analyses as reference materials and I am always astounded at how much variability there is in local hay.  On visual inspection alone, one would have never been able to tell the difference between a local hay with high sugar or protein, and one with lower values.  Does the amount of leafiness or how green a hay is give us a clue to the nutritional value?  Yes, and no.  We can make an estimate of maturity level (and some nutrient info) of a hay by a visual inspection, and certainly check for any dust/mold.  However, without a hay analysis to reveal the true chemical make up of the hay, one still really doesn’t know the nutritional value of what they are feeding.  For example, in 7 hay analyses of local Orchardgrass hay all collected in the same growing season (2010) in the same area on Southern Vancouver Island, I noted a range in Crude Protein values from 9.6-17.6%, WSC (Water Soluble Carbohydrates AKA sugars) from 9.8-20.5% and overall DE (Digestible Energy AKA calories) from 1.17-2.27 Mcal/kg.  Quite a bit of range!  I have also seen analyses with more extreme numbers on both the low and high ends.

Ultimately, if you want to know what you are feeding your horse, get your hay tested.  The cost is reasonable, and it isn’t hard to do.  Ideally, you should do this every year as the new crops are harvested as hay off of the same field as last year can be very different than they previous year’s crop.  Since 90-100% of what we should be/are feeding our horses is forage, how do you really know what your horse’s diet is?  Just because you are feeding those 14% complete feed pellets, doesn’t mean that your horse is getting the appropriate amount of protein to maintain condition.  Mature horses need roughly between 10-14% protein depending on their level of activity and life stage.  Remember that ALL feeding rations are a balance of ratios when looking at nutrients, so to calculate the total protein in your horse’s diet you have to take into account all of the sources and weight them appropriately in your calculation.

For Example:

You feed daily

– 10kg of grass hay with 9% protein
– 1.5kg of 14% pellets
– 500g rice bran with 15.5% protein
– 500g beet pulp with 10% protein

The TOTAL protein in your ration is: (10 x 0.09)+(1.5 x 0.14)+(0.5 x 0.155)+(0.5 x 0.10) / Total Amount Fed By Weight = (0.9 + 0.21 + 0.078 + 0.05) / 12.5 = 0.099 x 100% = 9.9% protein*

* Technically, all of your calculations should be done taking into account the amount of moisture in all feeds to get the true values fed on a dry matter basis, but for the sake of simplicity I used 100% of the feed weights.

So, the moral of my story is that one cannot underestimate the importance of knowing your hay’s real nutritional value.  All the supplements we feed don’t really add that much more to our horse’s daily nutrients (unless, of course, you are feeding huge amounts of supplements).  If you’d like to get more information on hay testing, please see the links below as a start, and feel free to contact me with any questions.

Toxins on the Tack Store’s Shelves – Part 1


Copper Sulfate,



White Spirit/Stoddard Solvent

These were some of the most prevalent ingredients I read on the labels of various antifungal, antibacterial and hoof conditioning products at the local tack stores.  Many of these things have been used for years to treat skin and hoof conditions, but has anyone recently taken a closer look at these remedies?  If you do an Internet search for the chemical properties of these ingredients you’ll find descriptions like solvent, paint thinner, carcinogen, mutanogenic, pesticide, and environmentally toxic.

I am actually quite dismayed that we commonly use these toxins on our horses.  I went looking for an antifungal treatment for thrush which had recently shown up on my mare’s hoof.  After going to 4 different stores, I still really didn’t find any decent treatment options.  What was even worse, many brands were actually “greenwashing”.  One locally made line of products claims to be natural and green, but when you read the label it is loaded with parabens as preservatives!  Not so natural after all.

The regulations for cosmetics and health products for people in North America are loosely regulated.  Basically, companies that manufacture these products are allowed to self-regulate, and the Canadian government has not tightened regulations to keep companies accountable for their products and manufacturing processes.  If human grade products are so poorly regulated, how do you think products for use on our animals are regulated?  I have found the regulations for pet food and agricultural products for use on animals used for human consumption – those were scary enough.  We’ve all heard of the pet food scares that have surfaced in recent years with cats and dogs dying from ingesting foods made with toxic ingredients.  If the pet food industry is so loosely regulated, do you think that pet care products are regulated?  The answer seems to be that they aren’t.  I haven’t been able to find any guidelines, let alone laws, that protect the well-being of both our pets and ourselves when it comes to purchasing and using pet health care products (shampoos, skin remedies, coat conditioners, detanglers, etc.).  I am still looking for some sort of direction on this matter, but for now it is truly buyer beware.  Read the labels, demand the information from the companies that make the products, and be aware of your ingredients.  You’re not just putting it on your beloved pet, you are exposing yourself to these products as well.

Over the next few posts, I’m going to review some of these products that we commonly use on our horses and try to shed light on some of the toxic ingredients that we have been paying money for.  We need to demand more of the companies responsible for manufacturing the products.  At the very least, full disclosure of the ingredients so that we can make informed choices.