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Honos Horse Sense: Intentional Supplementation

Honos Horse Sense, where we have quick conversations on common equine nutrition topics.

Supplements are an endless conversation in the horse world, but today, we’re going to quickly discuss what we consider to be the most important approach to supplements: being incredibly intentional. 

There are two sides to being intentional about supplements, and both can play a big role in a supplement’s effectiveness and impact on your horse’s health.

  • Intentional formulation: supplements are formulated using scientific findings, provide effective forms AND amounts of nutrients, and use consideration for a horse’s requirements and the rest of the diet. 

  • Intentional supplement utilization: assessing what is in your horse’s current diet, filling in the gaps with supplements, or purposely adding/increasing nutrients (ie, Vitamin E) or ingredients (ie, MSM, HA, etc) to enhance your horse’s diet while maintaining diet balance.

If a product contributes to an imbalance, it begins to have less benefit overall. As nutrition is so much about balance, more is not always more when it comes to supplementing. This sentiment has been proven to have negative consequences in research findings: for instance, excess Methionine, Selenium and Phosphorus contribute to reduced hoof horn quality, likely due to associated imbalances with other nutrients (Kempson, 1998). 

While feeding some nutrients above requirements can be beneficial, it very much depends on the nutrient being supplemented, as well as the composition - and balance - of the rest of the diet. Imbalances can result from a product being used in inappropriate situations, but some products are not formulated to reduce the risk of imbalance. 

For instance, we often see supplements that are formulated for the performance horse, and they're formulated with added levels of nutrients such as Iron. When we look at nutrient requirements that increase with exercise, we do see some increased requirement for Iron as exercise load increases - but remember, Iron is a trace mineral, so it’s only needed in small amounts. 

We must also consider the composition of the horse's diet. And what makes up, or should make up, the bulk of the horse's diet? Forage. Plants usually contain Iron concentrations that provide way more Iron than the horse needs. 

So not only is adding Iron into a supplement going to be redundant, it also increases the chance that there's going to be an imbalance with other trace minerals. This is where supplement formulation really needs to be intentional and consider the whole picture. This also leads us into why it's important to consider the whole diet when choosing a supplement.

Intentional Supplementation

Unintentional supplementation is the reason behind common “ineffective” supplement trials by horse owners - similar to our recent post on why a feed may work for your friend’s horse and not yours, knowing the WHY behind the reason for using a product can help you achieve better results. The same is true for supplements as well - we want to address the base-balance of the diet, and then enhance the diet to elicit the intended benefits. 

For instance, a vitamin/mineral supplement may not be helping your horse much because mineral concentrations are not sufficient to top off requirements and maintain diet balance. Going back to the Iron example, if the supplement contains high concentrations of Iron but low Copper, and you’re already feeding a diet that likely has similar trends (common in forage-based diets), your Iron to Copper ratio will not be restored to an ideal balance.

A calming supplement may not help your horse because their current diet is contributing to gut discomfort. A fat supplement may not promote weight gain because their diet is lacking quality protein. Knowing the ‘weaker’ parts in your horse’s diet is what allows you to supplement intentionally, and then achieve the benefit you are looking for.

We want you to know the intent behind why you feed a supplement, which is why we include this information in our nutrition consulting services and science communications. 

For instance, we may recommend you add a supplement with DHA to your RAO horse’s diet, as research has found that 1.5-3 grams of DHA supplementation improved symptoms in horses with RAO (Nogradi et al, 2015). 

This recommendation provides you with valuable information: 

  • What ingredient you need to supplement (DHA): Instead of suggesting that you put your horse on a respiratory supplement (vague and confusing due to the vast array of products available), knowing exactly what ingredient you want to be supplementing can help you select products with intention. 

  • How much to feed (1.5-3 g DHA per day): Using feeding rates that showed benefits or improved symptoms in research studies presents a sound strategy in achieving that benefit for your horse, and helps you know how much you want to be providing.

  • Products that are intentionally formulated will provide levels of active ingredients which match the existing evidence.

How to Supplement Intentionally 

  • Know the why behind the supplements you are using: “the barn uses it” or “my coach recommended it to me” might be your starting point, and that is more than okay, but use this opportunity to follow up with them to learn the real why. 

  • When you select a supplement, consider what you are aiming to provide with that supplement - for instance, a joint supplement: you’re going to want to make sure this supplement provides your horse levels of the active ingredients that are sufficient to help manage inflammation.

  • Remember that more is not always better, and depending on the formulation of the supplements you are using, they may throw your horse’s otherwise balanced diet out of whack!

Want help with your nutrition or supplement program? Check out our Nutrition Consulting and Product Breakdown services, and let’s connect!


Kempson, SA. 1998. The adverse effect of certain dietary supplements on the structure and function of the hoof horn. Conference on equine sports medicine and science, 24-26 April 1998, Cordoba, Spain., 1998, 245-248. 

Nogradi N, Couetil LL, Messick J, Stochelski MA, Burgess JR. 2015. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation provides an additional benefit to a low-dust diet in the management of horses with chronic lower airway inflammatory disease. J Vet Intern Med 29(1):299-306. doi: 10.1111/jvim.12488. 

Rueda-Carrillo, G.; Rosiles-Martínez, R.; Corona-Gochi, L.; Hernández-García, A.; López-Navarro, G.; Trigo-Tavera, F. Comparison of the Mineral Profile of Two Types of Horse Diet, Silage and Commercial Concentrate, and Their Impacts on Hoof Tensile Strength. Animals 2022, 12, 3204.


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