Supplementation...important or not?
As a naturopath and medical herbalist I’ve often heard or been questioned about whether supplementation is ‘throwing your money down the toilet’ or is it " just a marketing ploy to get us to spend our money". “Are they important?’ “Do we actually need them?” And the same applies to horses. “Do they actually need so much supplementation?” With so many products saturating the market over the last decade and with all the different sources telling us that we should add them to our feed regime it can be confusing to know what, when, or how much to use, if anything at all.
So lets consider nutrition and the following factors or guidelines that you might use to understand why supplementation may be given.
Firstly you have basic nutrition. This is found daily in the food consumed. The grass, the hay and the hard feed if given. You also have preventative nutrition. This is where we might add additional substances, herbs, and specific foods for nutritional requirements to prevent dis-ease. Lastly, there is therapeutic nutrition. Therapeutic application is where treatment is given using supplements or herbs to address a deficient diet and assist in a treatment of conditions. In this case these may be targeted with actual dose ranges prescribed.
My personal thoughts on the matter is to ‘keep it simple’. If your horse is on grass and you can add different herbs to your pasture do so. You already have good basic nutrition without the need of much additional interference. Herbs are truly natures very own medicine. They are rich in vitamins and minerals and have healing properties. The constituents in herbs are very powerful. Wherever possible I believe that nutrition should be found in the pasture. Live foods such as fruits, vegetables and grains supply the cells with all the components they need for abundant and vital health. We often feed and overwhelm our horses systems with so much dead food to feed live cells and wonder why we have such degenerative disease and terrible immune systems in our horses. If your horse can graze a multiple of different grasses and herbs, trees and scrubs allow them to do so and you will find there is little need for supplementation..or very little at all.
Also consider on the other end of the spectrum that we have an overwhelming amount of horses with EMS/IR and many of us cannot provide pasture at all or much at all. So allowing free foraging for a variety of live nutrition is near impossible. (Remember that these conditions result from a continuous imbalance in the body over a period of time that have eventually resulted in these difficult conditions). In these cases preventative nutrition should be considered and extra supplements and herbs may need to be used to correct deficiencies from reducing grazing live food to dead food, or limited access to a diverse variety of grasses and fresh herbs, and further, to manage the condition to prevent other complications such as laminitis and founder.
Of course when you have a condition like laminitis you then have graduated to therapeutic supplementation, for example; to increase circulation, to help insulin sensitivity (if that’s a cause). Supplementation to help connective tissue, bone and hoof health. You might use herbs and supplements to heal a leaky gut that could be the cause of laminitis. Simply, therapeutic supplementation to target the underlying cause, the healing and repair along side symptomatic relief.
So while supplementation is useful it also has its place, it also has its dangers. Over supplementation can further cause deficiencies and imbalances. Educated advice is very important. Wherever possible exercise restraint, little over a lot unless you know how to apply nutritional supplementation at therapeutic levels for specific conditions. If we can give our horses what nature intended we reduce the use for added supplementation.