Supplements Made Simple | The Chronicle of the Horse

Supplements Made Easy
Do some of these supplements sound like what you’re looking for?

This is such a wonderful “take” on supplements. I had to laugh out loud.

My particular favorites are below, but Freedom could definitely use “Calm the Hell Down”.

Be Careful What You Ask For

Ideal for the overly-compliant horse who is more interested in pleasing you than saving either of your skins. BCWYAF invokes a mild sense of suspicion, and when fed regularly may result in actual survival instinct. Works best when both horse and rider are supplemented; we recommend maximum dosage for amateur riders.

Is your equine partner too smart for his own good? Does he open gates, untie knots and calculate how to lose shoes only when the farrier is out of town? Do you swear he can log into your calendar app to see your show schedule so he knows when to go lame? Does he just seem to know what you’re thinking before you know it yourself? He needs Dumb-down. Like a liquid lobotomy, Dumb-down’s exclusive, neuro-transmitter destroying formula works to synergistically suppress higher-level thought processes. Let Dumb-down put YOU back at the top of the evolutionary chart. Mildly hallucinogenic for a long-lasting, pleasantly disorienting effect.

Supplements Made Simple | The Chronicle of the Horse.


What supplements does your horse need?

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 ($6.85/day).

The comprehensive package included

Joint supplement
Weight supplement
Calming supplement
Insect control supplement
Digestion aid
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?


A study of one on the benefits of probiotics

SmartDigest Ultra
One scoop a day of SmartDigest Ultra has helped Freedom gain weight.

Until Freedom was diagnosed with Lyme I hadn’t given much thought to probiotics as a supplement. But dosing him with Doxycyline for six weeks had the potential of causing ulcers . . . or colic. Antibiotics kill off the good bacteria in a horse’s gut and it’s important to replace them.

So, off I went to SmartPak to check the clearance section. It’s my favorite place to purchase any kind of supplement since I don’t care about damaged packaging or other small defects.

Sure enough, they had a large container of SmartDigest Ultra at 50% off. This was a supplement that normally costs $212 for 7.5 pounds! I read the description:

SmartDigest Ultra provides support for the entire gastrointestinal tract, from stomach to hindgut! Its unique formula includes probiotics, prebiotics, enzymes, targeted herbs, L-Glutamine, soluble fiber, and Oat Beta Glucan. This innovative combination of ingredients was specially designed to support the health and function of the digestive tract. SmartDigest Ultra is an outstanding choice for any horse prone to digestive upset and those under stress from training, travel and competition.

It had to be the best way to protect Freedom’s delicate digestive system, so I bought it.

He came through his course of antibiotics without any problems and I still had a huge amount of the probiotic in the tub. So I’ve kept feeding it. You actually use only one small scoop per day, so 7.5 pounds lasts a long time.

A few weeks ago, I noticed an unexpected — and positive — side effect. Freedom has gained weight. In the late summer/early fall he had been looking ribby. Now, looking past his furry winter coat, he’s a really good weight! I’m feeding him a bit less that I usually do and he’s holding his weight very nicely, something that’s not always a given during the winter.

So, I guess the probiotics are actually helping his digestive system to get more nutrition from his rations. He’s looking really good too — shiny and healthy.

I wasn’t planning to purchase more when I used up the bucket, but I’m reconsidering. After all, if I find it on sale again, it’s not quite so expensive and I after all, I’m saving money on the rest of his feed. goes live (again)!

Several years ago I had the idea to build a product review web site for equestrian products. I noticed that equine bulletin boards were full of requests for comments on saddles, different feeds, bit choices and more. I thought it would be helpful to have all that information on one site, organized in a way that made it easy find information.

In today’s tight economy every purchase that I make for my horse undergoes extra scrutiny. If I want to buy a saddle, or try a supplement or medication, or buy a helmet, I find it very helpful to read about others’ experiences. When I looked for a site that offered this type of information, I couldn’t find anything that was like I envisioned.

Research shows that user reviews have the greatest influence in a buying decision. People value the opinions of their peers even more than single reviews by ‘experts.’ That makes quite a bit of sense because with items such a saddles, personal preference plays a large role in someone’s satisfaction. I’m usually leery of testimonials on manufacturers’ websites, too.

I spent a year researching review sites and thinking about how I could make a site that offered a unique perspective (if you like make up and perfume, check out my favorite: I looked at review sites across many different industries and cherry picked the features that I thought were most compelling.

  • Rated user reviews that provide both individual comments and an overall ranking. It was important to me that you could see an aggregate “score” that spans multiple reviews.
  • A format that combines multiple reviews in a single location. I didn’t want people to have to keep “clicking” to read more reviews.
  • A broad scope of products. Rather than just focus on tack, I wanted to create a single source for the full range of products that equestrians use and need. The site addresses feeds, supplements, stable supplies, blankets, tack, equestrian clothing and even provides a place to rank on-line suppliers.
  • Articles on related topics. will be the new home of Equine Ink. I started Equine Ink while I was waiting for EPR to be built (which took far longer than I expected). I have found that blogging is far more fun than I had ever imagined and I actually am making it a bigger part of Equine Products Review than I had originally intended.
  • Videos. Linked into is a YouTube Channel that offers video reviews, information about products and extensive play lists of amazing, funny and educational equine videos.

The beta version of went live last September. I got a lot of good feedback and I spent time working with the site and making changes. In fact, I’m still making changes but I figured that the best strategy was to put it out and let it evolve as people use it.

I hope that my readers here will share some of their knowledge and experience on EPR. As they used to say in Chicago, vote early and vote often!

Flax Seed: How and why to feed it

These beautiful blue flowers are the signature of the flax plant.
These beautiful blue flowers are the signature of the flax plant.

I’ve been feeding my horses flax seed (also called linseed) for about a decade. I started with HorseTech’s fabulous products, first with Glanzen, their hoof & coat supplement, then moving onto one with glucosomine in it. I found that feeding a flax-seed based supplement improved their coats so that they glowed. I also liked the fact that flax seed adds Omega 3 fatty acids to the diet — the only other natural source of Omega 3s in a horse’s diet typically is fresh grass, something my horse doesn’t get enough of!

These days I feed flax as part of my horse’s overall diet. I feed it separately now mostly because when I had two horses, they had different needs: it was easier for me to customize their nutritional packages by buying individual components than finished products. Now I’m used to “building” my own supplements.

There are several benefits associated with Omega 3 fatty acids:

  • It can help reduce inflammation which may help horses with joint stiffness or arthritis.
  • It helps improve coat quality adding shine and softness.
  • It improves digestion.
  • It boosts the immune system and can help regulate thyroid function.
  • It can help reduce the chance of laminitis.

In humans, Omega 3 fatty acids improve heart health and can reduce the chance of blood clots forming in the veins, thereby reducing the chance of strokes. There have been no comparable equine studies, but hey, it can’t hurt!

Horses are able to extract the nutrients from whole flax seeds.
Horses are able to extract the nutrients from whole flax seeds.

How do you feed it?

If you do a Google search on feeding flax seed you’ll see that there are several recommended ways to feed it: ground, boiled, soaked — anything except whole seeds. Lots of sites tell you that whole seeds can’t be digested. However, that appears to be a myth. Current research shows that horses can masticate flax seeds just fine and that the nutrients were extracted from the seed hulls even if you see a few whole seeds in your manure pile.

I’ve been feeding whole flax now for about a year. Previously, I fed ground flax seed. I haven’t seen any changes in my horses so far and it’s far easier to feed it and store it. I’ve also read that there’s another benefit to feeding whole seeds: when they are eaten they form a coating in the digestive tract that helps keep the gut moving effectively.

Probably the most popular way to feed flax is ground. When you buy commercially ground flax seed it is stabilized. That’s an important point: if you grind it yourself, you need to grind it fresh for each meal. The nutrients in flax seed start to degrade very quickly if they are not stabilized and when they are exposed to heat, light or oxygen. Ground flax also goes rancid quickly so you should be very careful about cleaning the grinder very well as the remnants can contaminate new batches. Refrigeration can help extend its shelf life a few days, but you’ll still see a loss in nutrients.

People who boil or soak their flax seed often do so because they believe that otherwise the flax might contain harmful levels of cyanide, which is toxic. In truth, while the seeds do contain the two components necessary to create cyanide, they are in different parts of the seed. Ironically, it’s the contact with water that brings the two components together and causes the formation of cyanide. Soaking is actually the most dangerous way to feed flax.

Boiling isn’t a good idea because while it changes the cyanide to a gas form, removing it from the flax, it also destroys the fatty acids which is why you feed flax!

Another consideration

While cyanide shouldn’t be a concern, if you feed flax seed keep in mind that it’s calcium/phosphorous ratio is not balanced appropriately for horses. Since it is high in phosphorous you should feed either a calcium supplement or a feed high in calcium (such as alfalfa) to balance your ration.

Generally nutritionists recommend feeding 4-8 oz of flax seed per day which makes it a very low cost supplement with many nutritional benefits.

Does oral HA make a difference?

Sodium hyaluronate (HA) is a substance that occurs naturally within the joint and helps to create a cushion between bones and tissues. It’s been used successfully to treat the symptoms of arthritis in horses when injected into the joint, where it acts as a lubricant and mild anti-inflammatory.

HA is also used as an IV treatment for arthritis (Legend is the best known). When given in this way it attaches to anti-inflammatory receptors on the blood side of the joint capsule and has very strong systemic anti-inflammatory properties, but no lubricating effect.

So what about oral HA? It’s one of the most talked about ingredients in oral supplements and it is available in powdered, gel and liquid forms. It is expensive. But does it work?

It depends on who and what you believe. And also what you think it does.

When I asked my vet about it, his opinion was that oral HA is not absorbed orally. But there are a lot of people who believe strongly that it’s making a difference for their horses.

Let’s look first at the gel vs. powder or paste.

Here’s what’s written on the website for Hyaluronex, a popular HA product:

Hyaluronan must be completely hydrated to be bioavailable and absorbed.2 Further, once absorbed it must have the appropriate molecular characteristics including molecular weight to be effective.3

Hyaluronan is among natures most water-loving molecules. As a powder or pellet it slowly absorbs up to 1000 times its’ weight in water creating a thick, viscous fluid. In healthy mammals the transit time from ingestion to excretion does not provide the necessary time for hydration of this incredibly hydrophilic molecule. Research indicates that little of the High-Molecular-Weight dry forms are absorbed before excretion and that while some Low-Molecular-Weight dry forms may be hydrated and absorbed during ingestion and digestion they are not effective.3

There is also debate over whether oral dosing (squirting it into the horse’s mouth, or under its tongue) increases the efficacy compared to top dressing. The theory here is that it is more readily absorbed through mucous membranes and that if it’s top dressed it gets at least partially digested before it gets to the mucus membranes.

There is also no evidence that HA delivered orally has any direct effect on the joints, despite the claims. For example, On the Lubrisyn website, they claim that,

Lubrisyn’s purified, high molecular weight HA is rapidly and thoroughly absorbed by the body and is ideal for increasing the viscosity of the synovial fluid that cushions and protects the joints.

However, on the FAQs page, there is a statement from Lubrisyn website that states:

There have been no studies completed to date that show increases of HA in the joints after administration of an HA supplement. These types of studies are extremely invasive to the joints as well as difficult on the animal. There are existing studies that show marked improvement in animals’ mobility and performance while undergoing HA supplementation.

I did find reference to one study, conducted in the Czech republic that finds that horses given a gel-based oral HA did show results, Medicinal properties in whole foods:

Researchers in the Czech Republic have performed a number of studies on sodium hyaluronate in horses, rats and humans. The most extensive animal experience to date with hyaluronan has been with racehorses. For example,

In a study of 53 sport horses of various breeds, given oral sodium hyaluronate syrup 100mg/500kg body weight for 30 days, good to very good results were observed in multiple orthopedic diagnoses. (4)

  • Daily 100 mg doses of an oral hyaluronan gel produced higher serum levels at day 7 in 4 horses than a single IV infusion of hyaluronan in 4 comparable horses. (5)
  • The effect of 100 mg of hyaluronan as an oral gel on lameness and other orthopedic conditions in 13 actively training Thoroughbreds was notably beneficial when compared with 12 others horses serving as controls. (6)
  • A blinded study of 13 horses found a significant benefit of 20 mg hyaluronan, 5000 mg of glucosamine sulfate and 450 mg of chondroitin sulfate in accelerating recovery from arthroscopic surgery. (6)
  • Four Thoroughbreds with synovitis of the MCP joints were cured or considerably improved after 21 days of 100 mg of hyaluronan as an oral gel. Improvement was noted during the first week. (6)
  • A review of various available veterinary preparations of hyaluronan rated their effectiveness. The nutraceutical preparation was found to be noticeably effective. A commercial preparation of hyaluronan oral gel was deemed to be as effective as an IV formulation. Finally, intra-articular injections were rated high for severe disease, when accompanied by maintenance on nutraceutical preparations. (7)

Studies like this, plus the many users who report that their horses show improvement after taking an oral HA product lead me to believe that there is a positive effect that is imparted from oral HA products. In my reading for this article, my guess (and it is truly a guess) is that it works largely the same as the IV treatment: it reduces inflammation. I just can’t figure out how a feed through HA supplement can actually improve the synovial fluid in the joint. Perhaps for many horses, a system reduction in inflammation is enough. Or, as a vet that I’ve worked with said, “if you think it’s working, it probably is. But don’t hold your breath for research because it’s too expensive to conduct.”

How much selenium does a horse need?

This map shows levels of selenium across the U.S.
This map shows levels of selenium across the U.S.

Ever since an overdose of selenium killed the polo ponies in Wellington, I’ve seen a lot of posts on forums from people concerned about the selenium levels in their horse’s diets. Selenium is an important and necessary part of a balanced diet. In fact, here in the Northeast, where our soil is selenium deficient, many people supplement with selenium and vitamin E. According to an article in The Horse, Good/Bad Effects of Antioxidants,

Selenium deficiency in young horses causes stiffness, listlessness, lung edema, and an increase in heart rate, respiration rate, and salivation. A deficiency in adult horses also causes stiffness as well as a decreased immune response and lowered fertility.

So finding the right balance is important. One of the best discussions I’ve seen about this is on the “Ask The Nutritionist” forum hosted by Dr. Juliet Getty. This forum is a great resource for horse owners as Dr. Getty will answer your questions at no charge! Here’s what she says about selenium:

The correct dosage for equine athletes such as these polo ponies is between 3 and 5 mg. Most horses get much less than this when being fed a commercial feed. Commercial feeds typically contain .5 to .6 ppm of selenium. So, 5 lbs, for example, provides between 1.14 and 1.36 mg of this mineral, which is well within the safe range. I like to limit selenium intake to 3 mg per day for most horses.

Hay and pasture can also provide selenium though soils in some regions of the country are low, particularly the northeast, the Ohio valley, Florida, and the northwestern portions of the U.S. It is always advisable to have hay and pasture tested, especially if there are rumors of high concentrations in certain areas.

Chronic selenium conditions can occur when selenium is consumed at higher-than-normal levels for a period of time. A condition known as alkali disease will result. Alkali disease is characterized by hair loss along the mane and tail and the hooves will crack around the coronary band. When too much selenium is present, it replaces the naturally existing sulfur found in keratin resulting in hoof tissue breakdown.

In general, the total amount of selenium should not exceed .6 mg per kg of feed. This should translate into no more than 3 mg per day for the average horse, and 5 mg per day for the athlete that is working intensely.

Vitamin E needs to be provided along with selenium since they work together as an “antioxidant team.” Be careful of vitamin E supplements that have added selenium, especially if your horse is already getting enough selenium from other sources. If you want to add more vitamin E to the diet, choose a supplement that only contains vitamin E.