Why do horse owners use feed supplements? Ask 10 different owners, and you’ll probably get 10 different answers. But if you ask David Marlin, PhD, founder of Science Supplements, suggests that typically, he’ll say owners are generally looking to solve a particular problem when they elect to feed a supplement.

Agar et al. (2016, Veterinary Record) have also learned that the majority of riders perceive a difference in their horses after feeding supplements. But, is this a real change or a placebo effect? There is still much to be studied regarding the efficacy of many supplements.

At the University of Maryland’s Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ 2016 Mid-Atlantic Nutrition Conference, held March 23-24, in Hunt Valley, Maryland, Marlin described commonly fed supplements and deconstructed the theories behind their use:

  • Calcium: Marlin said supplementing calcium for calming effects horses has become a trend in the U.K. and Europe. While many horse owners feel it works, there is no evidence to prove it does, he said. Plasma calcium concentration is strictly regulated by the horse’s body, which he said begs the question: Does supplementing calcium really have a significant impact?
  • Cobalt: Cobalt is a trace element that is required in very small doses, but is essential to vitamin B-12 makeup. Marlin said cobalt could potentially contribute to an increase in erythropoietin (which stimulates red blood cell production), possibly resulting in a performance-enhancing effect. Excessive cobalt can also act as a carcinogen and cause cardiovascular problems, reproductive disorders, and blood problems.