Why do horses need vitamins and minerals?

The importance of a balanced diet is cited in every article about feeding but what exactly does it mean and how is it achieved? The basic concept of a balanced diet is providing sufficient energy and nutrients to maintain the horse’s bodyweight and condition according to the level of work being done. It is important to consider that whilst there may be an optimal level for each nutrient, there is a range within which levels supplied will maintain the horse – not every nutrient will be spot on for every horse, not least because levels in pasture and forage will fluctuate on a daily basis!

Why are additional vitamins and minerals required?

Levels of vitamins and minerals vary in UK pasture and forage, and they consistently lack the trace minerals copper, selenium and zinc and conserved forage is also low in vitamin E. Vitamins and minerals have many important roles to play in the body from maintaining normal metabolism, building tissues such as hoof horn and functions such as muscle contraction. The shortfalls in pasture mean that even horses turned out to grass that aren’t doing any work usually benefit from a supplementary source of vitamins and minerals.

There are several ways we can provide vitamins and minerals for horses including fortified feeds, balancers, vitamin and mineral supplements or licks. With so much choice it can be hard to know what to choose so here we will look at each product in a little more detail.

Dengie Horse Feeds

Fortified Feed for Horses

A feed that is fortified with vitamins and minerals will provide a balanced diet when it is fed at the recommended quantity. It is the last point that is key here though as many horses and ponies don’t receive the recommended feeding rate.

The Dengie Healthy range of fibre feeds are fortified with vitamins and minerals. When fed at the recommended feeding rate of 500g (1 Stubbs scoop) per 100kg of bodyweight daily or approx. 5 Stubbs scoops for a 500kg horse no additional vitamin and mineral supplement is required. Dengie Cool, Condition & Shine is also a fortified feed within the Dengie range. Whilst for many horses this feeding rate will be appropriate and provides lots of chew time for a very low level of calories, for those that are very good do-ers, receiving the full amount of even a low calorie, fortified feed such as Healthy Hooves or Healthy Hooves Molasses Free can still provide them with more calories than they need. Smaller amounts of a low-calorie fibre feed fed alongside a balancer, supplement or lick may be more appropriate for managing calorie intake whilst ensuring the diet is balanced.

Get your Horse a Lick

A lick is an economical and labour-saving way of topping up with vitamins and minerals for those on a forage only ration. Licks are useful when feeding a herd on unrestricted grazing and for those that don’t normally get supplementary feed. One of the downsides to using licks is knowing exactly how much a horse consumes and therefore whether they are getting everything they need. Horses on restricted rations fed highly palatable licks may also go through them very quickly and so the potential exists to over-supply certain nutrients too!

horses in field with lick

Balancers and Supplements for Horses

Another way to provide vitamins and minerals is by using a feed balancer. A feed balancer is a very concentrated feed and is fed in much smaller amounts than a fortified feed, but it is usually in a pellet form and so can often be more palatable than supplements that in a powder form.

One of the key differences between a balancer and a broad-spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement is that a balancer also supplies higher levels of good quality protein in the form of lysine which is an essential amino acid. A balancer is therefore particularly recommended for those that have a higher quality protein requirement such as those in work and breeding stock as well as for those on very restricted grazing and forage.

A supplement is often useful for those who have access to good grazing or forage but just need a top up of essential vitamins and minerals. They are also the lowest calorie way to supplement the diet with vitamins and minerals so can be useful to help promote weight loss in those that are overweight.

The table below highlights the differences between a fortified feed, balancer and supplement. It is important to remember that the fortified feeds provide the chew time the horse needs which balancers and supplements don’t and can therefore replace some of the horse’s forage requirement too which can be particularly helpful at times when forage is in short supply.

ProductFortified Feed
(Healthy Hooves Molasses Free)
(A Lite Balancer)
(General Vits & Mins Supplement)
Feeding Rate 500kg horse2.5kg500g60g
Protein %9117.2
Protein at Feeding Rate225g55g4.32g
Lysine at Feeding Rate7.5g6.25g1.5g
Energy Supplied at Feeding Rate21.25MJ4.5MJ-

Top Tips for Supplementing your Horse’s Diet with Vitamins and Minerals

  • If you are unable to feed a fortified feed at the full recommended feeding rate because the horse puts on too much weight you will not be providing a balanced diet. Top up with a supplement or balancer to make up the difference
  • Balancers and fortified feeds supply more good quality protein than powder vitamin and mineral supplements which is particularly useful for horses having restricted access to grass
  • Pelleted balancers are great for fussy feeders
  • For horses with free access to grass who don’t need any more calories a double handful of a low-calorie fibre feed with a vitamin and mineral supplement is an ideal way to give the nutrients they need without the calories they don’t
  • Dampen your fibre feed prior to mixing in a vitamin and mineral supplement in so that it doesn’t all fall to the bottom of the bucket

If you would like advice on the balancing your horse’s ration, call our Feedline on 01621 841188 or click here to complete our Feed Advice Form.