Supplements & The Management Of Performance Horses

Do feed supplements really work, and can they really help your performance horse?
Or is it all clever marketing designed to part you with your hard earned cash.

So many products are profit focused, weak formulas with low levels of active with clever marketing and all the promises in the world.
Food based supplements that claim all manner of wispy washy benefits that you never see because the effects are not strong enough to be therapeutic. It sounds great though, right?

It’s a marketing minefield and it’s no wonder there is still skepticism amongst riders and owners. 

Expensive supplements with cheap ingredients that read well but that include ingredients like iron to make up for poor absorption of other key minerals.

Cheap supplements with low quality ingredients or foods that aren’t effective enough to offer a real result.

Cheap supplements with a few quality ingredients at low inclusion rates resulting in weak imbalanced formulas.

Expensive supplements with low inclusion rates and levels of active.

Companies that separate ingredients into as many different products as possible to encourage multi buying.
Sometimes this is important because not every horse needs the same support but there’s no excuse to separate minerals forcing people to purchase multiple products.

These are all tactics to increase profit. But without in-depth training in mineral chemistry and functional nutrients, how do you know?

You know by the results. Some products give a small/average result to a less sensitive horse, but a strong result focused supplement gives the best and most reliable effects when used properly and can be game changers.
Not because they act like drugs, but because they are filling in nutritional holes and nutritional deficiencies and areas lacking that end up causing issues.

We say “used properly” … what does that mean?
Practices such as feeding half the recommended dose, or trying to calm a horse in significant gastric discomfort or that’s neurologically symptomatic from grass, just isn’t going to give a great result.

While no supplement is a magic bullet, a good quality RESULTS focused supplement with a high level of active, paired with the correct issue, is one of the single most powerful tools you can use to maximise performance and enjoyment of your horse.

Want to make your 3 yr old just broken in youngster safer and easier to ride? Want them to learn faster? Don’t do it the hard way!

I have horses that I know in different hands would be a big handful. I’ve stayed safe (so far) because I don’t leave it to chance (a particular ginger one comes to mind).
I don’t like my horses having evil thoughts and I don’t like falling off.
So I make sure they are comfortable first, why give them an excuse to get my attention?  Besides,  

I love my horses and I want them to enjoy their job and want to work for me. How else do you achieve harmony?  Good riding, yes, but an uncomfortable horse will never look harmonious and happy no matter how well you ride it.
Then if they are still extra fresh then I use anti stress nutrition such as Chill Me and Submit to smooth things over. 

Some owners/riders have not experienced the powerful effects a results focus supplement can give, when applied in the right way, and so remain understandably skeptical.

The belief that training is the solution to everything is so common. 
“Ride it better”….”She’s always like that, and he’s always been like that.” “That’s just him/her”

Of course, training is huge! Without it where would we be? Also, horses can be challenging, but our training is often hampered by things we shouldn’t have to struggle with.
Training that is taking takes 10 times longer than it needs to, simply because we are seeing lack of comfort getting in the way of progress. We are then left with habits and negative behaviours to deal with.
It’s far better to support them to have a more positive experience which then works in yours and their favour.

Thing is, we often don’t know, what we don’t know. However, when you start to see the struggle, you just can’t unsee it. 

The management of performance horses using nutrition is an art. Add to that a curious mind and an attitude of everything has a reason and all of a sudden the landscape of performance horse management changes radically.

They communicate all the time their struggles small and large and on the whole,  we are missing them.

Despite being dedicated to horse comfort and welfare and constantly watching them to see if I can do something better, I miss things. So what does the average person not looking hard enough, miss? Everything. Pretty much everything.

Still, our horses step up everyday and try for us.

They try through uncomfortable hoof balance and the wrong support, through saddles that don’t fit or that they simply don’t find comfortable despite being professionally fitted. They try despite uncomfortable hocks, stifles, polls, bits that hurt, and stomach aches. The list is endless. What makes it harder is that they suck it up, and if they don’t … they are labelled as difficult. 

A comfortable horse is a happier horse and one that performs better. 

We all want to be better riders, but should the priority be on being better at managing our horses and listening to them instead? In an industry where welfare is currently in the spotlight, are we missing the point?

In competitive sport we focus on good riding practises, top quality feed and toasty rugs… but if our horses were more comfortable and we were better at noticing when they weren’t, would there be as much training resistance in the horse?
Would we be in the position of needing to apply more force to get compliance? Would we have more compliant willing horses?  Are we becoming so effective as riders because we are having to make sore and uncomfortable horses do what they find hard? 

I think this is where welfare needs to be focused going forward and yes, supplementing is a powerful tool.
We need more education, more attitudes open to learning despite riders being confident and content to sit with tradition. Amateurs are actually more open to learning because they recognise they have things to learn. Consequently they often become more adept at equine management than the professional who is over confident in what they know.
Management of the sport horse can and needs to change. Don’t we owe it to the horse? 

Afterall …. “Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know”