nutrition · supplements

The Supplement Dance

I’ve talked before about Tristan’s nutrition and diet, and the ways I’ve tweaked that.

For many years, I’ve been a faithful user of HorseTech supplements. I still love them. I still think they’re the best quality, best customer service, best availability/combination of ingredients you can get.


(Of course there’s a but – otherwise there would not be a blog post.)

Tristan is very slowly – incrementally – almost imperceptibly – becoming a pickier eater. I don’t know if it’s age, Cushings, or what. The fact remains that my little rescue horse, who used to hoover up everything in his immediate vicinity – edible or not – is just a touch fussy now.

though he still gets mad when he has to work instead of eat dinner

For some time now, he doesn’t eat his morning grain until he gets back from turnout. When you toss him his breakfast he spurns it in favor of hay. Granted: he does not get much (about 1.5 cups at a time) and it’s a really bland grain (Blue Seal’s Carb Guard). Still, two or three years ago, Tristan turning away from grain would have been a sign of the apocalypse. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, call the vet immediately.

HorseTech supplements are typically a powder, and Tristan started actively leaving the powder behind. I added flavoring. That worked for a little while. I switched his supplements – High Point Grass/Mixed Hay and ReitHoof – to pellets from powder when that became available. That worked for a little while. Then it didn’t. The barn manager thought that he was sniffing through the pellets carefully, picking out the grain, and in the process smooshing the pellets back into powder with his nose, guaranteeing he would not eat them.

In the last few weeks, we have arrived at an impasse. I knew I wanted Tristan on an overall vitamin/mineral package, but I just wasn’t excited by anything the barn already offered or I could purchase locally at Tractor Supply.

Last week during yet another SmartPak 50% off sale, I made a choice. I started Tristan on SmartPak supplements. First, I added SmartVite Senior Perform as his basic vitamin/mineral supplement.

I also spent quite a bit of time thinking about muscle supplements. In the past, I’ve added some alfalfa for extra protein to support muscle growth, but I never saw a huge difference. I looked at a few different muscle supplements, and then I looked more closely at how they matched up with SmartPituitary Senior Pellets.

One of the key symptoms of Cushings is muscle wasting, and it’s one of Tristan’s biggest indicators, so any Cushings-oriented supplement would have plenty of muscle support. It fit my bill, was a bit less pricey than the other supplements I looked at, and I’ll be curious to see if it helps support him in any other way. He is a very, very low-symptom Cushings horse, responding well to the pergolide with few (if any) spikes in his bloodwork, even seasonally, so I felt like a little bit of support would help but not that I would be crushed if it didn’t help him.

We’re about a week in, and he’s eating both of them just fine. It’s obviously way too early to see any clear results, but we’ll see!

nutrition · supplements

How Should I Feed My Horse Salt? Part 2

In Part 1, I looked at the different ways to feed a horse salt, and the pros and cons of each.

Here, in Part 2, I’ll go over what I’ve done for Tristan in the past, and what I plan on doing forward based on my research.

Not long after I brought Tristan, home, he started displaying one of the classic signs of mineral deficiency: coprophagia. It was winter, he wasn’t on grain, and he was out 24/7, so boredom was not really a factor. After a few days of reading and talking to people, I added a salt block to his field – a red trace mineral 50lb block. The coprophagia vanished overnight.

When he came inside to a stall part of the day about 9 months later, I scaled down to a 3lb block in holder. One of these:

It lasted about two weeks. Then he ripped it off the wall. I spent an hour sifting through the shavings to find the screw and put it back up. Lather, rinse, repeat. Soon enough, I decided that the convenience of a wall-mounted salt block was not worth the stress of worrying about him stepping on a screw. I tossed it in his grain bucket.
This worked most of the time, until he got to the end of the salt block. The little ones go faster, and break up into small chunks easier. It broke up so quickly that half his grain bucket was red salt, and he went off his grain because it probably tasted like nothing but salt.
After that, I turned to the Himalayan salt licks for reason of expediency: they came on those convenient tie ropes, and I could just tie one to the bars of his stall and not worry about a salt block holder.
But jeez, they were expensive, and he went through them about once a month – or sometimes much less time. They were usually the first thing to fall off the list if I had an unexpected vet visit or farrier bill. Eventually they became an occasional treat. He always loved them, but I was buying them at the rate and price of a good joint supplement!

Enter our move to Vermont. He started again with the coprophagia in his stall, and armed with my previous experiences, I went big: 50lb salt block, with a holder, in his stall. I picked red because of the added iron, and anything I can do to get more energy into him is a bonus in my mind.

Honestly, I just bought whatever was available at Tractor Supply, and there are some other options that might’ve been better as holders: some that hang over the side of the stall, for example. That would save me time fishing it out of the shavings in the back of his stall on a regular basis. But then, they wouldn’t hold the small chunks at the end as well, so it probably evens out.
Since I’ve started doing this, he’s gone through three blocks at a rate of about one every 6-8 months. I pay about $10 for them at Tractor Supply, depending on sale prices. Very affordable! But is he getting enough salt?
Let’s say it’s the inside number of 50 lbs in 6 months. That’s 180 days, so on average 1/4 lb a day, or 4 ounces. Per my math, that’s actually a little more than the approximate amount of salt for a 1,000 lb horse in regular work of 2.4 ounces. All things being equal, Tristan gets probably a little more salt than he should!
He does not, however, get enough to cause toxicity, and the amount he eats per day is highly variable. I’m going to assume he regulates himself.
So after all that, what am I going to do about his salt intake?
Absolutely nothing, actually. I set out to find out if the red, or added mineral, salt blocks were ok to feed him, and they are. I wanted to know if he was getting enough salt – and he definitely is!
Here’s the only thing I might change: I might invest in an electrolyte supplement to add on days when he sweats more heavily in the summer. I’m talking very occasionally – once every two weeks. He’s not much of a sweater, thanks to his desert heritage. 
So that was a lot of work and reading for no change, but I feel better overall about my decisions. They were admittedly made on guesswork and instinct, but they turned out to be ok. (Not always the case!) And I hope that going through it all on the blog helped someone out there make decisions too.

nutrition · supplements

How Should I Feed My Horse Salt? Part 1

I’ve been wondering about this topic for some time myself, so I decided to do some research.

The basic premise is that sodium and chloride (the building blocks of NaCl, salt) are essential to a horse’s diet. This article on minerals from The Horse suggests that a horse in no work should be receiving 0.25% of its diet as salt, and a horse in full work, sweating regularly, should receive closer to 0.75% of its diet as salt.
So, let’s do the math: a horse should consume 2% of its body weight per day; for a normal 1,000 lb horse, that’s about 20 lbs a day. 0.25% of 20 lbs is 0.8 ounces, or approximately one tablespoon of salt. 0.75% of 20lbs is 2.4 ounces, or approximately 1/4 cup of salt. So if you have a draft horse in the summer in regular work, your horse might need as much as 1/2 cup of salt a day!

It’s tough for horses to overeat salt, especially if they have access to water – excess minerals will just pass through with urine. It is possible, though, for horses who drink briny water (in the absence of fresh, clean water) or flat-out eat a salt block. Symptoms include colic, diarrhea, and weakness of the limbs. Most people believe that horses will self-regulate, eating as much salt as their bodies need. Some horses may lick dirt or rocks, or eat the roots of plants and grass, in order to get at extra minerals when their bodies are lacking them.

(For fun again, here’s the math. A lethal dose of salt for horses is considered 2.2g/kg. That works out to 2.2 lbs, or a little more than 3 1/2 cups of salt. Your horse would basically have to eat most of a 3lb salt block in a short time period.)

Horses get salt through their regular food intake: processed grain, hay, and grass. Most of the time, though, these food sources don’t add up to enough, especially if the horse is in any kind of work and sweating. Salt is a key part of the electrolyte balance that allows a horse to function – see this article, again from The Horse, for a fairly long and complicated explanation of the role electrolytes play in equine biology. (You can do a quick Google or take a look at your grain bag label to see how much salt is in the grain, and you can almost always send your hay out to be tested for the same information, if you really want to get down into the weeds for this information.)

In short, you almost always need to supplement salt in your horse’s diet. But how do you do that? Here are the most common ways, with their pros and cons.

Loose Salt

Exactly what it sounds like: loose salt, added to your horse’s feed. You can add this in a couple of ways. Some people dress grain with it, much like a supplement, a tablespoon or two at a time. Some people leave out a bucket of loose salt for the horse to eat as it chooses.
Pros: Easiest to eat, practically guarantees a daily salt intake, doesn’t take up room in a horses’s stall or field
Cons: Salt might turn some horses off grain, overeager horses will eat too much, must be fed in a stall, could get expensive, might get skipped if you’re boarding (like any other supplement)
I found argument both ways about exactly what type of loose salt to use: iodized salt for people? loose bagged salt for livestock? something in-between? No really clear answer here.
Salt Blocks: White

These blocks come in various sizes, from the small 3lb ones that you put on a wall to the large 50lb block that’s pictured here. 
Pros: Inexpensive (usually $3-5 for the 3lb blocks and $10-15 fot the 50lb blocks), last a long time, can really take a beating, provide an entertainment value alongside nutrition
Cons: There is a school of thought that believes these blocks are meant for cattle, and a horse’s smoother tongue cannot lick long and hard enough to get enough salt off the block. This school of thought argues that horses often resort to biting the blocks, which can cause TMJ and other jaw irritation and then lead to breaking off large, unhealthy chunks that can cause salt poisoning. They also take up space in a stall, whether on the wall or on the floor.
Salt Blocks: Trace Minerals
This is a fairly wide category; if you search at Tractor Supply on “salt block” you’ll return a few dozen variations with different trace minerals. I’ve put up photos of the two most common here. On the left, a salt block with added sulfur; on the right, one with added iron. You have to look at the ingredients list for precisely what proportions of what minerals are represented. Each color typically reflects a different mineral composition. For the sulfur and iron blocks, they’re about 95-97% salt and 3-5% other mineral.
Pros: Much the same as a plain salt block, these are inexpensive (maybe a dollar or two more than plain salt), durable, and slow a horse’s consumption down
Cons: Same as above; are these really meant for cattle?
There is an interesting additional con to consider, however, and it’s this one that sent me on my original research quest. Are the added minerals bad for horses? I did quite a lot of reading, and the most reputable sources pointed out that these are still mostly just salt, and that a horse would really have to consume a LOT in one day to reach any kind of overload on the minerals. That said: there are some that really should not be eaten by horses, so avoid anything that’s specifically formulated for other animals like sheep or goats. (There are some minerals that can be overconsumed, selenium being the first among these.)
Some anecdotal reports suggest that feeding the sulfur blocks can be a sort of natural fly repellent, much like apple cider vinegar. There’s no scientific evidence to support this. Sulfur is a necessary component of a horse’s diet, but a tiny one, and they pretty much get what they need from their regular feed.
Horse-Specific Mineral Blocks

The variations in this category are endless. You’ve definitely seen these, and they are often marketed with various flavors as “treats.” These provide quite a lot more in the way of basic minerals and nutrients.
For example, here’s the nutritional analysis for the Dumor Horse Block:

Crude Protein (min.) 16.00%, Lysine (min.).60%, Crude Fat (min.) 2.00%, Crude Fiber (max.) 10.00%, Calcium(Ca)(min.) 1.50%, Calcium(Ca) (Max) 2.00%, Phosphorus(P) (min.) .60%, Salt(NaCl) (min.) 10.00%, Salt(NaCl) (max.) 12.00%, Sodium(Na)(min.) 5.00%, Sodium(Na) (max.)6.00%, Copper(Cu) (min.) 55.00ppm, Selenium(Se) (min.) .60ppm, Selenium(Se) (max.) .70ppm, Zinc(Zn) (min.) 150.00ppm, Vitamin A (min.) 10,000IU/lb, Vitamin D(3) (min.) 2500IU/lb, Vitamin E (min.) 250IU/lb, Animal protein products-free.

That’s a LOT more stuff than is in any of the other salt blocks!

Now take a look at the ingredients for that same block:

Wheat Middlings, Cane Molasses, Salt, Dehydrated Alfalfa meal, Cottonseed meal, Ground Milo, Sunflower Meal, Calcium Carbonate, Bentonite, Ground Soybean Hulls, Rice Bran, Cracked Corn, Dehulled soybean Meal, Monocalcium Phosphate, Dicalcium Phosphate, L-lysine, Vitamin E Supplement, Copper Sulfate, Vitamin A supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Ethylenediamine Dihydriodide, Manganous Oxide, Zinc Oxide, Calcium Iodate, Magnesium Oxide, Ferrous Sulfate, Mineral Oil, Sodium Selenite. 2.000% Ground Soybean Hulls.

See #2? Molasses.

Pros: These really are the only salt blocks that are 100% meant for horses. Horses love them. They do provide quite a lot of nutritional kick to them. If your horses are pastured 24/7, on range, or do not get any grain, these can be a great supplement.
Cons: Molasses! Any horse with sugar sensitivities should stay far away from these blocks. Many horses, in fact, will go after these until they are gone because they reward licking with great taste beyond just satisfying a salt craving. They’re also not really salt blocks: only 10-12% in the Dumor block, as opposed to the 95%+ of a typical salt block. They are way more expensive than a plain salt block, easy 2-3x as much.

They also have a lot in them, most of which is supplied by processed grain. So if your horses is on any kind of grain, they probably don’t need what’s in these blocks. Note that many of these blocks also contain selenium, which is dangerous in large quantities.

Himalayan Salt

The newest and trendiest way to feed salt. What is “Himalayan” salt, exactly? Rock salt, or halite. Most of the pink stuff that’s mined and marketed as Himalayan comes from Pakistan.
Here’s a selection of claims about this salt: “it contains the full spectrum of 84 minerals and trace elements just like Mother Earth intended,” “The Original® Himalayan Crystal Salt® is more than salt, it’s a way of life — or more precisely, a way of approaching aspects of living your life well,” “a pure, hand-mined salt that is derived from ancient sea salt deposits, and it is believed to be the purest form of salt available.”
Does anyone else have the same knee-jerk reaction to fads that I do? Sigh.
Himalayan salt does contain other trace minerals beyond just salt. What, exactly? We don’t know. It depends. On a lot of things. It’s really not clear whether any of them are beneficial or not. Certainly it’s not analyzed before it’s sent out to stores. So believe whatever you want about its human benefits, here’s what it does for horses.
Pros: much harder than the processed salt blocks – can last much longer, often comes on a neat rope hanging thingy, your horses will look cooler and more loved than all his friends with his trendy pink salt lick
Cons: those extra trace minerals, super expensive, that same hardness might work against it (see above for arguments about effective salt intake)

Electrolyte Supplements
Last but not least: since we are feeding our horses salt primarily to aid in their water intake and exercise resources (here’s that article again from The Horse for the technical stuff), you can also substitute or supplement your horse’s salt consumption with electrolytes. (Here’s a good recent thread from the Chronicle of the Horse forums about salt v. electrolytes.)
Electrolytes never contain just salt; at their most basic, they have sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium. These are the basic minerals that help a horse to process heat & exercise and to sweat appropriately. There are endless variations in electrolyte supplements. Smartpak currently (August 2014) carries 15 different varieties, and interestingly enough, they list basic salt as one of them! 

In the reading I’ve done, here’s the consensus: most horses do not need a daily electrolyte. If they’re in average work, they’ll replenish what they need from salt, hay, and grain. If they’re in heavier work in the heat, they may need a general supplement on that day, one dose or so. Horses in intensive work, such as endurance rides, may need electrolyte supplementation during that work. Basically, if they’re burning through it faster than average eating can replenish. It is, however, all too easy to overdose on electrolytes and cause a general system imbalance, so you shouldn’t just pour them down your horse’s throat. It’s important to know and watch your own individual horse if you’re doing high-exertion exercise. (And even then, you can get into trouble, unfortunately; horse sports are not without risk.)

The purpose of this blog post, though, is to consider ways to get salt into your horse, so with that objective in mind:

Pros: electrolytes provide a full-spectrum replacement alongside salt, which can be great
Cons: your horse probably doesn’t need them, so this is NOT the main way you should plan on getting salt into his system; examine labels carefully to make sure that the minerals you need are there, and that it’s not loaded with added sugar.

SO. Whew. If you’ve stuck with me through that, congratulations! Those are the basic ways to get salt into your horse’s diet.

In Part 2, coming soon, I’ll discuss what I have used in the past for Tristan and what I’m going to do going forward based on this research.

adventures with the vet · supplements

Notes on Experimentation

Note the First: Pentosan. Should we do a round in the spring, and see if he responds? Is it available again?

Legend injection in late fall made zip, zero difference that I could tell. Had a marvelous ride the day after, and then two days later, nothing. Taking him off Previcox has not resulted in a gimpier horse. I am not necessarily addressing a specific issue, but rather hoping I can improve the overall picture.

Note the Second: Gut issues. He remains the gassiest horse in the barn by yards and yards. Do I want to worry about this? Do I think harder about a hindgut treatment of some kind? Do I make some attempts at ulcer treatment?

He’s already on a pre & probiotic and doesn’t seem bothered by his gassiness.

Note the Third: General supplementation for weight/energy/hydration. Will try hay cubes/pellets, soaked, or beet pulp, soaked, as a snack/meal when out and hauling, or as something to give him as a treat after riding in the summer.

HorseTech · supplements

Small Business Saturday

Someday soon I’m going to do a proper product review for HorseTech. Until then, know that they are a truly outstanding company that makes a quality product. Tristan has been on their supplements for many years now and I’ve never been less than 100% satisfied.

Today, Saturday, they are participating in Small Business Saturday. Order anything from them and use the code SMALL10 to get 10% off your order.

They don’t just sell supplements – they’ve got a great line of cooling boots, and they carry the Muck Company boots.

Happy shopping! I’m going to re-up on Tristan’s current supplement (High Point Grass, with added biotin) today to take advantage of the sale.

stupid human tricks · supplements

Mixed Bag

The good:

Very, very good ride last night. We were both tired at the end, in a good way, and Tris is getting more and more responsive to the aids, more willingly forward, and more engaged through his hind end inch by inch. I focused last night in particular on making sure that he himself reached out to the bridle, rather than me stuffing him into it. The trot was particularly good, and there was one glorious stride in the canter when I felt his inside hind reeeeeach, and then we lost it again. Good news also in the canter is that he is picking up his leads waaaaay more consistently than he did before his time off. Not sure if my riding has changed/improved or if his soreness was throwing him off. We had a terrible time picking up the correct lead, particularly left, last year.

I also seem to have unlocked a key, rather embarrassing, problem with my position that R. targeted right away in our last lesson. My hands were moving far too much when I posted, and it was annoying him. Since then, I’ve been concentrating very hard on getting movement in my elbows and keeping my hands steady and it has paid off with a horse that is dramatically steadier in the contact. Funny how that works!

Finally, so far the Tums regimen seems to be correlated with positive rides, and he is showing zero effect from being pulled off the Previcoxx. I’m cautiously pleased enough to have stepped down his joint supplements to a multivitamin for the fall and we’ll keep an eye.

The bad:

He’s chipped his hind foot much further and it looks godawful, though at least it’s not hurting him in any way. Oh, pony.

I struggled all day with whether I would go to the barn last night, even after three days away for work out of state, and I was just so tired and burned out I couldn’t face doing things any more. I got home, made bread, set it to rise, and during the machine kneading and first rising I had a cookie and glass of milk and read a few pages of my current book and by the end of it I was ready to head back out. I’m glad I did, but I hate not wanting to.

The ugly:

As I mentioned, massively stressed out, tired, burned out, you name it. I’ve had a headache for several days, I’m not sleeping terribly well, and even when I do get sleep it doesn’t put a dent in my overall sluggishness. My left eyelid is twitching almost constantly.

So last night I groomed, tacked up, got on, rode my warmup, and while cantering about thought, hmmmmm, why are my bangs flopping against my forehead like that? That’s really annoying.

Then realization dawned: oh, shit, I’m not wearing my helmet.

Literally the first time in who knows how many years of riding that I have not worn my helmet on a horse. The first time. EVER. I was not one of those daredevil kids who jumped on bareback and galloped away. I had one of the original ugly white bucket helmets with the snap on visors. (God, that thing was awful.)

Needless to say, I pulled him up immediately and marched us back to the barn aisle to get my helmet. Goooood grief.

nutrition · supplements


Okay: a few good rides in a row again, though I’m off for a work trip for the next few days out of state, alas.

Thought I’d record for posterity a few small changes to Tristan’s routine.

The first is that I’m feeding him 8 Tums (the generic Walmart version) about 15-20 minutes before every ride. I’m only three rides into this. It’s an experiment. He’s never struck me as an ulcery horse, really – he’s pretty chill – but he does get very head-flippy and resistant during warmup. Now, part of this is definitely my lack of riding ability – but part of it is unwillingness. I’m not ready to report back yet, but early indications are a slight positive. (If nothing else, he eats them like candy and that puts him in a good mood…)

I consulted with my vet and took him off Previcoxx. He’d been on it since shortly after his surgery (basically week 2 of rehab, when he stepped down off bute), more as a general anti-inflammatory than in response to anything specific. I was being extra-cautious in keeping him on it daily, and it was inexpensive and provided by the barn (~$20 a month). When I weighed the longterm liver problems of a daily NSAID (eek) with his age (not quite old enough to prioritize comfort over longevity) and the probable benefit he was getting (possibly nil), vet agreed that we should pull it.

He still gets a daily joint supplement – HorseTech’s ReitSport Senior – and the vet and I are going to revisit the general support question as he progresses in work off the Previcoxx. I may do a round or two of Adequan/Pentosan with him when they come back on the market. It’s not pressing right now, but it’s something I’d like to try. If it does make a big difference I’d ratchet back his oral supplement to just a mutlivitamin/probiotic and keep up the injectables regularly.

Finally, a few days ago I caught him eating his manure. Corprophagy, for him, is a very reliable indicator that he needs a salt block. Several months ago he had a biiiiig red one in his stall on the ground and he’d been using that, but it vanished when he shifted stalls and I have been too darn lazy to seek it out again. So I picked a little one up at Tractor Supply, dropped it in his feed bucket, and he has been licking away since, happy as a clam. (Alas, he destroys the wall-mounted holders with distressing regularity, leaving me to panic about screws falling into his bedding and/or projecting metal pieces jabbing his eye.)

So there’s that. His weight is inching up again as his grain has been upped – he’s getting a whole half quart in his AM and PM feed, the glutton. I toyed with the idea of switching him to a senior feed recently but after reading and comparing labels they didn’t address anything he particularly needed – he’s not a hard keeper and he’s in very good overall health and doesn’t need the kind of support they tend to provide. Someday, but not today.

HorseTech · supplements

Small Business Saturday

I am not much for supplements. Tris has been on and off a few different ones over the years. As he ages, however, I have been making a more conscious effort to support him, especially with joint options.

One constant in the supplements I have tried is that I have always, always been happy with HorseTech’s products. They are a consistently high quality, have flexible options, superior customer service, and always make a difference, especially in his coat and hoof quality. I’ve used several different products with the same success.

Tomorrow, for Small Business Saturday, HorseTech is running a 10% off sale – just enter the code SMALL10 at checkout. If you’re a US Rider member, you can also take 10% off wig the code USRIDER10. (Just be sure to include your membership number in the comments field so they can verify.)

I will definitely be taking advantage of this sale to stock back up on my current choice, TriSport, and I’ll be adding some of he new ReitHoof to help keep his foot growing.