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Balanced Equine

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The short answer is it depends, they are neither good nor bad though some are definitely better than others on the market.

A one size fits all, off the shelf supplement is unlikely to provide your horses with a diet balanced in all the minerals. If getting your horses' intake balanced properly isn't possible (based on a pasture or hay test, whichever is appropriate), the next best step is to find the best quality mineral product with significant levels of copper and zinc and no added iron. Mineral supplements can be expensive though and contain ingredients your horses don't need and not enough of what they do need. Let's have a look at one of the popular hoof supplements on the market. This hoof supplement contains the following amongst other 'fillers'. It is typically recommended when horses present with poor hoof growth, thin walls, brittleness or cracks. The idea is to buy a supplement designed for hooves to solve the problem at usually a fairly high price for long term use.

hoof sup Once the problem is supposedly solved then the hoof supplement may be discontinued or it may be a permanent addition to the diet without any real understanding of what was causing the problem with the hooves in the first place. And this may be in addition to a coat supplement because the coat was dull and 'bleached'. You can read about the link between mineral imbalances and deficiencies and sunbleached coatshere. Many horses are over supplemented as owners have nothing better to go on than buy a supplement by its 'problem to be solved' label.

But will this solve the problem? The approach that Balanced Equine takes is to look at the whole diet and to supplement with what is missing and then to ensure that the proportions of the nutrients and minerals are in the right ratios, as guided by the National Research council (NRC) and Dr Eleanor Kellon (VMD).

Poor hoof growth is more likely due to deficiencies in copper, zinc, selenium, vitamin E, inadequate B vitamins like biotin, pyridoxine, folic acid and B12 and possibly the amino acid, methionine.  Amino acids are building blocks for constructing protein. Methionine, an amino acid with a sulfur bond is found in grass and hay so if your horse is on pasture or hay then unlikely that your horse will need supplementing with methionine.  B vitamins are found in in grass and hay and also by the micro organisms that ferment forage so again unlikely to need supplementing.  If there is no deficiency, more is not better. Biotin supplementation has been shown to be effective in some studies but in others it had no effect.  Again grass (and lucerne) is a good source of biotin and unlikely to need supplementing.  Omega-3 (anti inflammatory) and omega-6 (pro inflammatory) fatty acids can also be a problem but again not an issue if the horse is eating grass as the main source of forage. To add shine to your horses' coat at a similar ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 found in grass, simply add 35 ml of animal grade linseed oil to your horse's diet. All other oils have higher omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3. Note: Linseed oil must be refrigerated as omega-3 fatty acids are heat sensitive and fragile. More information on the Linseed, is it safe? page.

Lecithin is an emulsifier that contains fatty acids and the B vitamin choline amongst other ingredients though has been reported to be effective for horses with ulcers. Tyrosine is a non essential amino acid which means that the horse is able to manufacture it himself. Supplementation of B vitamins are less likely to be needed for a horse on pasture or hay. Other ingredients such as alfalfa meal (lucerne meal) and calcium iodate are sources of calcium, which will help if your horse is calcium deficient but if your horse is not, then the extra calcium could throw the calcium to phosphorus ratio out, assuming there is a significant enough amount in the recommended dose.

Hoof changesLegend showing hoof changes

The change in diet from an unbalanced diet to a supplemented balanced diet can clearly be seen in each hoof. 

Neither of these photos have been altered or doctored in any way in Adobe Photoshop or any other graphic manipulation program. The hoof on the left side is from a horse that was having issues with sand cracks and larger cracks. The second hoof is of a horse whose feet despite regular barefoot trimming still continued to be brittle and crack easily.

If you are finding horses with hooves that don't improve, despite your best efforts with regular and timely trimming, then it is most likely that the problem is due to nutritional issues that cannot be solved by trimming alone. Nor can the diet solve all issues wih hooves - hoofcare and diet go hand in hand.

The most common deficiencies that cause hoof, coat and skin issues are copper and zinc as most pastures are poor in these nutrients, particularly copper.  The obvious solution is to find a supplement on the market that can supply copper and zinc.  But how much is needed?  Not only is it best to provide sufficient amounts of these trace minerals as set out by the NRC based on a horse's weight, age, reproductive status and/or workload but it is also necessary to provide them in the right proportions for an optimised, balanced diet.  Too much zinc can block the absorption of copper so excess zinc will set the horse up for a secondary copper deficiency even if you are providing enough copper in the diet to cover his requirement. This could mean the copper goes in and comes out the other end with no effect.

But there is a way to work out how much to supplement and what with.  A pasture  or hay laboratory test will tell you what your horse is actually getting for protein, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and the trace minerals, iron, copper, zinc and manganese and is inexpensive.  Balanced Equine will balance the diet with what is missing and in the right amounts and then provide the 'recipe' for a custom trace mineral mix with copper and zinc and other minerals.  Very easy to put together once you know what your horse needs and a lot cheaper than the commercial supplements, especially in the long run.  Commercial supplements can be used but most are 'throw everything at the horse but the kitchen sink' and hope something will work and the horse has to excrete the rest.  Since no pasture or hay test has come back with results showing the minerals in the correct proportions and in sufficient quantities, no *balanced* commercial supplement or feed is likely to be able to balance a horse's diet as what your horse is getting from pasture or hay and other feeds/supplements is an unknown. 

Further reading:

Woodward MC, Huff NK, Garza F Jr, Keowen ML, Kearney MT, Andrews FM (2014). Treatment of gastric lesions in horses with pectin-lecithin complex, BMC Vet Res. 2014; 10 Suppl 1:S4. Epub 2014 Jul 7.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10696303

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