Cutting Costs: Ditch Supplements That Are Unnecessary

In efforts to save money around the barn, researchers recommend horse owners carefully consider the supplements they're adding to their horses' feed. The researchers behind the 2008 study, "Feeding management practices and supplement use in top-level event horses," said many supplements are not needed, and giving too many can be a waste of money at best and harmful at worst.

For example, many of the study participants fed their horses electrolytes every day, regardless of activity level or ambient temperature.

"The only time horses lose electrolytes is when they are sweating profusely," said Carey Williams, PhD, study co-author and assistant director of extension at the Equine Science Center at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. "This is the only time they would require supplemental electrolytes."

Williams also urged owners to have their vets evaluate their horses before feeding joint supplements.

"(Joint supplements) have never been proven to prevent problems like arthritis," she said. "Watch your horse. If there are no obvious changes three months after initiating the supplement, you could discontinue the supplement. While some supplements have brought about marked improvements in some arthritic horses, others are not affected. Not all horses respond to all joint supplements."

Williams encourages horse owners to compare labels. While one product might be cheaper than a similar one, it might require a higher dose, or have half of the amount of active ingredient in it as the more expensive one.

Additionally, feeding multiple supplements with overlapping ingredients could create problems. Williams said magnesium, selenium, and vitamin A are most commonly overdosed, creating the potential for toxicity.

"In any case, it is best to check with your vet or a nutritionist prior to supplementing due to a physical problem, or when giving multiple supplements," Williams added.

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Jennifer Walker

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