Where Do Horse Owners Get Supplement Advice?
With a click of a mouse, owners have access to thousands of nutritional supplements purported to support their horses’ joints, digestive tracts, overall wellness, and more. But, who do they consider as their go-to source for advice on which of those supplements to choose?

While attending the University of Nottingham’s School of Veterinary and Medical Science, in the U.K., Rachael Gemmill partnered with nutritionists at the University of Surrey School of Veterinary Medicine, also in the U.K., on a study to evaluate what factors affect owners’ decisions regarding supplement use in dressage and eventing horses.

The team developed an online survey that included questions about the nutritional supplements participants feed, the sources of information they use to select supplements for their horses, and their opinions of these sources. The team received 757 surveys that met the inclusion criteria.

Respondents competed in either eventing (19.9%), dressage (56.6%), or both (23.5%). Females comprised more than 96% of the participants in both categories, with a majority between the ages of 22 and 34. Other demographic data showed most participants both owned and competed their horses (90.3%) and kept their horses at home (44.7%).

When asked to list all sources used to obtain information about nutritional supplements, respondents’ top five answers included veterinarians (49.8%), internet articles or reviews (39.4%), other horse owners (38.7%), coaches or trainers (36.5%), and nutritionists (33.4%).

Other key takeaways included:

  • Participants considered veterinarians the most reliable source, and they had the most influence on owners’ decisions;
  • Other horse owners represented the least influential and least reliable source; however, respondents listed them as the main source of information for their most recently purchased supplement;
  • Owner education level correlated with the use of research papers as an information source (so, owners with a BSc, MSc, or PhD degree in sports/equine science or a similar field were more likely to use research papers as an information source);
  • Owners under the age of 34 were more likely to ask a coach or trainer for information versus those over 35; and
  • Price (69.6%), personal recommendations from a friend (57.5%), and availability (51.3%) also influenced purchasing decisions.

Most respondents (70%) listed their experience with veterinarians as positive and expressed interest in more veterinarian-client interactions regarding supplements, such as via seminars, newsletters, and discussion sessions. Even so, the survey indicated that owners did not think veterinarians had the knowledge or time to focus on equine nutrition-related issues.

Teresa Hollands, PhD, RNutr, FHEA, senior teaching fellow at the University of Surrey, said it was encouraging to see so many owners talking to their vets about equine nutrition.

“Whilst (some) owners commented that they felt vets did not have the knowledge to focus on nutrition, it should be remembered that nutritional knowledge of equine clinicians in the U.K. reflects that of their medical counterparts,” she said.

Some U.K. vet schools are now integrating nutrition into their curricula, and veterinarians and medics are recognizing nutrition as being important not only as a therapeutic but also preventive adjunct, said Hollands.

The study, “Factors affecting owners’ choice of nutritional supplements for use in dressage and eventing horses,” was published in Veterinary Record Open.