Our horses’ nutrition is an aspect of their management that we can have a significant amount of control over. In some cases, we have complete control over what our horses consume, particularly where access to grazing is limited.
Because we can alter and amend nutrition in a controlled way, we can manage it in a way to suit our horse’s individual requirements based on their overall diet, how and where they live, their workload and activity level, their personality, breed, and type. Their grazing, forage supply and any additional concentrate feed will also affect their overall nutritional needs.
The Importance of Balance
We often talk about ensuring a balanced diet but what does it actually mean? Generally, balanced nutrition means that the diet fed supplies all the nutrients needed to support health and wellbeing in a form and amount that can be consumed, digested, and absorbed by our horses.
One concern is that many horse diets based on grazing and forage alone, or where additional concentrate feed is not fed at the recommended levels, will be deficient in a number of the essential micronutrients – the vitamins and minerals. Micronutrients are critical for normal bodily functioning and deficiencies can range in severity. In some cases, long-term subclinical deficiencies in some nutrients can result in significant health and wellbeing concerns that only become apparent when a critical level of deficiency is reached.
A common factor however is that deficiencies will negatively impact on health and welfare, sometimes on a short-term basis, but more commonly with longer-term negative effects too.
For this reason, supplementary nutrition in the form of vitamin and mineral supplements have become commonplace in equine nutrition. The question is however, are they needed and what is the difference between a vitamin and mineral supplement and a feed balancer?
Supplement or Balancer?
Supplements are additions to the diet to provide additional nutrients needed to ensure nutritional balance overall. Traditionally, powdered vitamin and mineral supplements were intended to provide additional nutrients to compensate for deficiencies and to ensure that the diet of any animal was complete and balanced – providing all required nutrients in the ideal amounts to support health and wellbeing.
Consequently, we can consider vitamins and mineral supplements as balancers. However, in the equine world, feed balancers are often more recognised as supplementary feed materials that supply vitamins, minerals as well as other nutrients such as some protein (or individual amino acids), specific additives to support aspects of health such as digestion and sometimes some energy-providing ingredients also. Many balancers come in a pelleted form and are feed in larger volumes (100g plus per 100kg BW) on a daily basis than powdered supplements (typically less than 100g/day for a 500kg horse).
However, it is perfectly possible to call powdered supplements balancers too and for horses that need a closely managed diet in terms of intake, or who perhaps do not like large volumes of pelleted feedstuff, a balancer that is powder form and fed in a relatively small volume might be preferable. Whatever form of balancer you choose, make sure that your horse will consume it, perhaps by mixing it with a small amount of tasty feed (chaff, soaked beet, feed pellets/mix).
Do I Need To Use A Balancer?
For grazing horses, those on restricted diets or those with significant amounts of preserved forage making up their diet, vitamin and mineral supplementation may well be required. This is because grazing can be deficient in many minerals and as a result, so is forage prepared from grazing materials. Preserved forages also tend to be deficient in vitamins, and the longer that hay and haylage is kept, there will be deterioration of the vitamin content also.
If you include feed ‘straights’ in your horse’s bucket diet such as barley, maize, oats and so on, you will also need to consider balancing their diet – many straight feed ingredients are inherently unbalanced in the nutrients they supply.
A balancer is also a great option for horses that would gain excess bodyweight if fed recommended levels of concentrate feeds to meet their nutrient requirements. Equally, for horses that have additional nutritional requirements as a result of age (which can increase the need for specific vitamins and minerals), health conditions (where additional antioxidants might be beneficial) and increased workload, a feed balancer can ensure that their additional nutritional needs are met.
What Should I Consider When Choosing A Balancer?
Choosing a balancer is as much about what works for you as for your horse. Convenience, accessibility, amount to be fed, palatability and suitability are important. Look for balancers that are well formulated to meet nutritional needs based on guidelines such as the NRC (National Research Council). This will ensure that your horse’s diet supplies levels of nutrients that meet those identified by decades of scientific research. It is also important to acknowledge that excess supply of some nutrients can be as dangerous as deficiency. For example, additional iron supplementation is not needed in most horse diets because it is generally oversupplied in UK sourced grazing and forage.
There is also the environmental cost of excreting excess nutrients, not to mention the financial cost of oversupplying nutrients in any supplementation too. Balancers formulated to key nutritional guidelines are good for your horse’s nutrition as well as your pocket and the planet.
You might also want to think about other feed balancer ingredients that may support your horse. Many balancers include additives such as ingredients that may support joint and digestive health or herbal ingredients for example. Where a balancer provides additional nutritional support, it will need to be fed in a larger volume and may have altered palatability – key aspects to consider when choosing a feed balancer for your horse, in addition to the extra cost that will be incurred also.
The take-home message is that to keep a healthy nutritional balance for your horse, a feed balancer is a great option, and you can tailor your choice of balancer to suit individual equine needs, whether you just want to ensure vitamin and mineral needs are met or if you would like to provide additional support for aspects of health also.
TopTips For Balancer Use
- Always introduce any new supplement or balancer gradually – this is especially important for fussier horses or those who might be suspicious about additions to their feed bowl.
- Choose a balancer that is formulated to support your horse’s nutritional needs based on science – Balancers formulated to the NRC (National Research Council) guidelines will provide levels of vitamins and minerals identified as necessary for horses at different ages and workloads.
- Science Supplements WellHorse Veteran is specially formulated to provide nutritional support for our older equine friends, while WellHorse Leisure supports the health of our daily companions and WellHorse Performance is a great choice for our athletic horses. Each balancer also provides additional targeted support for gut, joint or immune health as needed.
- Look for a form of balancer that is suitable and palatable for your horse – this might mean using a pelleted form, or a powdered form such as the Science Supplements balancer range that can be easily mixed into bowl feeds.
- Consider mixing powder-form balancers with a small amount of chaff or some other familiar and acceptable feed to aid intake and palatability.
- Keep your balancer stored in an airtight package or container and ideally in a cool, dark place – this is important for feed hygiene, safety and also to maintain the nutritional integrity of the included ingredients.
- You might want to split the daily recommended feeding rate into two or more feeds to enhance acceptability and palatability to ensure your horse fully benefits from the balancer.
Science Supplements offer a premium range of high specification equine supplements that are carefully formulated by nutritionists and veterinary surgeons to support your horse’s overall health and wellbeing.
You can find out more and explore our equine supplement range here, including our WellHorse feed balancers specifically formulated according to NRC (National Research Council) and BASF (Animal Nutrition) guidelines for horses at different ages and experiencing different workloads, or contact us to speak to one of our experienced nutritional advisors.