By Dr. Mariette van den Berg, B. AppSc. (Hons), MSc., PhD (Equine Nutrition)

Similar to the trends observed in human health, the dietary supplements market for horses has grown significantly over the last 25 years. This has resulted in an overwhelming array of supplements available to horse owners/caregivers. Just visit your local horse store, flick through any horse magazine, or scrolling through your social media and you will find any number of advertisements for equine supplements.

Dietary supplements for both humans and horses typically fall into three major categories, as to why people may want to use them; 1) as an aid in the prevention of deficiency – minerals, vitamins, electrolytes; 2) to improve performance – blood tonics, calming agents and; 3) to mitigate health issues - joint supplements, muscle supplements.
For the majority of horse owners, the first category is the most validated as we have a responsibility to ensure the animal is kept in good health, which demands good nutrition. When we stable horses, have limited access to fresh forages, or grazing poor pastures and have higher (sporting) demands, supplementation often plays an essential role in balancing any deficiencies. The other two categories of dietary supplements are also very popular and may have beneficial aspects, but horse owners are not always aware that these specific products often make substantial claims and that depending on your country and legislation the ingredients, concentrations and claims will need to validated and regulated.
Assessing if your horse actually needs some extras and choosing between all the variants can be a big challenge for many horse owners. We never want to under feed our beloved animals but overfeeding can be as harmful. In this article the dietary minerals and their function in the body will be discussed. In part 2 we will have a closer look at the vitamins.

Origin of minerals

When we talk about dietary minerals, we actually mean the chemical elements that living organisms require to maintain optimal health. These dietary minerals can be found in all food materials including plants and animal-derived sources. Horses are herbivores and obtain most their minerals from plants. Plants get their minerals from soil and fungi association. Fungi play a very important role in transporting minerals and energy through the soil, storage of minerals and energy in living cells and transferring minerals to plants. The plant can only be fed when the soil biology and quality is healthy. The plant will take up the inorganic minerals and convert it in the cells to organic forms that sustain the life of the plant and all the organisms that consume the plant. When a mineral is nutritionally organic, it means that it is chelated or bound to an organic compound such as proteins, polysaccharides, amino or organic acids. Horses ingest most of the minerals in these organic forms. Though, horses also may obtain additional inorganic minerals by licking/ eating dirt or rock formations.
Chelated or organic minerals (minerals bonded to ‘small proteins’, peptides, or amino acids) have become increasingly popular in equine supplements and feeds. Research into chelated minerals for horses has focussed on reproduction, immunity, young growing and exercising horses. Although the results of the studies are not conclusive about the uptake action of chelated minerals, it appears that the process of chelating improves the absorption of the minerals from the digestive tract. Because of this bio-availability, chelated minerals can be fed in lower amounts. The only disadvantage is that chelated minerals are expensive... To read the complete article you need to be a subscriber

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