Instore Pickup & Local Delivery


Your Cart is Empty

  • Add description, images, menus and links to your mega menu

  • A column with no settings can be used as a spacer

  • Link to your collections, sales and even external links

  • Add up to five columns

  • January 04, 2024 4 min read

    Supplementing Your Horse on a Forage Only Diet

    Does your horse need a supplement if its diet consists of only hay and pasture? Well, the answer is yes. Horses have evolved to roam vast pastures and consume a diet consisting of grasses and forage. In their natural habitat, they would have had access to a wide variety of plant species, each contributing a unique blend of nutrients, such as grasses, herbs, trees and bark. However, domesticated horses often have limited access to diverse forage sources, and their diets may be primarily hay-based. While forage is essential for their well-being, there are compelling reasons why horses on a forage-only diet need to be supplemented with vitamins and minerals to meet their nutritional requirements.

    Limited Nutrient Content in Forage

    While forage, such as grass or hay, provides essential fibre and some nutrients, it typically falls short in providing the full spectrum of vitamins and minerals necessary for a horse's optimal health. The nutrient content of forage can vary widely depending on factors like soil quality, plant species, maturity at harvest, and storage conditions. In fact, as soon as hay has been harvested, it starts to lose nutrients, in particular Vitamins A and E, and it is these nutrient losses that can be detrimental to a horse’s health.

    Horses require a balanced diet to thrive, with key nutrients including vitamins (A, D, E, and B-complex) and minerals (calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and more). Without proper supplementation, horses may not receive adequate amounts of these vital nutrients from forage alone.

    Nutritional Imbalances

    Forage-only diets can lead to nutritional imbalances in horses. For example, some forages, such as kikuyu or couch grasses, contain oxalate which binds calcium in the plant making it unavailable to the horse through digestion. This can potentially lead to skeletal issues if not corrected through supplementation.

    Similarly, imbalances in other minerals like sodium, potassium, and magnesium can affect a horse's overall health, potentially leading to issues such as muscle cramping, electrolyte imbalances, or metabolic disorders.

    Nutrient Requirements Vary by Age and Activity Level

    The nutritional needs of horses vary depending on their age, breed, size, and activity level. Young, growing horses have different requirements than senior horses or those in intense training. Forage alone may not meet these varying nutritional demands, making supplementation necessary to bridge the gap.

    Environmental Factors Affect Forage Quality

    The quality of forage can be influenced by environmental factors like weather, soil conditions, and seasonal changes. During droughts or in regions with poor soil quality, forage may lack essential nutrients. Horses that depend solely on this forage may suffer from deficiencies over time.

    Dental Issues and Digestive Efficiency

    Dental issues, common among older horses, can impact their ability to effectively chew and digest forage. In such cases, supplementation becomes even more critical to ensure they receive the necessary nutrients in a more digestible form.

    Maintenance of Overall Health

    Proper nutrition is fundamental to a horse's overall health. Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals can lead to various health problems, including compromised immune function, poor coat condition, reduced energy levels, and susceptibility to diseases.

    Types of Supplements for Horses on a Forage-Only Diet

    Supplements are available in various forms, each serving a specific purpose in addressing nutritional gaps in a forage-only diet. Here are some common types of supplements for horses:

    • Vitamin Supplements: These provide essential vitamins such as vitamin A, D, E, and the B-complex group. Vitamin A is crucial for vision and immune function, vitamin D for calcium absorption, and vitamin E for muscle and nerve function.
    • Mineral Supplements: These address mineral imbalances and provide essential elements like calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and trace minerals (e.g., copper, zinc, selenium). They help maintain strong bones, muscles, and overall metabolic health.
    • Electrolyte Supplements: Electrolyte supplements are essential for horses in heavy training or hot weather. They help maintain proper fluid balance, prevent dehydration, and support muscle function.
    • Protein Supplements: Forage-only diets may lack sufficient protein for horses in high-performance or growth stages. Protein supplements can help bridge this gap and support muscle development.
    • Joint Supplements: Older horses or those with joint issues may benefit from supplements containing glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM to promote joint health and reduce stiffness.
    • Digestive Aids: These supplements can include probiotics and prebiotics to support digestive efficiency, especially in horses with sensitive digestive systems.
    • Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplements: These supplements help improve skin and coat condition and may have anti-inflammatory effects.
    • Herbal Supplements: Some horse owners opt for herbal supplements that can provide specific benefits, such as calming herbs or supplements for respiratory health.

    Determining Supplement Needs

    To determine your horse’s supplement requirements, it is best to conduct a feed analysis. This can be done through using a trusted feed and nutrition calculator, or by consulting with a qualified equine nutritionist. To get the best and most accurate results however, it is best to conduct an analysis of the hay that is being fed as well as the pasture. In this way, you can be sure of the nutritional value in each feedstuff, which will allow you to supplement effectively. 

    It is always recommended that you consult with your equine nutritionist or veterinarian to determine a suitable diet for your horse before making any significant changes.

    Monitoring and Adjusting

    Regular monitoring of a horse's health and condition is essential when introducing supplements. Observing changes in coat condition, energy levels, weight, and overall demeanor can help determine the effectiveness of the supplementation regimen. Adjustments may be necessary over time based on the horse's changing needs.

    While forage is the foundation of a horse's diet, relying solely on it may not provide all the essential vitamins and minerals needed for optimal health. Nutritional imbalances, varying requirements, environmental factors, dental issues, and digestive efficiency can all contribute to deficiencies in horses on a forage-only diet. Supplementing with the appropriate vitamins and minerals, as recommended by a veterinarian or equine nutritionist, ensures that horses receive the nutrition necessary to thrive and enjoy a healthy, active life. Remember that every horse is unique, so a tailored approach to supplementation is key to their well-being.

    Leave a comment

    Comments will be approved before showing up.