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Supplements for horses - myths and truths

Published: 2016-09-11 20:46:40 Categories: Health Rss feed

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The topic of horse diet and necessity of supplementation is always a hot topic among horse lovers. Many experts in the field of animal diet, breeders and vets thin that if the basic fodder is properly balances and your pet is not into too exhausting training, mating or currently pregnant, he or she does not require any dietary supplements. Other members of these groups say that supplementing is a kind of prophylaxis, which ought to support the organism. Who is right? Everybody a bit, which is why it is good not to abide only one of these theories. Preferably, centre your views on this topic.

In order to help you do this, we will show you a couple of myths and truths about supplements, which are more and more popular on the market each year.

TRUTH: What is supplementing and when to do it? 

At the very beginning, it's worth mentioning what supplementation is and what it is not. Firstly, it is not a treatment method, but a prophylaxis or a way to support your horse's organism. Supplementing can:

  • provide properly balanced diet,
  • supplement lacks caused by dietary mistakes,
  • lower disorders of body functions, including particular organs,
  • complement vitamin, macro- and microelements deficiency,
  • support healing processes (hyaluronic acid),
  • alleviate symptoms, working narcotically and anti-inflammatory.

dodatki i suplementy dla koni

MYTH: If a horse takes a supplement for some time, he would have to take it for the rest of his life. 

A lot of supplements cannot be administered constantly, because of their toxicity. Constant administration of a supplement might be necessary, but only when the horse's organism does not produce particular substance and it was confirmed by tests, and a veterinarian expressly stated so (for example in case of genetic defects).

MYTH: Supplements are healthy and can be used without limits. 

Each substance is digested and processed in a particular organ of the horse's organism. Depending on the kind of the substance, it can hinder and slow down the particular organ (kidney, liver, stomach), or even the whole system (e.g. digestive). Which is why you cannot administer supplements without limits and for a long period of time. If you want to give your horse a supplement more frequently and for longer than its producer recommends it, you should consult a veterinarian. What is more, you should run a blood test for detailed blood count and organs' profiles (e.g. liver profile).

Which supplements to choose?

Unfortunately, supplements do not come under as strict regulations as medications do. It applies not only to supplements for horses, but also for people (that's right, all these wonderful specifics for hair and nails do not necessarily work). Low quality of products is usually caused by application of cheap substances of not very high quality. Sometimes in one product you can find ingredients that exclude each other actions (it mostly applies to herbs). More than that, sometimes it happens that supplements are toxic, because they are contaminated with heavy metals and pesticides. However, most well-known companies would not accept this kind of negligence. Thus, it is worth investing in products of tested producers, but also consult your choice with a trusty veterinarian.

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Supplements and their behavioural effects on horses

Do you realise that the way you feed your horses influence the way your horses behave? Apathy or excessive activity might be caused by faulty diet. Sometimes all you have to do, is change the diet to achieve surprising effects.

Calming effects have magnesium, herby preparations with melissa or hop. What is interesting, meadow grass and high quality hay also have this "calming" effect. They contain thiamin, which is crucial in the neural conduction. Thus, it is very often an ingredient of calming mixtures for horses. Lecithin has similar effect.

Apathy is usually caused by inaccurate ratio between calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg). If there is much more calcium in the horse's organism than magnesium, he might become a lazy and sleepy donkey.

Since we already know that diet has such an effect on our pet, it's worth observing him to notice all the positive and negative changes in his behaviour and look for causes in the diet.

Supplements for joints

Each year, numerous tests are being conducted on the in vitro model (in laboratory conditions), which results are being published. Unfortunately, very few test are run on the in vivo (live animals) model. So it is hard to say whether the orally administered supplements are working good enough. Foregoing tests confirm only that the orally administered supplements are weaker than those administered directly to joints.


  • The latest test has shown that supplements may improve general comfort of the horses' movements, quality of their gaits and their joints performance. Products containing glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, hydrolized collagen, MSM, cetyl myristoleate cause such effect.
  • Joints supplements should be administered to young horses, because they're in a phase of constant growth, but also to the elder ones to improve their joints mobility, ease their movements and sooth their pain and discomfort resulting from moving. Supporting joins is also for horses who are exploited in sports - you should administer supplements to them as protection against overloading and injuring their joints.
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Building muscle tissue

This type of supplements are the most common on the market. They are responsible for muscles growth and their protection. Such supplements are administered to sport horses, but also those having problems with muscle tissue (inflammations, degeneration etc.).


  • Many substances in supplements that are responsible for extension of muscle tissue is considered a doping and figure on the Equine Prohibited Substances List published by FEI (International Federation for Equestrian Sports). If your horse takes part in competitions, you should check the composition of administered supplements to make sure you won't get eliminated and suspended.
  • Administering dimethyl glycine (DMG), creatine and phosphocreatine too often and too much might be very dangerous.
  • Gamma-oryzanol may cause increased production of testosterone and endorphins (the so-called happiness hormone). It is also a good antioxidant, which supports fighting biological effect of stress and physical effort - free radicals.

MYTH: L-Carnitine has possitive effect on horse muscles. 

When it comes to people, L-Carnitine decreases fatty tissue, improves growth of muscle tissue and lowers the feeling of exhaustion during training. But unlike many people say, it does not affect horses so positively. After administering it, the horses have more of it in their plasma, not muscles. What is more, this substance is poorly absorbed in the digestive tract.

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Electrolytes and such

In order to "regenerate" a horse after effort, during which he sweated a lot, we tend to use electrolytes. It's worth considering - does our pet need them at all?


  • Healthy horse, training and starting in friendly weather conditions (temperature above 25 Celsius degrees) generally does not need electrolytes.
  • Usually, low levels of basic elements cause liquid-electrolyte issues in the organism, thus the horse might sweat excessively. Such problems might also indicate kidneys dysfunction, which is why you cannot ignore them. Before administering electrolytes to your horse, you should get to know if basic elements levels are proper in his organism, running appropriate tests: blood count, kidney profile and urine test.

MYTH: Electrolytes can be administered before a start. 

Remember that administering electrolytes increases horse's thirst. Which is why you should give them to your horse at least two hours before competitions, providing him with constant access to room temperature water. Two hours is how much it takes for the horse's organism to distribute mineral salts through blood to places, where they're needed. It makes no sense to administer electrolytes too early or too late, cause the moment when your horse regains "freshness" might not coincide with the start.

MYTH: Electrolytes can be administeres without limits, even for a long period of time, because the horse's organism will get rid of the excess. 

Unfortunately, administering electrolytes too often to your horse might cause irritation of the digestive system, but also cause enduring diarrhoea and dehydration. The same applies to administering them once but in large amounts. Regular intake of electrolytes might also result in peptic ulcer disease.

We presented only a little piece of information from the sea of data. You get the glimpse of how complicated this topic is. Despite out good intentions, it is not worth "playing" a dietary expert and totally mindlessly administer supplements to your horse. If you want to take care of it, go into details of the topic, reading proper books and consulting your choices with a veterinarian. Otherwise, it might be that instead of improving your horse's health or physical shape, you will achieve the opposite effect...

  1. Wymagania żywieniowe koni wyczynowych, M. Jank, P. Ostaszewski, MW 2002
  2. Żywienie koni, M. Helmut, C. Manfred, Państwowe Wydawnictwo Rolnicze i Leśne 2015