How Do Horse Supplements Work With Forage?

How Do Horse Supplements Work With Forage?

Horse supplements work with forage to fill in the nutritional gaps that keep your horse healthy, active, and strong.

Forage (hay and pasture) should form the foundation of your horse’s diet and does give you horse a solid intake of nutrition. However, this means you must be feeding your horse high-quality forage that is free of pesticides, chemicals, and other irritants.

The forage you feed your horse provides energy (calories), roughage (fiber), protein, vitamins, and minerals. While this is essentially everything your horse needs – this type of diet only meets the basics of horse nutrition.

Hence the boom and growth in the horse feed and supplements industry. The word “feed” has become synonymous with a range of horse nutrition options including grains, oats, vitamin and mineral supplements, barley, etc.

It’s important to not get overwhelmed by the range of options in horse supplements and feed that you see when browsing online or in a tack shop. Our goal with this blog post is to help you understand how supplements work with forage and to develop your knowledge of horse nutrition. As always, do contact us with your questions about anything to do with horses, supplements, feed, forage, and health.

Understanding Horse Nutrition

The basics of horse nutrition must include the following five core nutrients:

  1. Carbohydrates
    Carbohydrates should make up the largest portion of your horse’s diet. Horses need two types of carbohydrates – structural and nonstructural.

    Structural carbohydrates represent the fiber your horse consumes when eating hay and grass. Because of how the horse digestive system works, there is incredible nutritional value in feeding your horse grass and hay.

    Nonstructural carbohydrates are the sugars and starches are mostly found in grains and other feed concentrates. Because the horse’s digestive system is designed to digest a high-roughage diet, you must not feed your horse too many nonstructural carbohydrates. It’s important you work with an expert in horse nutrition to understand how to feed your horse nonstructural carbohydrates.

    Remember that your horse should be “fed a minimum of 1% of its body weight in forage (or a dry matter basis); the ideal is 1.5 to 2% of its body weight. Feeding less roughage than this can lead to health issues such as colic and ulcers.” (University of Georgia Extension)
  2. Protein
    Just as it does for us humans, protein in the horse diet is critical for bone growth and support. The protein needs for your horse are based on the age, activity level, and additional health concerns. In general, growing horses, pregnant mares, and lactating mares have higher protein requirements.

    Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. They band together in chains to help form your horse from the very beginning. Think of amino acids as Legos for your horse. It’s a two-step process: amino acids get together and form peptides or polypeptides and it is from these groupings that proteins are made. Amino acids are essential to nearly every bodily function. Every chemical reaction that takes place in your and your horse’s body depends on amino acids and the proteins that they build.
  3. Fats
    Before adding fat to your horse’s diet or increasing the amount of fat you feed your horse, make sure you do a full analysis of your horse’s nutrient intake. Your horse does need fat but be wary that too much fat is not crowding out other much needed nutrients including vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates. Fat does fill a gap for horses who have high caloric needs, but it should not come at the cost of essential nutrients.
  4. Vitamins
    Vitamins play a number of key roles in the diet of your horse. Vitamins are organic, meaning that they consist of complexes of living enzymes. They are needed for healthy body tissue and energy. Vitamins are also important in supporting the immune system, are antioxidant, wound healing, support vision, growth, fertility, blood, bone, muscle, ligament and connective tissue formation to name a few. Learn more about vitamins on our Vitamins & Minerals page.
  5. Minerals
    Minerals are essential for the construction of your horse’s skeleton and, equally important, for the maintenance of the skeletal and other body functions throughout your horse’s life. Minerals are involved in enzyme production, energy transfer, soft tissues and many interactions with vitamins, hormones and amino acids. Learn more about minerals on our Vitamins & Minerals page.

Admittedly, this is a lot of information to understand about horse nutrition – but we want to give you the knowledge you need to ask questions about what you’re feeding your horse and why.

Questions to Ask About Your Horse’s Health

So many people decide to rush in and feed their horse every single supplement and feed option available. As you know this leads to over supplementing your horse and causing other health issues. We understand how this happens – the innate desire to make sure your horse is getting all the nutrients he needs. 

Before over-thinking your horse’s nutrition, ask yourself some key questions about your horse and his health:

  • What is the quality and shine of your horse’s coat?
  • Are your horse’s hooves cracked, brittle, soft, and easily broken?
  • What is your horse’s energy level – does he have enough energy and stamina to ride, jump, etc.? Does your horse seem to tire easily?
  • Does your horse have any existing conditions such as joint or digestive problems? How old is your horse?
  • Is your horse stressed, nervous, or on-edge? 

Your answers to these questions can help you better understand the gaps in your horse’s nutrition. Quality horse supplements created based on horse and nutritional science are formulated to specifically address the nutritional gaps that happen with feeding only forage.

Your horse should be eating a forage-heavy diet and taking supplements to manage and prevent digestive, joint, and hoof concerns and to provide additional nutritional support based on age, activity level, and overall health.

How to Learn More About Horse Supplements and Forage

What to feed you horse and why is a complex subject. Use the following links to learn more about horse nutrition and horse supplements:

Our goal at Grand Meadows is to make sure your horse is healthy, happy, and strong. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you have about your horse or horse joint supplements.

by Nick Hartog

In 1994, Nick Hartog became an owner and President of Grand Meadows Equine Supplements bringing his talents and extensive background in domestic and international equine sales and manufacturing. He has a reputation for plain speaking of the truth. In 1997, when the US horse supplement market was something akin to the Wild West with a complete lack of standards, Nick personally tested 32 different horse joint supplements to see if they matched the label. Unsurprisingly, to him at least, only 2 products matched the label claim. Read more...