Dr. Cameron Stoudt, DVM, outlines some benefits and guidelines for supplements.
Walk into any feed store and you’re sure to find rows of supplements available, all touting ways in which they’ll help your horse. The variety and sheer amount on the market can feel overwhelming, but Dr. Cameron Stoudt, DVM, has some advice on wading through to find the products right for your horse’s needs.
Types of Supplements
While there are many types of supplements made for horses, Stoudt feels a handful of categories are most beneficial for horses who are heavily competing and on the road.
This category of supplements includes chondroitin sulfate, which supports cartilage production and improves joint comfort, as well as inhibiting inflammatory mediators. Glucosamine has been shown to support the production of cartilage, while slowing cartilage’s breakdown.
Hyaluronic acid assists in decreasing joint inflammation, therefore improving joint comfort.
Some common all-around nutritional supplements include products such as Platinum Performance or MVP Exceed 6-Way, for examples; as well as omega-3 fatty acids, which are supportive in allergy response, skin, coat, gastric and muscle health. There are many others on the market that are also effective and beneficial.
Electrolytes include sodium chloride, magnesium and calcium. Stoudt says all of these minerals work to maintain a horse’s physiological equilibrium. Electrolyte deficiency can eventually lead to dehydration, especially when the horse is sweating copious amounts.
Gastric supplements include omeprazole-based products, which are FDA-approved treatment of gastric ulcers in horses. They assist to decrease the amount of acid produced in the stomach and can be used as a treatment and prevention of gastric ulcers. Probiotics are also in this category. Stoudt says most probiotics can be considered direct-fed microbials. They deliver live bacteria to the digestive tract, and in turn, these healthy bacteria colonize the digestive tract and improve digestion.
How Do Supplements Help?
Instead of thinking about supplements as a magic pill or the answer to all your problems, Stoudt instead reframes the idea as an extra benefit.
“No matter what supplements you choose, I consider supplements as an added bonus,” Stoudt said. “Supplements should not be treated as a ‘fix’ for a problem but potentially can add to a solution.”
Stoudt feels that more important than any additional product, a foundation of feed and management is key.
“In my opinion, nothing takes the place of a good nutritional base and program, solid exercise program that helps to prevent injuries and potential joint issues, and rest when necessary, while competing and on the road,” Stoudt said.
Stoudt cautions against piling on too many products, especially when given orally or in your horse’s food.
“Please always watch to make sure if you are ‘top dressing’ their grain, that they are continuing to eat appropriately,” Stoudt said. “I find ‘too much of a good thing’ sometimes can be less beneficial if the horse stops eating appropriately in the long run.”
Some supplements cause a horse to become hot or change their attitude, in Stoudt’s opinion.
“Please consult a veterinarian if this becomes a problem,” Stoudt said.
She says if the amount you are using exceeds the amount of actual grain given, that is too much.
“If you are stressing constantly about what to give, when, where—that is too many,” Stoudt said. “The addition of supplements should be an easy transition and not change the horse’s usual program while on the road.”
Any Supplements to Avoid?
This is a tricky question, but Stoudt sticks with science when evaluating whether or not to recommend a product.
“I personally only try to suggest supplements that have been FDA-approved or have significant scientific studies and positive proof to support the use of the product,” Stoudt said.
Does Your Horse Need a Supplement?
Remember, supplements are not considered a fix for your horse, says Stoudt. She recommends using supplements only as a bonus to help the horse.
“For example, I might suggest a joint supplement to support a horse’s joint that we know has joint disease or extend the time between potential joint injections, especially if the horse has been on the road for an extended period of time,” Stoudt said. “I also might suggest a nutritional supplement to assist in keeping a horse’s weight consistent while on the road, or a gut protective supplement to assist in preventing ulcers while on the road.”
The less complicated your regimen, the better, says Stoudt.
“My personal opinion on supplements is to keep it simple,” Stoudt said. “Figure out exactly what works for your horse, what that horse’s true issues are, and fine-tune what supplement you are using, what for, and when. Supplements can sometimes become too much of a good thing but can also be extremely beneficial when used appropriately and for the right reasons.”
This article was originally published in the September 2021 issue of Barrel Horse News.