Drowning in Supplements

It’s something that, as horse owners, we all think about…what is the best way to keep my horse sound and healthy?  Most of the time, this is when we begin researching “supplements”.  With so many products on the market, this task can quickly turn into more than we bargained for.  Some supplements are vet recommended, some claim to be “all natural”, some are “herbal”, while others are not, some claim to target specific issues, while others are more “all inclusive” for overall health.  For those of us who compete, the task of choosing the right supplements is even more challenging, because we have to make sure that anything we feed our horses is USEF compliant.

So, how does the average person possibly sift through all of the thousands of products on the vast and ever growing market?  Do we rely on reviews from actual horse owners, or do we consult our veterinarians?  Do we consider more heavily priced, or ones with “proven” effectiveness?  Do we “try them all” or stick with a more conservative approach?  Personally, I have been down this road many times; I have sat in front of my computer doing research until my eyes feel like they are filled with sand.  I still don’t have all the answers, but I have managed to come up with something that seems to work well for my specific needs.  For this article, I spoke with five horse people, from the basic weekend warrior to the professional trainer, and I got a lot of interesting perspectives that I think will prove quite useful.

The one thing that kept echoing in my mind was really what is best for the horse.

I asked everyone the same three questions: 

  1. Do you supplement your horses?  Why or Why not? 
  2. How did you decide upon the supplements that you use?
  3. What supplements do you use. 

I found everyone’s answers quite enlightening in different ways.

Tanya DiCompelli

Professional Horse Trainer and Competitor – Discipline: Dressage

I supplement all of my competition and school horses regardless of their age; if they are on the circuit or working doing lessons, they get support.  I tend to stick with a fairly simple approach.  My horses work; they’re athletes, and just like human athletes, they need the best possible nutrition to be on the top of their game.  Picking the right products is difficult, because there are so many on the market and it seems like everyone (vets included) has a different opinion about what’s necessary for overall health.  I base my regiment on what has worked for me over the years, and I focus mainly on things that support the joints and digestive system.

Favorite Supplements:
 – Cosequin ASU (Joint Care)
– Succeed (Digestive Maintenance)

Melanie Evans

Amature Competitor – Disciplines: Western Pleasure, Trail, and Horsemanship

I purchased my current mare when she was eight years old.  I show on the Quarter Horse circuit, and the competition is pretty tough; I show about once a month at either a big show or a schooling show.  I feed my mare a couple of daily supplements, and they were all pretty much recommended by either my Vet or my trainer.  My mare is naturally a little on the nervous side.  She stresses out a little when we travel, which is weird because we do it so much!  Because of this, I give her a digestive support supplement and a calming supplement (USEF legal, of course).  I worry a lot about ulcers, but it seems like if you support your horses with a good digestive product on a daily basis, the risk of developing ulcers is reduced a lot, and you don’t have to worry about stress colic.  I also give her a daily wormer because we travel to so many different places and I don’t want to worry about all the exposure to different parasites.  My friends who use paste wormers seem to have more trouble with their horses getting “wormy” than I do.  Oh, and I give her a coat supplement that has made a huge difference in shine and mane and tail growth.

Favorite Supplements:
– Exceed 6-way (all inclusive Joint, Gastric, Coat, Hoof, Digestion)
– Quiessence (Calming Supplement)
– Strongid C (Daily Wormer)
– SmartDark and Handsome (Coat Condition)

Lynda Thomas

Trail Rider – Disciplines: Western Trail Riding/Pleasure Riding

Both of my horses are really healthy and are generally easy keepers, I’ve been really lucky.  I pretty much only have other trail rider horse friends, not too many show horse friends, but a lot of my friends still supplement their horses even though they don’t ride every day or compete.  I like to take a conservative approach.  If my horse doesn’t need something, I’m not going to feed it to him.  I think too many people throw away a lot of money on supplements hoping to fix or prevent problems rather than just keeping things simple and seeing a vet if a problem comes up.  I’m not against supplementing if my horses need something, but right now, both of my boys are supplement free.  I do sometimes use a calming supplement that I just buy at the feed store and give on an as needed basis, but that’s it.

Favorite Supplements:
– VitaCalm (Calming Support)

Ron Martinez

Professional Horse Trainer and Competitor – NRHA Reining

At any given time I’ve got at least ten horses in the barn of my own, that’s including my hardcore competition horses and the babies I’m just bringing up.  I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’ve done a lot of different things when it comes to supplements over the years.  When I started out, I didn’t believe in giving my horses anything unless I really had to, but I’ve pretty much done a 180 on that over the years.  Right now, all of my horses get joint support, even the three year olds, this is something I feel really strongly about.  I feel like when you start giving them help early on, they have longer careers and perform better; that’s just been my experience.  A few of them get digestion support, a couple get calming supplements, a couple of the mares get stuff designed just for them (ladies usually do), and I use a feed through wormer because it’s just easier than paste.  I’ve been able to keep horses that would probably be arthritic or dealing with ulcers healthy, and I think that’s because we supplement.

Favorite Supplements:
– Cosequin ASU (Joint Support)
– TractGuard (Digestion)
– Strongid (Daily Wormer)
– Grand Calm (Calming Supplement)
– Mare Magic (Mare Supplement)
– Select Brand MSM (Inflamation)

Joshua Johnson

Competitor – Disciplines: Team Roping

I’ve been rodeoing for years, and I’ve had a lot of horses that have made me a lot of money.  I think it’s only fair that I use some of that money to keep my horses as healthy as I can.  I also think most people overuse supplements; I know one lady who feeds her horse a mixture of different stuff three times a day, and it’s just crazy.  My two horses I have right now are only on one supplement, and I think for now it does the trick, but if down the road they needed more I’d give it to them.  I usually find the stuff that I use by asking around, it’s always worked for me.  Supplements are good, but they don’t take the place of a good schooling program and good hands-on care.

Favorite Supplements
– Platinum Performance (General Supplement)

In speaking with all of these great horse people, the one thing that kept echoing in my mind was really what is best for the horse, which made me really happy.  Everyone seemed very concerned that their horses receive the best nutrition possible.  I also noticed that most people seem concerned mainly with joint support, digestive support and parasite control, with a little “calming” thrown into the mix.  These are the areas that I, as a competitor, am most concerned with as well.

In the end, I think it comes down to a balanced, informed approach to horse health.

In the end, I think it comes down to a balanced, informed approach to horse health, and really the decisions on supplements are pretty personal.  I give my reining mare support for her joints, digestion and tendons/ligaments; my favorite supplements are Cosequin ASU, SmartSox and Smart Digest Ultra, all purchased through www.smartpak.com , which seems to be the easiest and most cost effective way to feed what I like to feed.  My trail horse, on the other hand, only gets a general vitamin supplement that I buy at the local feed store.  I think it truly depends on how much you use your horse, what you do with your horse, and what you personally feel that your horse needs to be healthy and comfortable.  I would, however, suggest that before choosing any supplement program, it’s a good idea to talk with your vet, if not only to help you avoid spending money where you don’t need to.

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