Should I give my horse supplements?

If you want to support your horse’s appearance, performance, or overall health and well-being, then the answer might be yes!

Many people who feel they benefit from taking supplements also want their horses to experience the same positive results. Horse caretakers are becoming more aware that supplements support their equine through every stage of life, by bolstering good nutrition, promoting healthy performance, and helping with specific concerns as their horses age.

In some cases, an owner may start their horse on a supplement simply because another horse in the barn is having good results while on it. However, this is not an appropriate reason to reach for a supplement — these products are not magic bullets. In addition, each horse is unique and what works for one horse may not work for another.

The best approach to supplementing is to think of the horse’s health and wellness care as three-dimensional, with many components — nutrition, exercise, routine veterinary care, visits from the farrier, and supplements — all working together to help create a long, healthy, and active life.

Identifying the specific area in a horse that may need additional support – such as appearance, performance, or overall health and well-being – is the best way to go about choosing a supplement. Is the horse’s coat dull? Does he seem anxious? Does he come out of the stall stiff? In some cases, it may be wise to consult a veterinarian first to rule out a more serious disease or condition.

Working with a veterinarian is also important if a horse has a previously diagnosed issue, as some supplements may contain ingredients not recommended for horses on certain medications. Also, supplements are not a substitute for FDA-approved prescription medications that may be necessary to treat a disease or to manage it.

Many horse owners and trainers take a proactive approach when selecting supplements. For example, if a young horse is about to begin a strenuous training program, adding a joint supplement to help support him as his exercise routine ramps up can be a good idea. Or a performance horse about to start a stressful travel and competition season may benefit from the addition of a digestive supplement to his program.

There are many scenarios in which proactively adding a supplement could benefit an individual horse. However, supplements cannot take the place of quality nutrition or a safe and enriching environment in which each horse has daily opportunities to graze, socialize, and practice natural horse behaviors.

Finally, when buying horse supplements, be sure to look for the NASC Quality Seal. This tells you the product comes from a responsible supplier that has passed a comprehensive facility audit and maintains ongoing compliance with NASC’s rigorous quality standards. Visit nasc.cc/members for a complete list of NASC member companies that have earned the Quality Seal.

Are you a competitor?

If so, it is important to know whether a supplement you are considering contains an ingredient forbidden by the governing body you compete under, such as FEI, USEF, or AQHA. Don’t simply trust claims by supplement suppliers that their product is “show safe.” Instead, research the ingredients, learn both the common and scientific names of any herbs, and refer to the banned substances list for your organization to help ensure your horse does not fail a drug test at a sanctioned event. If in doubt, call or email your organization directly for advice.