Most horse owners go to great pains to provide good feed for their horses but often mistakenly overlook proper mineral nutrition. Mineral nutrition is especially important for proper hoof growth and soundness, as well as immunity, reproduction and exercise performance. Ultimately, good mineral nutrition is critical for maintaining healthy, productive horses.
What minerals are needed, and what do they do?
Minerals are loosely grouped into two categories: the macro-minerals and the micro- or trace minerals. Macro-minerals include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sulfur and salt, and are needed in relatively large amounts in the body. The trace minerals include cobalt, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, selenium and zinc, and are required in very small or “trace” amounts in the body. While adequate amounts of all the above minerals are essential to proper nutrition, I will focus on the trace minerals cobalt, copper, selenium, manganese and zinc for the remainder of this article.
Cobalt deficiency is rare in horses. However, cobalt supplementation has been shown to enhance microbial fiber digestion. This results in increased available energy derived from forages. Intestinal organisms also use cobalt to manufacture vitamin B-12 used by the horse.
Copper is essential for hoof integrity, enzyme functions, immunity, connective tissue metabolism and iron metabolism, among other functions, but deficiency is widespread across many parts of the United States. Deficiency symptoms include poor stress tolerance, exercise-related problems including sub-par performance, frequent infections and poor wound healing. Copper deficiency may also play a role in the development of arthritis, tendon and ligament problems and poor hoof quality. High levels of iron, sulfur or molybdenum in the soil or additional feed supplements can further exaggerate these deficiency symptoms.
Copper has an important role in the activity of antioxidant enzymes. Exposure to drugs, chemical preservatives and inhaled impurities in the air may generate substances called free radicals. These electrically imbalanced molecules attack normal tissues. The damaged cell, in turn, attacks its neighbors, setting up a chain reaction of cellular damage. A healthy horse constantly fights off bacteria, viruses and other organisms. In fighting off these invaders, free radicals are formed. Free radicals may actually be responsible for many of the familiar and uncomfortable symptoms of infection/inflammations (pain and swelling) and such things as a sore throat, runny nose and other symptoms of viral infection. Exercise also regularly produces free radicals that may cause soreness and fatigue. Copper is also needed to synthesize and maintain connective tissue, such as ligaments, tendons, bones and cartilage. Inadequate copper intake in mares and foals has been implicated in the likelihood of developmental bone disease, including OCD (osteochondrosis dessicans). Copper-dependent enzymes are responsible for the structural integrity of various hoof tissues. Because of copper’s important role in the development, repair and maintenance of bones, joints, tendons, ligaments and hooves, supplementation is especially recommended for pregnant mares, young growing horses or physically active horses.
Manganese is essential for energy metabolism, reproduction and immune function. Manganese is also vital for the formation, maintenance and repair of joint cartilages, including those found in the internal structure of the foot. Because of the importance of joint development and maintenance, supplementation is especially recommended for pregnant mares, growing horses and exercising horses, as well as horses with arthritis.
Selenium is an antioxidant that works in conjunction with vitamin E to prevent and repair cellular damage caused by free radicals in the body, much like the antioxidant enzymes described above with copper. Selenium and/or vitamin E deficiency has been shown to impair immune response. Selenium is also associated with thyroxine, a thyroid hormone that regulates metabolism, reproduction, circulation and muscle function. Selenium also protects the body from heavy metals by forming complexes to render them harmless. Because of toxicity risks associated with the over-supplementation of selenium, you must read and follow label directions regarding the use of supplements containing selenium.
Zinc also plays a vital role in the function of antioxidant enzymes (like copper) and helps protect the body from damage caused by free radicals. Zinc is extremely important to the functioning of the immune system in both fighting off invading organisms and controlling symptoms related to inflammation. The health of the skin and feet is directly related to zinc. Zinc is also involved in energy metabolism, nerve function and bone and joint health.
Inadequate zinc levels may result in poor tolerance to stress, exercise-related problems, frequent infections and poor wound healing. Long-term zinc deficiency may contribute to decreased fertility, poor wound healing, poor athletic performance (relating to defective energy metabolism) and increase susceptibility to infections.
But don’t they get what they need from forages?
While most horses receive adequate mineral levels from available forages in order to survive, the vast majority are not receiving the mineral nutrition needed for optimum health and performance. An important point to remember is that the mineral content of forages is limited by the mineral make-up of the soils. So, if it’s not in the soil, it can’t get into the plant. Most soils in the United States are marginally to severely deficient in selenium and copper, among other minerals. Also, soil types vary from farm to farm and even field to field. No one soil type provides optimum levels of all the minerals needed by horses. Therefore, a mineral supplement is always advisable. Other variables, such as plant species, plant maturity and climate conditions, will also play a role in the mineral content of available forages.
What if I feed trace-mineralized salt?
Unfortunately, trace-mineralized salt in loose or block form will not meet all of the nutritional needs of horses. Trace-mineralized salt is mostly salt (typically 90–98%) and contains relatively low trace mineral levels compared to complete mineral supplements. Because of the high salt content, consumption of these supplements will be very low, resulting in the sub-optimum intake of needed trace minerals. Plus, these supplements do not contain added vitamins or macro-minerals. For these reasons, I strongly recommend using a complete mineral/vitamin supplement.
How do I provide proper mineral nutrition?
Just like humans are encouraged to take their supplements every day, it is important to provide supplementation to your horse every day too. This is best accomplished with a complete self-fed mineral/vitamin supplement. ULTRALYX® offers equine supplements containing minerals and vitamins designed especially for the nutritional needs of horses.
ULTRALYX offers an equine supplement for every situation, from fly control to protein supplementation to mineral/vitamin supplementation. ULTRALYX supplements come in many forms, including loose mineral, pressed block and compressed block.
Visit your local ULTRALYX dealer for more information on available ULTRALYX products or call 1-888-718-3493 to speak to an ULTRALYX representative.