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If the phrase “well-rounded equestrian” was in the dictionary, it would be accompanied by a photo of Dr. Clair Thunes.
Growing up in England, Clair competed in all disciplines, including eventing, show jumping, dressage, gymkhana, trail, fox hunting, hunters, and side saddle. She played polo in college and helped prepare FEI-level dressage horses with a local trainer. She also owned and trained a young BLM mustang and competed him in dressage and eventing before selling him on to a youth competition home.
And oh, Clair also has a master’s degree in animal science and a PhD in nutrition, both from the University of California at Davis. And since I’m always on the prowl for savvy horse folk, I asked her to explain the basics of the very confusing world of equine supplements, and she graciously complied. After reading this and talking with her, I’m convinced that I need to make a few changes, such as add more sodium to our horses’ diets.
The Equine Diet and Supplements: The Basics of What You Need to Know
By Dr. Clair Thunes
With the dizzying array of supplements available both in feed stores and online it can be a very complicated task to figure out what, if anything, your horse needs. You can easily find yourself administering multiple products a day, often with overlapping ingredients, or throwing your hands up in despair and avoiding them all together. One of the main things I do as an independent equine nutritionist is to evaluate the diets that owners are feeding their horses to see whether they are optimal.
Generally speaking (and there are always exceptions when it comes to horses), a large proportion of the horse’s daily nutrient requirement will be met by the forage in the diet. For those in little or no work, or who are easy keepers, no additional source of calories beyond forage may be necessary. However, forages are not necessarily the most balanced source of minerals, and some minerals like selenium may be lacking, depending on your geographic region and soil quality.
If you are feeding hay as your forage source, vitamin E may also be low. A vitamin mineral supplement to balance your hay and ensure adequate trace minerals and vitamins will be needed. There are lots on the market, but many of them do not provide enough of the necessary nutrients for a horse on an otherwise all-forage diet. For advice on which one would be best for your horse given the type of hay you are feeding, your location and your horse’s specific needs, contact a qualified equine nutritionist.
For those whose horses are working and/or cannot maintain their condition on forage alone, an additional source of calories will also be required. If calories are provided through the use of a fortified commercial feed and the feeding directions are followed, then the minerals and vitamins generally lacking in the forage should also be provided, and the ration should be fairly well balanced...
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