These days you can get supplements for any possible problem your horse may have, from behavioural to physical. However, how much do we actually know about what is in these supplements and what they do? Everyone has their own opinion on supplements and when and why to feed them. But with a recent rise in supplement use, I feel its even more important to understand them. As much as I would like this to be full of information on when to use them and how they work, I am afraid it is not. (maybe another time!)
Why do we use supplements?
I’m sure we have all at one point been guilty of feeding supplements without really knowing what is does or what’s in it, but it made us feel better to feel like we were doing something to make it better. I do this a lot with herbal supplements, but I take the frame of mind “how much harm could it do?” I still stand by this to an extent, as it’s not like your adding extra unnecessary chemicals to their diet. However, I do feel its important to understand that there are still risks with certain herbal products.
Two key examples of popular herbal supplements are garlic and turmeric. Feeding too much garlic is linked to anaemia and turmeric has high anti inflammatory properties which could hide other problems the horse could be having. Turmeric has recently become a big feeding fad. And while it seems to be working for some horses, the possible side effects to horses is still unknown.
Common ‘Magic’ Supplements
The most popular types of supplement tend to be variations on calmers and for joints or stiffness. There are so many different types of calmer, some focusing on specific behaviours, such as moody mare, or general stress of lively behaviour. However, as useful as I feel calmers can be, I feel its important to rule out other problems such as uclers or liver problems which are known to affect behaviour first. Once you have ruled out other problems, the first thing I would try is a magnesium based supplement as a high number of stressed horses have a magnesium deficiency. However, it is always tricky to find a calmer which really works for your horse, and you may have to try several before you find one which works.
I am personally wary of joint supplements, especially for younger horses. I can’t help but feel that if your young horse needs this for what you are asking them to do, you are asking too much. I have also heard a theory of once you start them on one, they will likely have to be on them for the rest of their ridden career, if not their life. Although this hasn’t been proven but it is an interesting idea. However, for horses competing regularly, supplements are often a good option for the horse in the long run.
For the competitive mare, I would also be careful when using hormones or treatments to suppress oestrus, especially if there is a chance of using her as a breeding animal in the future. This is because it can take the mare a long time to start cycling regularly again, which can make getting her in foal harder, and you may even miss the breeding season.
Although these are largely just my opinions, I hope it encourages you to think a bit more about feeding supplements. They can be great things, but they can be very expensive so why feed them if they are not helping the problem? I personally find supplements fascinating, and will try to do a more detailed post in the future about what to look for in different supplements.