Multivitamin and mineral supplements are commonly used by horse owners, to increase a horse’s essential nutrient intake, and give peace of mind.
Why Use Horse Vitamin and Mineral Supplements
There are many situations in which a horse may benefit from additional vitamin and mineral provision. In particular this may be needed when they have compromised nutritional intake or digestive ability and some of the most common are:
Recovery from Long Illness or Surgery
Nutritional demands are high in horses recovering from illness. The body uses up many nutrients in fighting infections and repairing injuries, all while the horse may be in appetent or have reduced feed intake. Supplementation in these horses ensures nutrient supply to maintain recovery and return to normal condition.
As a horse ages, its digestive efficiency is reduced, meaning less nutrients are absorbed from the feed. While work rate may be reduced, the feed quality requirements are even greater. Supplementation in older horses ensures nutrient requirement are met.
Horses on Poor Quality Diet
Diet quality is inexorably linked with a diet’s nutrient content. Poor quality diets are cheaper because they lack vitamin and mineral fortification. Without additional vitamins and minerals, horses on poor quality diets inevitably fail to thrive due to lack of nutrient provision.
Horses Fed Straight Grains
The traditional horse diet of straight grains is relatively low in vitamins and trace minerals. This can be a problem for performance horses, where the nutrient requirements are elevated. Supplementing horses on a grain based diet; helps balance the vitamin and mineral requirement.
Young Growing Horses
Rapidly growing horses have the greatest requirement for vitamin and mineral supplements in this group ensures their needs are met and growth rates are maintained.
What are vitamins and what do they do?
Vitamins are organic molecules required in small amounts by the body to maintain essential functions. While the body can produce some vitamins, the level of synthesis may not be enough to support requirements. Vitamins are divided into two broad categories, water soluble vitamins and fat soluble vitamins. The water soluble vitamins are the B vitamins and vitamin C. The fat soluble vitamins are A, D, E and K. Typically water soluble vitamins have very limited storage in the body.
As an organic molecule, vitamins are unstable overtime. When incorporated in mixtures, they deteriorate over time.
Some of the vitamins typically provided by an equine multivitamin and mineral supplement include:
Vitamin A has many important functions principally skin and eye health and is stored in the liver.
B vitamins refers to a group of vitamins, members which have a numerical suffix or are known by their scientific name such as B1 (Thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin), B3 (Nicotinic Acid), B6 (Pyridoxine) and B12 (Cobalamin). While each member has some specific functions, they are all broadly involved in the energy release from carbohydrates or proteins, fat breakdown and protein synthesis.
Biotin is a B vitamin, which is particularly important for coat and hoof strength in horses.
Vitamin C functions in the immune system, particularly respiratory health and scavenges free radicals to restore function to vitamin E. It can be created by the liver in horses.
Vitamin D is necessary for calcium absorption from the gut and is of particular importance in young growing horses and broodmares. Some vitamin D can be produced by the skin from exposure to sunlight.
Vitamin E is one of the most abundant antioxidants in nature. It acts to trap and inactivate harmful free radicals which protects against cellular injury in the body.
Vitamin K is essential for blood clotting and can be stored in the liver.
What are trace minerals and what do they do?
Trace minerals, also known as “trace elements”, are inorganic materials required by the body in small amounts to carry out essential functions. They must be provided by the diet, as the body has no capacity to synthesis trace minerals at all. As inorganic materials however, there can be poor absorption of trace minerals from the intestine, this can be improved by joining the mineral to a protein as these are more readily absorbed. There is some capacity for the body to store trace elements. As inorganic molecules, trace elements are stable over time. When used in mixtures they remain useful for a long time.
Some of the trace minerals typically provided by an equine multivitamin and mineral supplement include:
Copper is involved in soft tissue growth and hair pigmentation; it also has roles in red blood cell and skeletal development.
Iron is a key element in the formation of haemoglobin, the molecule which carries oxygen around the body.
Selenium functions in the body’s antioxidant defence mechanisms through its use in the Glutathione Peroxidase System. It acts to protect the body against the damaging effects of free radicals.
Iodine has a key role in thyroid function. The thyroid hormones regulate energy use and metabolism within the body. Iodine is also critical for fertility.
Cobalt is required in small amounts, which the body uses to create Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) and is also used in the release of energy from carbohydrates by cells.
Manganese is required for carbohydrate and fat metabolism and also has a role in the production of joint cartilage.
Zinc is an important co-factor in many enzyme reactions in the body and has a particular role in skin health and wound healing.
Which Supplement Do I Choose?
When choosing a multivitamin and mineral supplement, you should compare products based both on the variety and concentration of vitamins and minerals included.
When the goal of supplementation is to increase the nutrient content of the diet, a supplement with a broad variety of vitamins and minerals is most appropriate.
Where a specific problem is suspected or identified a targeted supplement with a high concentration of selected vitamins or minerals is more appropriate.
How to Feed a Horse Supplements
It is also important to pay attention to usage instructions, recommended feeding rates and use by dates. Using supplements developed for other species, or feeding over the recommended amount can be at best wasteful or worst dangerous for your horse. Horses have limited capacity to absorb certain nutrients such as Iron. Over supplementing these nutrients, will result in the excess nutrients being eliminated. Other nutrients such as iodine have unlimited absorption, but over supplementing these nutrients can be toxic to a horse. We know that vitamins are unstable over time and the vitamin content cannot be guaranteed past the products use by date.
Multivitamin and mineral supplements are useful when your horse is in need of extra nutrients or an overall increase in the nutritional value of their diet. They are an easy-to-use, addition to the feed, that can be relied on to benefit your horses nutritional intake.