Open any tack store catalog or website today and you will find a plethora of supplement options. Is your horse a bit creaky? There are joint supplments for every stage of life and almost every budget. Horse need to gain weight? There are fat supplements promising “cool calories”. Horse a bit exciteable? Not to worry, there are calming supplements.
Hope in a bottle (or a bag) is a very appealing concept. And the price for that hope is commensorate with the intended results. It’s easy to end up spending many dollars/day on products that are meant to supplement your horse’s regime. In fact, this is an industry that has perfected the marketing guilt message. Your horse would feel/look/behave so much better if you just fed him this product.
Case in point. Smartpak (don’t get me wrong, I love Smartpak for many reasons and shop there all the time, but they are the masters of marketing) has a supplement selection guide. If you answer their questions, they recommend what might work for your horse.
In the spirit of curiosity, I tried it. There are enough questions involved that it feels thorough and you feel invested in the process. The survey asks you about your horse’s age, breed, work load, turnout schedule, type of forage fed, overall stiffness, tendency toward ulccers, etc. Some of the questions don’t have the answers you want to give. There’s not enough nuance. But I filled it out to reflect Freedom as a healthy 14 year old TB with a moderately heavy workload who is turned out 24/7, has good hooves, no skin problems and is a bit of a hard keeper and suffers from some anxiety. As a horse that raced until he was six, with 28 starts, I also worry about wear and tear on his joints.
The program gave me three recommendations: basic support ($3.10/day), enhanced support ($4.53/day) and comprehensive support ($3.85/day).
The comprehensive package included
Insect control supplement
Vitamin E for immune support
Let’s think about this. That’s six supplements in addition to a balanced diet (I feed 7 quarts/day of Triple Crown Senior). I think that’s where you do a sanity check and remember that in this case, SmartPak is in the business of selling supplements.
I’m not anti supplements, I just have a limited budget — $197/month is more than I can spend and the low end package, which comes in at $86.90/month, is just for Smartflex III Resiliance and Weight Gain.
I prefer to look at the whole feeding regime and make sure that everything is balanced before I add anything specific. For example, feeding more grain or more forage may be the best way to add weight to your horse. I also like to feed flax seed as it helps add calories and good omegas — which in turn helps hoof and hair growth and may even help with joint mobility. I like to look at blood analysis to see if there are deficiencies before adding a vitamin or a mineral — it’s too easy to end up feeding too much of one thing and not enough of another.
I actually do feed Freedom vitamin E but only after my vet did a blood panel on him (when I was testing him for Lyme). I’m not sure it makes sense to feed the additional Vitamin E unless there is a deficiency.
For joints, my preference is to start with straight MSM, which is less than $0.35/day. I don’t have a problem with going to a more expensive solution if that doesn’t work, but the jury is still out on feed through supplements. I feed CortaFlx to Freedom because Chemphar has published some research that shows improvements to horses and because it’s pretty inexpensive — only a bit more than $0.50/day.
I do like SmartDigest. I had Freedom on SmartDigest Ultra while I was treating him for Lyme and I definitely think it helped him hold his weight better.
I’m on the fence about calming supplements. I believe that magnesium can help if, and it’s a big if, your horse is deficient in it. Otherwise, I think there’s not much evidence that they help. For my own horse, calmness is a direct result of wet blanket therapy. The more I ride him, the better he goes.
I may try a feed through insect control supplement this summer. Freedom is really bothered by bugs. I’m still weighing the pros of minimizing bugs with feeding a chemical to my horse. I may try fly predators instead.
To be worth the investment ($6.85/day is $2300/year) I need to either see a clear benefit or have a lot of faith. I’m encouraged that SmartPak offers a money back guarantee of you don’t see results from their SmartPak line, but wonder how many people just want to believe that the magic powder really makes a difference.
What are your thoughts on supplements? What do you feed? Or why do you choose not to feed them?