Dry times and a lack of fresh pasture is a real issue in some parts of the country at the moment, causing vitamin deficiencies in horses reliant on hay for roughage. Fresh grass is rich in vitamins, but vitamins do not store well in hay, and should be supplemented whenever your horse is relying on hay for the majority of the daily roughage requirement. Hay starts losing its vitamin content as soon as it starts drying out, and by the time it has been stored for 12 months, there are virtually no vitamins left.
Vitamin E and B1 are often the first to become limiting in a diet, so when comparing supplements, look at the relative levels of these vitamins. Remember when comparing supplements to compare on EITHER a per dose or per kilogram basis – as a daily dose of a supplement will only contain a fraction of the amount present in a kilogram of the product.
Even horses grazing green grass usually need to have vitamin E supplemented. And whilst the hindgut microbes in a healthy, happy horse usually produce enough vitamin B1 for a horse, the levels often need topping up for hard-working horses and during times of stress.
The omega 3 fatty acids naturally supplied by fresh grass do not store in hay. These naturally anti-inflammatory fats are responsible for balancing the pro-inflammatory omega-6 oils that do survive in hay and grains. There are various ways of supplementing omega 3 fatty acids to tip the omega 3:6:9 ratio back into a balance including fish oil supplements, chia seeds and linseed (flaxseed). Contrary to common advice, linseeds can be fed whole, although many still prefer to use freshly ground linseed meal or stabilised oil. The plant form of omega-3 (ALA) is converted to the algal and fish forms (EPA and DHA) inside the horse but the process is inefficient (only 5 to 10 percent conversion). This means that EPA and DHA can be supplemented at a much lower rate than ALA with the same benefits.
The mineral content of hay will be similar to the mineral content of the fresh grass from which it was made.
Vitamin A is used for night vision, bone development and is vital for the mucus linings which are the body’s first point of defence against infection. Vitamin A is produced by your horse from the beta carotene in the diet, but beta carotene is very quickly oxidised from hay and must be supplemented if horses are not grazing plenty of fresh pasture. A couple of carrots a day or a quality vitamin and mineral supplement will provide enough vitamin A to top up the ration.
Your horse uses four of the eight B group vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and pantothenic acid) to utilise energy from the carbohydrates and fats in the diet. Biotin, important for hoof and hair health, is also part of the vitamin B family. Therefore it is important to choose a multi-vitamin supplement for performance horses which includes a suite of B-group vitamins rather than just thiamin and riboflavin.
Vitamin D is used to protect bones and joints and maintain muscle function. It is produced by the body when oils in the skin are exposed to sunlight, so a supplement is advised when a horse is stabled full-time or washed with shampoo regularly enough to remove skin oils.
Vitamins C and E are important antioxidants which help by neutralising free radicals in the body. High performance horses have an increased need for these vitamins because the stress of intense exercise creates more free radicals than encountered at lower work levels. Vitamin C is not normally supplemented as horses manufacture their own supply and research indicates their ability to absorb it from the diet is uncertain. Vitamin E works hand in hand with selenium but be careful not to overdose on selenium, particularly if you provide your horse with a suite of energy feeds and supplements.
Equine Vit&Min Premium Blend, TropiCAL-PRO and Equine Vit&Min Omega-3 PLUS Premium can take the worry out of balancing the diet of your hay-reliant horse. They provide the necessary minerals and sufficient vitamins to fill in the dietary gaps for ALL key vitamins and minerals, without risk of toxicity when fed according to the directions.
Equine Vit&Min Omega-3 PLUS Premium combines a highly stable proprietary source of EPA and DHA Omega-3 fatty acids and Natural Vitamin E blended with our proven Premium Blend to create an even more comprehensive ration balancing supplement for high performance or hay fed horses. It is a cost-effective and convenient solution for feeding horses on diets high in Omega-6 fatty acids. Equine Vit&Min Omega-3 PLUS Premium contains ten times more Omega-3 than Omega-6 and is able to balance the fatty acid ratio across the whole diet.
Another option is the NEW Farmalogic Omega Balancer is a highly stable omega-3 supplement that can be added to any diet without need for refrigeration to provide 7 times more omega-3 than omega-6 to achieve fatty acid balance.