Deciding on an adequate nutrition program for your horse can, at times, be a frustrating endeavor. There are so many differences, and plenty of questions. What type of feed should you use, how much should your horse get, how do you ensure all of your horse’s nutritional needs are being met? Combine that with differences in the quality of hay from field to field. First to second cut, and nutrient loss over time - it can be really tough to provide the best possible diet. Feeding a general multi-vitamin can help ensure that your horse is getting the vitamins and minerals they need.
Multi-vitamins include A, D, E, and the B-complex vitamins. Most horses can meet their requirements of vitamin A simply by grazing. However, especially here in northeast Ohio, horses are unable to graze year round. Even in climates where it doesn't snow, the vitamin content of grass changes with each season. For those of us who deal with snow and cold weather, when switching from pasture grass to hay over the winter for our horse's forage requirements, we need to consider the impact storage has on vitamin content.
What to Look For
Hay, no matter what quality, will lose vitamins, especially vitamin A over time. The hay we are feeding in February, March, and April is of significantly lower quality than the same hay that was fed last September or October. Because vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin, horses are capable of storing it for a certain amount of time. This can somewhat offset the content lost in hay over time. However, towards the end of winter it may be a good idea to look for alternative sources for vitamin A.
Vitamin D is readily available, especially during summer months, as horses can obtain all they need from the sun. Again though, not all of our horses are turned out all day during the winter months. Some show horses are kept stalled and turned out either for short amounts of time, or in indoor arenas only. For these horses, vitamin D supplementation is important as well.
Horses in strenuous work during the winter months have and horses suffering from muscular system disorders need extra help. Supplemental vitamin E and the mineral selenium can be very valuable and help prevent certain disorders.
The B-complex vitamins are water soluble, and some are produced in sufficient quantities by a horse’s digestive system. Depending on the quality of grain and hay being fed, you may wish to supplement B vitamins as well. For instance, Biotin, a B vitamin, has been shown to increase the health of the hoof. Biotin is a common ingredient in most hoof supplements. By using a multi-vitamin approach to supplementing your horse’s diet, you may be able to provide enough Biotin to eliminate that hoof supplement.
Extra Ingredients for Multi-Vitamins
Other ingredients to look for in multi-vitamins are minerals, amino acids, and pre- and pro-biotics. When looking at mineral levels, one thing to pay attention to is the calcium to phosphorous ratio (it should be somewhere close to 1.5 : 1). Look to see if your supplement is supplying chelated minerals or inorganic minerals. Chelated minerals are minerals chemically combined with at least one amino acid, and are thought to be more bioavailable than inorganic, or raw minerals. Choosing a supplement with a pre- and pro-biotic to help your horse’s efficiency of digestion is always a good idea.
Accel and Accel Lifetime by Vita-Flex are two excellent choices for a general vitamin and mineral supplement. They provide a comprehensive range of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and several strains of pre- and pro-biotics. Vita-Plus, a Farnam product, is another good one, as is Dac’s Orange Superior. I feed Progressive Nutrition’s Pro Add Ultimate, and have had excellent results in topline conditioning, coat bloom, and hoof health. This particular supplement, similar to Purina’s Super Sport, is a high protein, amino acid supplement with added vitamins and minerals.
Take a close look at the numerous multi-purpose vitamin and mineral supplements we have to offer. I am sure you will be able to find one that fits the needs of your horse and budget. You can bridge the gap between your feeding program and your horse’s nutritional requirements.