Do No Harm – Are the supplements in your feed room actually helping your horse?
Zach Bruggen D.V.M.
There are literally thousands of equine supplements on the market. Many supplements promise to improve a horse’s performance, promote joint health, improve skin and coat conditions, increase healing after injury, etc. What horse owners need to know is that supplement claims aren’t as rigorously monitored as say equine vaccines or drugs. In this article, I am going to give you a few considerations from my veterinary perspective, as well as my personal experience as a horse owner with supplements.
First and foremost, let’s talk about bioavailability, which means how your horse is able to utilize the supplements it's given. If the ingredients aren’t bioavailable, your horse’s body can’t actually use them and they are just excreted. It also is important to look for supplements that contain the ingredients your horse actually needs to improve their health and/or the condition you are hoping to address. Don’t be afraid to ask your veterinarian if you are unsure. Now is a perfect time to schedule a late summer exam to make sure your horse is sound and fit for the fall shows and also review your nutritional program to determine if they have any recommendations from a veterinary perspective.
Several years ago, I started feeding my personal horses the Equinety Horse XL amino acid supplement. This supplement helps repair the body at the cellular level. In addition to an amino acid supplement, I wanted to add an oil to my horses’ diet. Until the Equinety Ultimate OEC was released, I had not found an oil on the market that met my high expectations. The oils that were available either contained sugars, starches and/or fillers, could even be potentially harmful to the horse, or did not have the right combination of ingredients I was after for my performance horses.
Omega-6 vs. Omega-3
Oils that are high in omega-6 fatty acids (soy, rice bran, sunflower and corn for example) are actually pro-inflammatory. It is better to feed oils high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are more anti-inflammatory in nature. Our horses are under enough physical stress and we certainly do not want to increase the inflammation in their bodies with a supplement.
Horses that have access to good pasture and a balanced grain diet will normally not have a clinical deficiency in their fatty acid levels. Forage tends to be higher in omega-3s, but grains that are sugar and starch-based tend to be higher in omega-6s. A horse that does not have access to good pasture, like many stall-bound performance horses, will greatly benefit from a high-quality, omega-3 oil supplement because their diet is probably lacking the essential fatty acids they need for performance.
In addition to being anti-inflammatory, a diet rich in omega-3s can help horses with metabolic conditions like Cushing’s Disease and Equine Metabolic Syndrome, reduce the effects of chronic lower airway inflammation (heaves), increase fertility in mares and stallions and improve cardiovascular and joint health. Owners also will see the horse’s coat and skin condition improve. The Equinety Ultimate OEC is a flaxseed-based oil that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Plant Based Vitamin E
Another ingredient I was looking for in my quest for an oil supplement was plant-based vitamin E. I did not want vitamin E that was derived from petroleum, which is called synthetic vitamin E, because it has virtually no bioavailability to the horse – meaning it is not well-utilized. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that is stored in the liver. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps maintain healthy muscle, immune and nerve function. A shortage of vitamin E might mean more oxidative damage occurs in cells throughout the body, including those in muscles, nerves and immune cells. When a horse’s workload increases, their need for antioxidants, including vitamin E, also goes up. Natural vitamin E that is derived from plants, like that found in Equinety Ultimate OEC, has high bioavailability and is going to be processed by the horse’s body appropriately.
The third ingredient in Equinety Ultimate OEC I really appreciate is colloidal silver. Colloidal silver has several benefits and has been used in human medicine for a long time. First, it has natural antibacterial and antimicrobial properties that can help boost our horses’ immune systems, allowing them to stay healthier and, if they do get sick, hopefully reduce the intensity of the illness. It also helps regulate gastrointestinal pH, which can help prevent gastric ulcers and finally, increases a horse’s thirst, which helps prevent colic, tying up and other problems related to dehydration.
With so many supplements on the market, it is important for owners to turn to their veterinarian for guidance. We certainly don’t want to unintentionally make our horse’s condition worse by feeding them a supplement that is imbalanced and/or not complementary to their diet and lifestyle. For my barn, feeding the combination of Equinety Horse XL and Equinety Ultimate OEC has taken our horses to the next level. They look and feel better than they ever have and I truly believe this is because the Equinety Horse XL is repairing their bodies at the cellular level and Equinety Ultimate OEC is nourishing their bodies at the cellular level. In my opinion, that is a powerful combination. I would encourage you to talk with your veterinarian to find out if the Equinety line is right for your horses too.