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The Dangers and Drawbacks of Vitamin Pellets and Nutritional Supplements in the Equine World



In the equine world, there is a growing trend of using vitamin and nutritional supplements as a means to enhance the health, performance, and well-being of horses. In their natural environment, horses graze on a variety of grasses and have access to different herbs and plants. This diverse diet provides them with a wide range of essential nutrients in a natural balance. Understanding that a horse's nutritional needs are best fulfilled by offering a diet that closely aligns with their natural environment is crucial.

However, it has become commonplace to administer additional vitamin and nutritional supplements to horses without valid justification. Unfortunately, this practice entails risks that might not be immediately apparent. The (excessive) use of supplements can disrupt the natural balance of nutrients and lead to long-term health issues. It's important to realize that providing a vitamin or nutritional supplement should be the exception rather than the rule.


Usage and Toxicity:

Unnecessary or uncontrolled use of vitamin and nutritional supplements can be harmful to horses. Certain vitamins and minerals have toxicity thresholds, and excessive use can result in serious health problems. For instance, an excess of vitamin A can lead to bone abnormalities, weight loss, and joint pain, while an overdose of selenium can cause neurological issues and muscle stiffness.

A recent small-scale study was conducted in Germany; click the link for the English translation. Gradual Health Damage in Long-Term Feeding of Enriched Ready-Made Feed. Author: Dr. rer. nat. Stefan Brosig (physical chemist)

Unfortunately, we've also witnessed cases in recent years where horses experienced both of the above scenarios. Well-meaning horse owners, unaware of the risks, provide their horses with the same supplemental vitamins and minerals daily. This can result in "mysterious" health issues, baffling veterinarians. Since a "good" brand of feed is given, it often isn't considered a possible cause.




Unwitting Overdosing

  1. Using multiple products concurrently: it's common to see horse owners resort to adding more when trying to solve a problem. If it's not working, add something else. If it's not working well enough, add something more. The more you add, the greater the chance of overdosing your horse, slowly poisoning them. Particularly when products are not compatible, they can form a dangerous or even deadly cocktail for your horse.

  2. Giving too much: A little more because your horse likes it? Or adding more because it hasn't produced the desired result? Especially with highly concentrated vitamin and mineral pellets, where you only need to give a few hundred grams, overdosing can occur quickly. A few extra pellets already exceed the recommended amount.

  3. Consistency: If you feed your horse the same product day in and day out, year after year, you're most likely over- or imbalanced dosing. Why? Simply by applying logical thinking. Every season is different, and horses never eat the same food all the time; that's impossible. In summer, they graze on grass, while in winter, they consume hay. This variation already results in different nutrient levels. How can a product that's always the same compensate for your horse's deficiencies? Even if your horse only eats hay, it's still impossible because no two hay bales are the same. Uneven fields, with varying moisture and sun exposure, result in different grasses and plants in each bale. This is why we're still surprised that people take hay analysis seriously and even use it to formulate products. A hay analysis can only provide a vague indication of what's in your barn. Relying on it for a complete ration is error-prone with dangerous consequences.

Beware of Shortages! Not of Excess?

Many still think that horses have deficiencies and can be solved by adding more. How often do we consider that many health issues can also be caused by excess? It's not without reason that many horses have become overweight in recent years, and there's a rise in diseases associated with prosperity, such as laminitis. Horses' digestive systems are closely tied to nature, and it's essential that they consume as little fast food as possible. These resilient animals spend most of their time eating, so the more the better. This doesn't mean more nutritious is better. Quite the opposite. Even if your horse is thin (make sure it's truly thin and not just perceived as such), it's crucial to understand why it's thin rather than trying to fatten it up with various substances. There's nothing healthy about that.




Building Muscle through Nutrition

Currently, the idea that you can build a horse's muscles solely through supplement feeding is a persistent myth. Does nutrition play a role in muscle building? Absolutely. However, thinking you can build muscle simply by altering the diet is incorrect. Wouldn't it be wonderful if I could change my eating habits and suddenly become a bodybuilder without any effort, apart from time? It doesn't work differently for horses. If you want your horse to develop a better topline, you need to train them in a focused and consistent manner.

Wild horses don't naturally have well-developed toplines. We appreciate these in our domesticated horses for riding purposes. This is a significant difference between wild horses and our sport horses. Wild horses don't need an extra-muscular topline and won't develop one. So, if you thought housing your horse in a paddock paradise would help with its topline, that's a misconception; you still need to train your horse. Nonetheless, natural housing provides other valuable benefits like basic fitness, supple joints, good circulation, and effective waste removal. It benefits both the horse's happiness and several other reasons to provide housing as natural as possible!




How to Supplement the Diet?

To optimize the health and well-being of our horses, it's crucial to base their diet on their natural needs. Horses are natural grazers and have evolved to consume a diet mainly consisting of grasses, herbs, trees, nuts, and seeds found in their natural environment. This diet provides them with a balanced mix of nutrients and all the elements essential for their well-being.

Unfortunately, in the Netherlands, we don't have the luxury of granting horses access to acres of pastures where they can regulate their nutrition independently. Nevertheless, we believe a healthy diet for horses should focus on providing fresh, diverse grasses and/or quality hay as the foundation of their nutrition. Additionally, other plants, herbs, nuts, and seeds can serve as valuable supplements, allowing horses to benefit from their medicinal properties and nutrients. Herbs like dandelion, nettle, and chamomile, for instance, contribute to digestion and overall well-being. It's even better if horses can find these on their pastures, choosing what and how much to eat. Nuts and seeds like flaxseed, black sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds can deliver essential fatty acids for healthy skin and coat.


Since 2018, we haven't provided our horses with vitamin pellets or supplements. Not only have we observed significant differences such as our ponies avoiding laminitis despite limited grass access, maintaining a healthy weight, requiring fewer veterinarian visits, but we've also noticed positive changes in small details. Overall, they seem to feel better.



How Does it Work?

Knowing that horses can determine what's good for them and what isn't, we've developed a test to help us understand their individual needs. We work with what we call herbal tests. We have over 60 herbs/nuts/seeds/grains. Every three months, we perform a test with each horse to see what they need at that time. Based on this, we create a customized muesli for the individual, which they receive for eight weeks.

It's fascinating to see that each horse chooses differently, and these preferences change with the seasons. It's also valuable information; we can sometimes deduce if a horse is experiencing issues and might need extra support in a specific area.


Recently, more people have shown interest in how we conduct these tests and whether horse owners can safely perform them themselves. We've been asked regularly if we can provide lectures or a course on this topic. We're considering it, and if we decide to offer it in the future and you're interested, you can subscribe at the bottom of any page on our website to stay informed.


In Conclusion

Instead of relying on supplements and (concentrated) vitamin pellets, we should aim for a natural diet that aligns with our horses' natural needs. By choosing nutritious foods that closely resemble their natural environment, we can fulfill our horses' nutritional requirements in a holistic and balanced way. Returning to basics and viewing things from a natural perspective allows us to provide our horses with the nutrients and health benefits they need to thrive in their environment.

Rather than depending on concentrated vitamin pellets or isolated supplements, we prefer to provide horses with a healthy, balanced diet that includes fresh and diverse grasses/herbs, hay, and other natural foods. Following a holistic approach, tailored to each horse's individual needs, ensures optimal health and well-being without unnecessary and dangerous supplements.


Let's remember that the best way to support our horses' well-being, health, and performance lies in providing a diet that allows them to fulfill their natural nutritional needs. A healthy diet supplemented with natural herbs, nuts, and seeds holds the key to achieving a harmonious balance in the lives of our beloved four-legged companions.




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