Combination Supplements for Horses

Q.I’ve notice there are a lot of combo supplements for horses these days. In the past, I remember manufacturers combined a couple things, such as a mineral supplement and a joint-support product. Now, though, I see ones that manufacturers claim target multiple things—joints, hooves, digestive tract, mineral needs, etc.—with one product. We used to need multiple individual supplements to cover all these aspects of equine health. Do combination supplements really work?

—Via e-mail

A.This is a great question! As convenience and a desire to support our horse’s entire well-being have become increasingly popular, combination products have, indeed, been on the rise. Not only are these products convenient from the standpoint of fewer containers in the feed room, but there is less chance of someone forgetting to give one of multiple supplements or giving the wrong amount. Instead of one scoop of product A, two scoops of B, and half a scoop of C, horses only need the recommended number of scoops of a single supplement.

How effective they are at supporting each of the various systems advertised, however, is going to depend on the amount of various ingredients the supplement contains. I see some products claiming to support multiple systems, such as hooves and joints, that don’t contain enough of the necessary active ingredients to achieve the product’s claims. This is the downside to combination products: To be effective you are likely looking at large serving sizes, several ounces per serving in most cases. Anything less than this and your horse might not get enough of certain ingredients for the product to have an impact.

Single Supplement Serving Sizes

For example, the joint supplements I’ve found most effective provide glucosamine (about 10 grams), chondroitin (about 2 grams), and MSM (also about 10 grams). They might also provide about 5 grams of vitamin C. This adds up to the better part of an ounce in joint-support compounds.

For digestive support, most serving sizes for active live yeast or hydrolyzed yeasts are 7.5 to 10 grams to meet the researched levels that provide about 50 billion CFUs (colony-forming units, a unit used to estimate the number of viable bacteria or fungal cells in a sample). If a combination of probiotics is included, a serving size will likely be several more grams.

Most reputable hoof supplements are providing upwards of 200 to 400 milligrams of zinc, 50 to 150 milligrams of copper, 20 to 30 milligrams of biotin, and 2.5 to 3 grams of methionine. A combination product to support hoof health should provide similar quantities.

Also, keep in mind that these ingredients are not only beneficial to hooves. For example, biotin can help strengthen manes and tails. This is sometimes how combination supplements are able to claim that they support so many systems. One nutrient can play a role in many functions, such as zinc being integral for hooves, immune function, skin integrity, and coat quality.

Units of Measure

Some combination products have long lists of ingredients that appear to be present in either tiny quantities that have not been proven effective or large quantities that might seem like overkill. But take a close look at the units of measure, and spend some time familiarizing yourself with those units so you can better assess whether the amounts present are desirable. Some labels use milligrams, which can sound quite high—for example, 1,200 mg of calcium is the same as 1.2 grams. Be sure you’re comparing apples to apples when selecting a product.

Ingredient Stability

Another consideration is the stability of nutrients in the product, especially vitamins, which can be impacted by their physical and chemical environment. For example, some forms of vitamin C aren’t very stable when in contact with trace minerals, with an average of 25% being lost each month over a six-month period. Therefore, you might not get all of vitamin C’s benefits if the product is also providing a source of daily trace minerals. It does depend though on the vitamin C’s form and the trace minerals included, so consider consulting with a knowledgeable equine nutritionist if you have questions or concerns about ingredient stability.

The Bottom Line

In general, combination products can offer a good choice for convenience, and some work well. But do your due diligence. Research the amounts of ingredients per serving and whether research supports the included ingredients. Depending on the product you’re considering and your horse’s needs, using targeted products aimed might be a better choice.