Last Updated on January 9, 2022
Figuring out the best diet for your horse can be a complicated matter! There are so many options available, it can be a minefield working out the best option for your equine friend. So what about loose minerals – do your horses need them in their diet?
If you go down to the feed store you will see a huge range of horse food on offer, including many different supplements. It is vital that your horse gets the correct vitamins and minerals in his diet, and that they are fed in the right amounts. Let’s take a look at the world of horse feed supplements and see what is best for your horse!
Why Is A Vitamin And Mineral Supplement Necessary For Horses?
To figure out why horses might need a vitamin and mineral supplement, we first need to take a look at their normal diet. Horses are herbivores and eat mainly grass and hay. Domesticated horses may get additional feed, such as cereals, sugar beet pulp, and oils.
The grass and hay that horses eat will provide almost all of their nutritional needs. In the wild, a horse would also be able to access a wide range of herbs, bushes, and trees. They would nibble on these plants to gain essential nutrients.
In a domesticated situation, we have greatly reduced the amount of plants that a horse can eat. They can graze all day on lush grass and eat hay when in the barn, but will not be able to nibble on herbs, bushes, and trees. This means that they may not get all the nutrients they need.
Another factor we need to take into account with domesticated horses is that they may have additional nutritional requirements. This may be because we are asking them to do extra work, in the form of exercise. Horses will also need extra nutrients if they are growing, or during periods of ill health, or old age.
This means that, as well as grass and hay, domesticated horses should be fed a vitamin and mineral supplement. If your horse is being fed a complete feed or balancer, then this should contain all the additional nutrients they need. If not, you might consider giving loose minerals instead.
Can Horses Have Loose Minerals?
Like all animals, horses need certain minerals to stay healthy. Minerals are inorganic nutrients and are only needed in very small amounts.
The essential minerals that horses require are:
Read more about Caring For Horses: Information For Beginners
Some minerals are needed in even smaller amounts, and are known as trace minerals:
So, while all these minerals are essential, how much do horses need? Well, this is the tricky part! They are all needed in very small amounts, and the ratio between each mineral is also important.
For example, high levels of selenium can be toxic to horses, so care must be taken not to feed too much of this trace mineral to your horse. Some minerals, such as calcium and phosphorous, need to be in perfect balance to give optimal benefits.
So, how do we get this balance right? Firstly, you need to take a look at what your horse is currently being fed. If you are giving him the recommended daily amount of a complete feed or balancer then he will already be getting all the minerals he needs.
If this is not the case, then you should think about adding a vitamin and mineral supplement to your horse’s diet. An easy way to do this is to purchase a complete supplement in powder form and add this to a small feed for your horse each day.
However, it may not always be practical to feed your horse daily, particularly if he lives in a large herd. In this situation then you could consider giving loose minerals instead.
How Much Loose Minerals Do Horses Need?
Loose minerals are salt-based mineral supplement that is fed in a loose form. Unlike mineral blocks, that are formed into a brick-like shape, loose minerals are left as individual grains, that is licked up by the horse.
Loose minerals are normally fed in a specialized feeder, that the horse can access at any time. This gives the horse free choice to eat as much or as little as he wants. Loose minerals can also be added to the horse’s feed in the same way as any other supplement.
Loose minerals are made of trace mineral salt and will contain high levels of sodium and chloride as well as other trace minerals. This mineral salt should not contain calcium or phosphorus, as these minerals should be provided in the daily feed rations.
The minerals contained in loose mineral salt are not necessarily dangerous if consumed in large amounts, but it is vital that your horse is not allowed to overindulge on them.
If your horse has free access to his loose minerals, you will have very little control over how much he eats. He will eat as much or as little as he wants every day! Luckily, most horses will naturally avoid eating too much mineral salt, so an overdose of trace minerals is unlikely.
However, if you are adding loose minerals to the feed, you should always follow the manufacturers’ recommendations.
What Is A Good Mineral Block For Horses?
Mineral blocks are also a form of mineral salt, but that has been pressed into block form. The horse can lick the block at will to get the minerals he needs. This is a slower way for the horse to get minerals, that also reduces the risk of overconsumption.
Look for a mineral block that contains sodium, chloride, and trace minerals. A mineral block should not contain calcium or phosphorus.
Read more The Best Salt Block For Horses
So, as we have learned, loose minerals for horses can be fed when there are insufficient minerals in the horse’s diet. Horses that are fed the recommended amount of a feed balancer do not need a mineral supplement. Mineral blocks are a solid alternative to loose minerals.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on horse vitamin and mineral supplements! Do you give your horse loose minerals? Or maybe you’ve got questions about the best way to add minerals to your horse’s diet? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE