Equine Nutrition - Nutritional Supplements

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No. I do not consider ration balancers a balance approach to feeding horses. If you want to add vitamins and minerals to just a hay diet then my general recommendation usually is to feed a generic vitamin and mineral supplement but only feed half the dose recommendation.

A fundamental in digestion is that feeding high levels of nutrients actually will decrease the absorption rate; …thus for the saying “more is NOT better”. The gut contracts to move feeds through the gut. The gut is also designed into segments that have different roles in digestion thus vitamins, minerals, amino acids (protein), soluble carbohydrates (sugars/starch), fatty acids (fats), fiber and water have segments in the gut that they are more predisposed to be broken down and absorbed.

Below is a portion of what I have written on ration balancers and this fact sheet should be in Dr. Bray’s Corner. Nevertheless I have included the fact sheet on ration balancers and feel free to contact me if I can help with specific feeding program for your horse.

Ration Balancers are feeds concentrated in protein, vitamins & minerals. This type of feed usually fed 1 - 2 lbs per day is not a major energy source and thus depends on the VFAs from forage digestion. VFAs are an inefficient/lower energy source that are primarily produced in the hind gut which is an important consideration with horses’ whose energy requirements are above maintenance.

Balanced diets require a relationship of nutrients to nutrients and nutrients to energy. Bolus feeding a concentrate with excess nutrients, such as excess protein, vitamins & minerals, is not a balance approach. A “one feed fits all” bolus of nutrients also contradicts the established, known differences in energy and nutrient requirements relative to production or work level. A horse feed should be selected based on specific life stage and work level.

Excess/bolus dietary protein may…

  1. reduce efficiency and enzymatic digestion of protein with bolus feeding of protein
  2. adversely affect microbial population in the gut
  3. have an adverse effect energetically on performance
  4. have a detrimental effect on growth and possible increase occurrence of growth disorders
  5. lead to subclinical dehydration
  6. add work overload to the functions of the kidneys and liver
  7. metabolically shift energy utilization to the cellular breakdown of excess protein
  8. increase wasted energy given off as heat
  9. adversely influence protein - calorie ratio balance

Protein daily requirements of adult horses range from 0.5 to 1.4 grams per pound of body weight. A pleasure horse has different nutrient requirements than a working horse, growing horse different than young adult horse, pregnant mare different than lactating mare, and so on. One also needs to know the feed ingredients that are providing the protein; label ingredient listing of “plant protein sources” is an outdated approach with equine product labeling.

One of the most fundamental principles in animal nutrition relative to protein requirements is that “excess protein translates to…

  • excess nitrogen that needs to be eliminated from the body,
  • and excess nitrogen is processed in the kidney,
  • therefore the horse drinks more water,
  • thus more frequent urination & urine volume,
  • and a stronger ammonia smell”

Excess/bolus dietary minerals may…

  1. adversely influence growth and possible increase occurrence of growth disorders
  2. interfere with other nutrient utilization and absorption, such as calcium & zinc adversely influence nutrient - calorie ratio balance

Are you adding the calcium supplement for the orchard grass or bone cyst? The supplement you referenced has other macro and trace elements besides calcium. Adding a macro mineral supplement is what I would recommend unless there was evidence of a true symptomatic deficiency. Calcium is well regulated in the blood and, relative to the bone cyst, feeding additional calcium does not make biological sense.

In general, calcium and phosphorus ratios will vary with West Coast orchard hay. Orchard grass on the East Coast traditionally has an inverted calcium/phosphorous ratio which is why clover is often planted with orchard. Due to the inconstancies with the Ca-P ratio of west coast orchard, I will suggest feeding approximately 10-15% of the total forage as alfalfa.

I am not supportive of ration balancers because of the concentrated nutrients, a formulation practice by some companies that does not parallel my thoughts on a balanced formula to complement the forage portion of the diet. Meal feeding a concentrated supplement of selective nutrients also does not parallel how the gut functions during digestion/absorption of nutrients for non-ruminants such as the horse.

Equine Age is a balanced formula and any other vitamin and mineral supplement is overkill. Adding oats actually cuts the nutrient-calorie and nutrient-nutrient ratio of the formula and is not necessary.

Feeding one to 1.5 pounds mornings and evenings would be a start for an aged horse that I assume is not active. The actual amount will depend on how much hay pellets and hay are fed. Continue to soak the feed and you should still offer small amounts of long stem hay even though her molars are gone. If maintaining body weight is difficult you can add fat with Integrity Rice Bran or liquid oil.

Selenium (Se) concentration will vary with the maturity of the hay, soil condition, and region grown. I would also need to know more about your horse and how many lbs of orchard hay is being fed and if there are any other feeds fed besides orchard and timothy pellets.

The company that supplies Star Milling with timothy pellets does not test for the trace elements in forage pellets. This is standard practice due to the variability of trace minerals in particular feedstuffs, the multiple sources of timothy in making the pellet, and the expectation that the animals are being fed supplemental feeds to balance the diet.

Because of the variability of Se levels in forages, feeding a maintenance ration of a balanced formula or a vitamin/mineral supplement will provide the safeguards. The benefit is that Se has a relationship with Vitamin E, and when considering Se concentration, Vitamin E levels must also be considered. You DO NOT want to feed just a Se supplement.

You did not indicate how your horse is used, but if inactive and weighs around 1000 lbs, then feeding 1 ½ lbs of Integrity Lite will work, or feeding half the amount recommended of a generic vitamin/mineral horse supplement.

Supplementing your horse with electrolytes will depend on several factors: diet, type of hay, other feeds, & supplements; is a salt block available & used; temperature and humidity; type of exercise, length and intensity; and horse’s fitness. If your horse is on a balanced diet and you are riding during the cooler part of the day, then for your question, no.

Commercial electrolytes are expensive and if you are feeding a balanced commercial feed mix, like Integrity, the formula will contain a minimum of 0.5% added salt (sodium chloride) and is balanced for key nutrients, potassium, calcium & magnesium, that are electrolytes. Some performance commercial mixes may contain 1% added salt.

Electrolytes are important for a number of body functions including fluid balance, muscle function and nerve function. Where there is water loss there will be electrolyte loss which includes not just sweat but also through the urine and feces. A balanced diet will replace the electrolyte with normal water loss but horse owners are not sure when that threshold of normal water loss occurs. If you have a horse that is worked or even stabled in a hot and/or humid climate then consider the overall nutritional management factors.

  • Feed a good quality hay; alfalfa is a good source of calcium, potassium, so considering the forage feeding guidelines, alfalfa at 25% of the daily forage is workable
  • Feed a commercial mix that is a balance formula, like the Integrity feeds
  • Always allow free access to water
  • Provide a salt block
  • Provide shade and a well ventilated stall

There is a heat index scoring system that has been around that provides an empirical guideline of when temperature and humidity are too much. I could not identify the original source of this Index so I apologize for not giving credit to the source.

The empirical formula, F° + %RH > 150, is the sum of the temperature (Fahrenheit, F°) and the percent relative humidity (%RH). When the total score is greater than 150 and the % humidity contributes approximately 50% of the total than the horse may be compromised in cooling. The numerical scores and guidelines are as follows.

Index Score Guideline
< 130 Heat loss should not a problem
> 150  Heat loss is compromised especially if humidity contributes more than 50% of the total score
150 - 170  Exercise with caution and observe your horse; electrolyte supplementation should be considered
> 180  little heat dissipation can occur; look for a better time to ride

If you decide you need to provide electrolyte supplementation, add to the feed or administer directly into the mouth in a paste form. I do not recommend adding electrolytes to water sources. Adding to the water does not allow control of the amount consumed and may adversely influence drinking. There are commercial preparations but they are expensive. A home recipe to consider is mixing 2 parts table salt and 1 part Lite salt; lite salt is a 50/50 blend of table salt and potassium chloride.


  • If you have concerns with temperature and/or humidity then provide the electrolyte supplementation 2 hours before exercise, every 2 hours during exercise and 2 hours after exercise. Obviously you will need to use your horse experience to make the best call. The amount will vary depending on the conditions as stated above. In general, horses not sweating excessively, administer 2 ounces per day of this mixture prior to exercise. Horses that are sweating in a hot and humid condition will need more; need 3- 5 ounces of this mixture in 2 – 3 doses.
  • If you are going on a trail ride for a couple of hours than administer 2 hours before and monitor the sweating and drinking to determine if an additional dose in needed a couple of hours after the ride. Be sure the horse is provided several opportunities to drink.

The oil type is not important—corn, soy, canola—select for best price. The question of oil type has evolved from the emphasis of the omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acid relationship for human diet. Horses are herbivores and fat is not a significant portion of their diet compared to a carnivore (meat eater) or omnivore (meat & plant eater). Horses actually have a low fat requirement because they are herbivores and what’s interesting is that we know there are 3 essential fatty acids that are required by mammals but that requirement has never really been established via research as with other domestic animals.

Both Integrity Lite products are low in starch and non-structural carbohydrates but obviously the no molasses product will have less non-structural carbohydrates. There is a Q&A recently posted on Integrity Lite starch content on this page.

Liquid measuring cups do NOT equate to dry measurements. I prefer you weigh the feed but the last time I checked, approximately 1/2 of a small coffee can is actually 1/2 lb. for the Integrity Lite with molasses.

I do not recommend feeding individual feeds such as oats, corn, etc. as an add-on or supplement to a horse’s diet. A balanced formula is designed to provide nutrients and energy sources to address the established nutrient requirements of a horse relative to their lifestyle. Feeding a balanced formula that complements the forage portion of the daily diet has always been my recommendation.

There are a couple exceptions to this recommendation. I am an advocate of adding (or top-dressing) fat (i.e. oil) to the diet as a fuel source. In addition, there are occasions in which I will recommend adding beet pulp to a horse’s diet for the additional benefits of promoting “gut integrity”. So, if you want to add energy to your horse’s diet, feed a balance formula but the formula you need does not have to be loaded with corm, barley or rice bran. Our Integrity Growth would be my recommendation for this age and beginning training level.

Integrity is a balanced formula to complement the forage portion of your horse’s diet. The formula is balanced for the 48+ nutrients required by the horse including biotin, zinc, copper, calcium, etc. which is a few of the ingredients in the over-the-counter supplements that you specifically referenced. The Integrity formulas also contains soluble fiber sources which are in the “family” of prebiotics as well as it contains a yeast culture. I do not generally recommend over-the-counter supplements for horses that are being fed a balance formula to complement the forage portion of the diet. If a horse is maintenance fed and can be maintained on only hay or pasture, then depending on several factors including geographic location and forage sources I may recommend a generic-complete vitamin/mineral supplement.

The diarrhea is most likely not related to feeding. Considerations to explore include deworming schedule, dental health, time of day worked, temperature where stabled and temperature when worked, horse’s temperament prior to work, and overall body condition relative to exercise deportment. I am not a big fan of daily psyllium supplementation and there is a fact sheet on those thoughts in Dr. Bray’s Corner. If your horse has been diagnosed by a DVM with ulcers and joint problems then I would visit with your vet about more proven treatments then the over-the-counter supplements. The Integrity formulas provide adequate levels of biotin, lysine and methionine which are the primary ingredients being marketed by your hoof supplement.

The two products you referenced in your inquiry are different. One is a supplement that is NOT a balanced formula which promotes coconut meal as an ingredient. Coconut meal is a high protein source (~21.0% crude protein) and very low fat source (~2.2% crude fat). I do not consider the composition of coconut meal anything special in formulating horse feeds and the ingredient is very expensive. The other product you referenced is an extruded feed and the extrusion process has been around for many decades.

Probiotics, electrolytes, and minerals are not needed when feeding Integrity because they are part of the formulation. Integrity feeds have balanced formulas that complement the forage portion of the diet relative to all the nutrients and energy required by horses. The formulas are fortified with yeast culture, probiotics and prebiotics that nourish the microflora of the horse’s gut and are fortified with vitamins & minerals. The fat source rice bran and the protein/fat source ground-flaxseed are also ingredients of the Integrity formulations. Integrity also contains the soluble fiber sources (beet pulp & soy hulls) that promote gut integrity and these two soluble fiber sources are primary ingredients in the formulas.

Integrity Adult/Senior is the choice I would suggest for your working mare. This formula contains less fat and the ingredient panel’s differences with your current feed are an important factor. The intensity of working bouts, the amounts of feeds (weights) and the mare’s estimated body weight would be helpful in order to provide you additional feeding guidelines.

The commercial product you are now feeding contains 12% crude protein, 15% crude fiber and 12% crude fat. The first 4 ingredients of your textured feed are beet pulp, cane molasses, whole oats & oil. High fat feeds, such as this one (8% and higher), have their place with horses that are working at the intense to heavy levels of competitive performance or during the first 10 weeks of lactation. However for light to moderate working horses (which I am assuming your mare is in that range), I prefer a balanced formula that is 4 – 7% crude fat and has more variety in the Ingredient panel before the molasses ingredient shows up. Molasses is the 2nd ingredient in the formula you are feeding. The amount of molasses in a texture feed can vary from as low as 3% to as high as 16%. Since ingredient panels list feed quantities of the formula in descending order then molasses is the 2nd ingredient in total weight in that formula. Molasses is NOT one of the ingredients I want to see in the first 4 ingredients listed.

In Integrity Adult/Senior the first four ingredients are beet pulp, soy hull pellet, soybean meal & rice bran. Molasses is the 6th ingredient. This Integrity formula’s guarantee analysis is 13% crude protein, 6.5% crude fat and 16% crude fiber. The 6.5% fat content of this formula is for a very good reason. Fat is an excellent source of fuel and also is an alternative to high starch grains. My approach is that if a horse needs more energy via fat during periods of more intense workouts then I can just add (top-dress) oil to the amount being fed.

One of the benefits with oil is that unlike other feedstuffs oil provides fat, an energy feedstuff that does not contain other nutrients that when top-dressed would adversely influence the nutrient content of the original formula. If a horse needs more or less fuel for work then the flexibility of when to add or reduce the energy via oil does not significantly alter the amounts of feed being fed and does not adversely influence the levels of nutrients being fed. In other words, minimizing the type of feed changes that have the potential of influencing the gut environment unfavorably. Next to meeting energy & nutrient requirements, my number one goal in feeding horses is taking care of gut integrity thus consistency is important.

The fact sheet What to Feed your Horse provides the type of information that is helpful when I am answering feeding questions. For example, how much of the Integrity Lite are you feeding per day? Is the trail riding mostly at a walk, walk/trot, etc.? What is the estimated body weight of the Quarter horse? If the 24 year old is an average size Quarter horse than approximately 1 flake of hay per day would not be adequate forage without the pasture-grazing every day. In general, if the trail riding is light (horse is warm or slightly damp at the end of the ride) and the body weight is around 1050 lbs. then you would feed approximately 2.5 – 4.0 pounds per day of Integrity Lite along with your current pasture/hay feeding. When feeding adequate amounts of a balanced formula, like the Integrity product line, a vitamin/mineral supplement is not needed.

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