Sup­ple­ments That Solve Prob­lems

Does your horse have weak hooves? A dull coat? Achy joints? Di­etary sup­ple­ments for horses are avail­able to ad­dress a wide va­ri­ety of is­sues. But for the best re­sults, take a tar­geted ap­proach.


Ask three horse­men about the role of sup­ple­ments in a horse’s diet and you’ll likely get three dif­fer­ent an­swers. As the num­ber of avail­able prod­ucts has grown over the past two decades, so too has the de­bate over how and when they are best uti­lized.

Yet one rule is uni­ver­sally rec­og­nized: “Give only what a horse needs.” Ev­ery vet­eri­nar­ian and nu­tri­tion­ist will tell you that un­nec­es­sary or overzeal­ouss sup­ple­men­ta­tion isn’t only a waste of money, it can lead to nu­tri­tional im­bal­ances. For in­stance, a se given a vi­ta­min sup­ple­ment in ad­di­tion to a grain for­ti­fied with vi­ta­mins may in­gest an over­dose of cer­tain nu­tri­ents, which can be detri­men­tal to his health. It’s much, much safer and more ef­fec­tive to first iden­tify your horse’s di­etary needs and then shop for a sup­ple­ment that meets them.

The ten­dency to re­verse this or­der is un­der­stand­able. If your friend’s mare looks fab­u­lous af­ter be­ing started on a par­tic­u­lar sup­ple­ment, for in­stance, it’s tempt­ing to put your own horse on it. The mare, how­ever, may have been miss­ing some­thing in her diet or had a spe­cific prob­lem that your own horse does not. In that case, you won’t see the same ben­e­fits. In fact, your horse may have a dif­fer­ent deficit or need that only a dif­fer­ent sup­ple­ment can ad­dress.

For­tu­nately, sup­ple­ments are avail­able to ad­dress nearly ev­ery prob­lem a horse can have, from poor-qual­ity hooves to creaky joints to ex­citable be­hav­ior. Here’s a sur­vey of the ba­sic cat­e­gories of equine sup­ple­ments avail­able, along with a run­down of the in­gre­di­ents you are most likely to find in each one. Once you’ve had a look, dis­cuss your horse’s needs with your vet­eri­nar­ian and get ready to go shop­ping.

Calm­ing sup­ple­ments con­tain nu­tri­tional and herbal in­gre­di­ents aimed to “set­tle” anx­ious horses by af­fect­ing the ner­vous sys­tem. Com­mon in­gre­di­ents:

• mag­ne­sium, a min­eral that plays a role in hun­dreds of bio­chem­i­cal re­ac­tions within the body, in­clud­ing mus­cle and nerve func­tion

• thi­amine (vi­ta­min B1), a com­pound found in fresh for­ages that help• the body con­vert car­bo­hy­drates and fat into en­ergy and is crit­i­cal to proper func­tion of the ner­vous sys­tem

• va­le­rian, an ex­tract from the dried root of the flow­er­ing plant Va­le­ri­ana of­fic­i­nalis, which con­tains com­pounds be­lieved to in­ter­act with cer­tain neu­ro­trans­mit­ters; used since the times of the an­cient Greeks to re­lieve rest­less­ness, anx­i­ety and in­som­nia

• chamomile, an ex­tract de­rived from the flow­ers of the peren­nial herbs Ma­tri­caria re­cu­tita or Chamaemelum no­bile; used for thou­sands of years to treat in­som­nia and anx­i­ety

• L-tryp­to­phan, an amino acid that is a pre­cur­sor to the neu­ro­trans­mit­ters sero­tonin, which in­duces calm­ing and mela­tonin, which en­cour­ages sleep

• tau­rine, the or­ganic acid abun­dant in an­i­mal

tis­sue that plays a sig­nif­i­cant role in many neu­ro­logic func­tions

in­os­i­tol (vi­ta­min B8), an or­ganic com­pound in­te­gral to the health of cell mem­branes; re­search sug­gests that in­os­i­tol sup­ple­men­ta­tion can aid in treat­ment of panic disor­ders, bipo­lar de­pres­sion and obsessive-com­pul­sive dis­or­der in peo­ple rasp­berry leaves, the dried fo­liage of the rasp­berry bush, are high in vi­ta­min C, tan­nins and other nu­tri­ents; long thought to af­fect mus­cle tone

al­pha-ca­sozepine, a pro­tein de­rived from milk that is be­lieved to have a nat­u­ral calm­ing ef­fect on nurs­ing young­sters Spe­cial con­sid­er­a­tions: Many sport and show as­so­ci­a­tions re­strict the use of some calm­ing agents prior to com­pe­ti­tion. Joint-care sup­ple­ments aim to sup­port the health of struc­tures such as the car­ti­lage be­tween bones and the syn­ovial fluid in the joint spa­ces.

Com­mon in­gre­di­ents: glu­cosamine, an amino su­gar, is one of the build­ing blocks of car­ti­lage pro­duc­tion and re­pair

chon­droitin sul­fate, a large pro­tein mol­e­cule, is a con­stituent of con­nec­tive tis­sues and car­ti­lage

hyaluro­nan (hyaluronic acid), a key struc­tural com­po­nent of syn­ovial fluid, con­nec­tive tis­sue and car­ti­lage

MSM (methyl­sul­fonyl­methane), is an or­ganic com­pound that is a source of sul­fur, which is nec­es­sary for the pro­duc­tion of col­la­gen

yucca, an ex­tract from the roots of a species of yucca, a flow­er­ing desert plant; a source of saponins, com­pounds with both an­tiox­i­dant and anti-in­flam­ma­tory prop­er­ties avo­cado-soy­bean un­saponifi­ables (ASU), ex­tract from the oils of avo­cado and soy­bean; early re­search sug­gest ASU slows the pro­duc­tion of some in­flam­ma­tory chem­i­cals in the body, thereby pro­tect­ing car­ti­lage

boswellia, an ex­tract from the gum resin of Boswellia ser­rata, a tree na­tive to In­dia; re­search sug­gests that it has anti-in­flam­ma­tory prop­er­ties.

ascor­bic acid (vi­ta­min C), the fa­mil­iar wa­ter-sol­u­ble vi­ta­min and an­tiox­i­dant; re­quired for the syn­the­sis of col­la­gen and con­nec­tive tis­sue.

Spe­cial con­sid­er­a­tions: The in­gre­di­ents in joint sup­ple­ments are among the most stud­ied by sci­en­tists. How­ever, the lev­els vary from prod­uct to prod­uct. Read and com­pare labels to se­lect a sup­ple­ment with the de­sired amount of your pre­ferred ac­tive in­gre­di­ents.

Hoof sup­ple­ments are de­signed to im­prove the qual­ity of hoof horn, lead­ing to stronger hooves. Com­mon in­gre­di­ents:

bi­otin, a B vi­ta­min that sup­ports the pro­duc­tion of ker­atin, a pro­tein that forms the ba­sis for hair and hoof horn; stud­ies have shown that bi­otin sup­ple­men­ta­tion im­proves the growth

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