Horse Supplements

Horse Supplements… do you want to entire encyclopedia or just a section of it? Whoo, good, cuz that’s all I’m giving…

An important note is to remember that AERC prohibits many substances, including those of “natural” form, including but not limited to MSM, yucca, devil’s claw, etc. Please be sure to know what you are and are not allowed to use during an endurance event. While you may give MSM, for instance, while conditioning at home, you need to take them off of it several days prior to an endurance event. AERC has a list of prohibited substances on their website.

Every horse is different; I cannot stress this enough. If you are feeding a well-balanced, high quality feed, you shouldn’t need to supplement with a whole lot of extra. It is also very important to note what is in your horse supplements and cross-reference these to make sure you are not doubling and tripling your sources. For instance, if you are considering an iron supplement, many of these also add certain vitamins. While giving extra vitamin E is beneficial, extra selenium is not. While most commercial feeds have all the vitamins and minerals most horses need, if you are feeding strictly oats as your main grain source, you will need to invest in a high quality vitamin and mineral supplement to give your horse what it needs.

The endurance horse has increased work demands and, therefore, increased nutritional demands to maintain optimal performance and tissue repair. I consider this preventative medicine. Prevention is just that, prevention; always better to prevent than to cure.

B Vitamins

B vitamins are a group of vitamins that are water soluble and are not stored in the body and, therefore, must be taken on a daily basis. The B Group vitamins are needed for many body functions and do play a role in the release of energy. B vitamins are lost in sweat as along with electrolytes. If these vitamins are deficient, poor performance will follow. I will list the B vitamins and their functions below:

Vitamin B1: involved in energy production through carb metabolism. Increased conditioning and sweating increases the need for vitamin B1.

Vitamin B2 or riboflavin: important for energy production from carbs, growth, and utilization of feed.

Vitamin B6 or pyridoxine: works with niacin in energy production and blood cell formation.

Vitamin B12 or cyanocobalamin: involved in metabolism of protein, carbs and fat, and works with folic acid in the maintenance of red bleed cells. B12 contains the mineral cobalt. Cobalt plays a role in carrying oxygen in red blood cells and cobalt deficiency causes anemia.

Other B vitamins:

Niacin – involved in fat, carb and amino acid metabolism.
Pantothenic acid – involved in converting carbs, proteins and fat to energy.
Folic acid – works with vitamin B12 in red blood cell formation.
Choline – Involved in fat metabolism for energy, liver function, nerve impulses, and cellular function.

Trace Minerals

I would like to mention some important trace minerals and their functions as I believe there are some important facts every endurance rider should be aware of.

Selenium is an antioxidant and works with vitamin E. While extra selenium can cause a toxicity, a deficiency can predispose a horse to tying up.

Copper plays an important role in bone development, joint cartilage and connective tissue. Cooper also plays a role in the utilization of iron.

Zinc is essential in the development of the hoof, bone and cartilage.

GI Buffers

Aloe Vera is a beneficial addition to any feed program as it serves as a gastrointestinal buffer. You can find this at any health store or most Walmart stores. There are also many GI buffer type horse supplements available at the feed stores; these can be quite pricey and some horses don’t care for the taste, whereas Aloe Vera is not offensive, at least I have not had a horse turn its nose up to it yet! See Ulcers and the Endurance Horse for more information on ulcers and ulcer treatment/prevention.

Joint Supplements

Where to begin… Remember, there are many, many supplements that are not allowed in endurance competition, including many “natural” ingredients such as MSM, yucca, devil’s claw, etc. American Endurance Ride Conference lists these prohibited substances on their website at:

The most popular components in joint supplements are hyaluronic acid and glucosamine and chondroitin. Most supplements will also contain some amount of MSM. There is no concrete research or evidence to show that oral joint supplements are beneficial to the horse, although some owners swear by them. There is also a thought that hyaluronic acid is not beneficial to the horse when given orally, stating that the hyaluronic acid molecule is too large to be absorbed into the system.

In an attempt to obtain a clearer understanding, let’s look closer at what these components are.

Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) are combinations of proteins and sugars and are found throughout the body in several different forms. GAGs are found in blood plasma, mucous membranes of organs, and joints. Hyaluronic acid, chondroitin, and glucosamine sulfate are GAGs and are found in the joints and cartilage of joints. While glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin are found in healthy cartilage, hyaluronic acid is considered a unique glycosaminoglycan as it has a large molecular make-up, making it a good lubricant and shock absorber for joints.

How do glycosaminoglycans work?

GAGs act much like a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory and block the production of damaging prostaglandins (pro-inflammatory agents) that may break down cartilage; thus, decreasing pain and inflammation. GAGs also promote new joint cartilage development as well as hyaluronic acid and collagen so they give a double benefit in the building blocks of both the joint and the joint cartilage.

Joint supplements are available in oral form as well as injectable form, both IM and IV. When considering injections, hyaluronic acid must be given I.V., whereas glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin can be given IM or IV. Adequan and Legend are brand names for polysulfated glycosaminoglycan and hyaluronic acid respectively. There are several generic varieties available.

Some people swear by their joint supplement of choice, whether given as a top dressing to feed or using injections, but I do believe it is an important supplement to consider and I do think it is wise to use this early on in your horse’s career rather than later. I consider it to be an important part of preventative medicine. Again, it is easier to prevent than to cure. Albeit, we are “buying” time from day one, once we are in the cure-mode, we are reaching the end of “buying time.”

Personally, I am a pro-injection advocate on this subject. If you are not educated or comfortable with giving injections yourself, your veterinarian can administer these. Typically, you give a loading dose of one injection each week for four weeks, and then one injection every four weeks thereafter. You can give it more frequent than once a month if your ride schedule dictates a need.

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