Supplement Sense—How well do you know your supplements?

As we all know, a healthy horse is a happy horse. And in regards to supplements, many questions can arise. See how many you can guess correctly in our quick quiz on supplements with answers supplied by industry professionals below.

1. If a horse has good quality hay and fresh water, they do not need supplements in their diet. True or False?

2. Supplements are 100% safe. True or False?

3. Which of the following is a type of non-feed supplement?

a. Weight gain supplements
b. Hoof supplements
c. Multi-vitamins
d. Joint supplements

4. Supplements are addictive to horses. True or False?

5. It is safe to mix different supplements in one feeding. True or False?

6. Supplements can replace prescription medications. True or False?

7. Which of the following nutrients does not have an increase requirement with exercise?

a. Vitamin D
b. Protein
c. Potassium
d. Vitamin E

8. If you were to see magnesium as an ingredient on a label, what popular supplement category might you be shopping in?

a. Skin and coat supplements
b. Calming and behavior supplements
c. Hoof supplements
d. Respiratory supplements


1. The answer is False.

Staff Veterinarian/Medical Director at SmartPak Dr. Lydia Gray makes it clear that some horses may need supplements, even if they have a good quality, forage-based diet. “Horses thrive on a complete and balanced diet. Supplements may bridge the gap between forage and the minimum level of nutrients as recommended in the National Research Council (NRC) Nutrient Requirements of Horses, as well as provide additional support for problem areas. Once the horse’s diet is complete and balanced, his life and environment are well-managed (such as turnout, socializing, exercise), and he is on a good preventive wellness program with the veterinarian, farrier, etc.,” continues Dr. Gray, “If he needs more support in a specific area, say hooves, weight gain, or stomach health, then there are products to help that particular horse, such as biotin for hooves, fat for weight gain, or aloe vera for stomach health.”

2. The answer is False.

A common misconception, according to Dr. Rachel Roemer of Great Bay Equine, a veterinarian located in Portsmouth, NH, is that supplements are harmless. “Most supplements are very safe and unlikely to cause a problem. However, some supplements can be overdosed, such as selenium and magnesium, and can cause significant problems,” says Dr. Roemer. She advises all owners to follow the feeding instructions on the label and consult their veterinarian for advice before starting a new supplement.

3. The answer is D.

According to Dr. Gray, there are two types of supplements, non-feeds and feeds. These can be differentiated according to the format on the label. Dr. Gray says, “Feeds, which use Association of American Feed Control Officials guidelines, give a guaranteed analysis. Non-feeds, on the other hand, use National Animal Supplement Council and Food and Drug Administration guidelines, and list Active and Inactive ingredients. Examples of feeds, which contain recognized nutrients, are hoof supplements, supplements with fat, and vitamin and mineral supplements,” says Dr. Gray. She shares some examples of non-feed supplements as well; “Joint supplements, a lot of herbal supplements, and basically anything for which the NRC doesn’t list as a requirement but supports some structure or function in the horse.”

4. The answer is False.

Farnam’s own nutritional expert Dr. Richard G. Godbee says that in general, supplements are not addictive. “I am not aware of a physiological/pathological need for any supplement,” he states. Dr. Gray agrees, “Whenever I get asked this question, my response is always, ‘you wouldn’t consider hay to be addictive or water to be addictive, and since many supplements provide basic, straightforward nutrients like vitamin E or magnesium, nutrition that your horse needs to survive, these cannot be considered addictive.’” Dr. Roemer does suggest that cutting a horse off from a supplement should be planned out. “It is prudent to ask your veterinarian before stopping a supplement ‘cold turkey,’” says Dr. Roemer. “In some cases, the horse may need the supplement indefinitely, such as a horse with a chronic vitamin E deficiency, or it may be better to slowly decrease the supplement before stopping it.”

5. The answer is True.

All our experts agree that typically it is safe to mix different supplements during feeding. However, Dr. Gray recommends against mixing them in advance, “Because there can be interactions between nutrients that can result in degradation or loss of potency; SmartPak generally does not recommend mixing different supplements for an extended period of time before feeding.” Mixing directly before a feeding, however, “Is generally fine,” according to Dr. Gray.

Dr. Roemer also says, “Be aware of the individual ingredients in each supplement and determine where there are redundant ingredients. More of an ingredient may not necessarily be better.” Dr. Godbee also brings up that oversupplementation of selenium, vitamin A, and vitamin D is possible, and to be sure to check this before feeding. In regards to mixing, all our specialists say it is best to consult a veterinarian or nutritionist if there is concern.

6. The answer is False.

According to Dr. Roemer, “Supplements are not a replacement for prescription medications. They may, however, be used in conjunction with prescription medications in many cases. Medications (including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics, etc.) have a specific mechanism of action different from that of supplements. Prescription medications are often used for a limited period of time, while supplements can be used long-term to help support horse health.”

7. The answer is A.

According to the NRC, there are a few nutrients with requirements that increase with exercise. Dr. Gray says that some of these include protein, calcium, phosphors, magnesium, potassium, sodium, chloride, some microminerals, vitamin E, some B vitamins, and others. “The calorie or energy requirement increases with workload too,” says Dr. Gray. “Some of these additional needs are met by feeding more fortified grain, but for horses in which that is not a good idea, supplements can bridge the gap.”

8. The answer is B.

“Because one of the clinical signs of magnesium deficiency is nervousness, it is added to many calming supplements to ensure the horse has an adequate supply of this important mineral. Other ingredients that are commonly found in supplements that support a normal temperament include B vitamins, amino acids like tryptophan and taurine, and herbs such as valerian, vervain, chamomile, and others,” says Dr. Gray.

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