Vitamins & Minerals

Vitamins are of two types water and fat soluble and are organic substances found in all living things. Vitamins and minerals help with growth, healing, and especially antioxidants help fighting off infections and diseases.  Fat soluble vitamins are stored in the liver and most of these are in fresh green leafy plants. These vitamins can be used by the body at any time including months later during the winter and because they are fatty based they work with tissue that are fat based like nerves. Water soluble vitamins are gathered from a horse’s food and pass through the body in the bloodstream. They are used frequently and in small doses in a horse’s metabolism and utilisation of their food, passing out of the body mostly unchanged in the urine. Fatty vitamins are A, D, E, and K. Water based vitamins are C and the 8 B vitamins and if these B vitamins are missing a horse will lack energy. Most water soluble vitamins function as coenzymes and others act upon enzymes. Vitamins A and D are stored in the liver, A, E and K are stored in fat tissue. However vitamins K has a water soluble type as well and they are responsible for blood clotting.  Vitamins A and D are stored in the liver and can be toxic if over consumed.


Vitamin A helps with sight and found in carrots, hence my dad’s saying that you have never seen a rabbit with glasses. It’s used to repair bone and in the maintenance of skin. Some of the signs of deficiency are night blindness, tears and lack of appetite. Vitamin A can also be toxic given too much and some of these signs are bone thickening, peeling skin and rough hair coat.


Vitamin D is naturally produced by the horse from sunlight. Deficiency is rare in horses, however, horses kept in stables too long can suffer and also young horses are more susceptible because they are growing.  With Vitamin D deficiency bones can become soft and weak, which can lead to bone deformities.


There are many forms of Vitamin E where it is a group of compounds which are antioxidant lipid that works on cell membranes. Also they improve the immune system’s response to infection and disease. Wheat germ and soybean oil are good natural products high in vitamin E and a horse with take 3 or 4 times as much out of these products than synthetic sources.


Vitamin K is used by the horses body to clot blood and has been used to treat EIPH. This can cause death in horses if given in to higher doses.


Vitamin C is synthesised by horses out of glucose and is rarely needed as a supplement.


B vitamins see above water soluble vitamins. B vitamins are found in quality forage, yeast, bran and Wheat germ. However, vitamin B12 is synthesised in the liver as long as there is cobalt in the diet.


Minerals are normally divided into two categories macro-minerals or major minerals and  micro-minerals or trace minerals. Where major minerals are needed in the diet daily and trace minerals are only needed in tiny amounts. Some minerals can also be described as colloidal minerals, however, this is basically a delivery method rather than a type. Minerals can be crushed rocks and they are a crucial part of a horse's diet. They help in the digestion of fats, proteins, carbohydrates and help transport oxygen in blood as well as being an obligatory part of every enzyme and fundamental to some amino acids, hormones and vitamins. Minerals are often linked to other minerals and if one or the other aren’t present then it will affect the absorption and utilisation. A good example would be calcium and phosphorus where both are needed and at least as much calcium as phosphorus for the desired effect.

Chelating is used to bind minerals to amino acids which ups the absorption rate of minerals astronomically and is used by some food companies. When I first read this I thought brilliant and then on second thoughts there we go again interfering the the natural process. Really the best way to obtain our vitamins and minerals is via our horse food and water. I.E. the horses forage. Modern farming technique and the erosion of topsoils has made this very difficult, and also synthetic fertilisers stop plants from absorbing trace minerals. You can only obtain the correct mineral balance by managing your own land and putting these minerals back into the soils so our hay’s have absorbed them otherwise we have to supplement.


If a horse is on a forage based diet it will be difficult for that horse to have a calcium deficiency however, if the horse is on a grain based diet with little forage or a diet high in wheat bran then it can often develop these deficiency although in the modern day this is rare.


Sodium and chloride are combined to make salt and there isn’t enough in horse feeds to meet a horse’s minimum requirements and most horse owners give salt in the form of a salt block. A forage based diet should provide a maintenance level of sodium unlike most feeds. Chloride is a key ingredient of bile and is used to produce hydrochloric acid for digestion.


Mineral and salt deficiencies have a lot to do with many disease where most equine diets don’t have the right mineral balance or enough salt. Our horses mineral and salt blocks aren’t enough because the horse can’t chew at them to get out the right amounts. If you see a horse chewing at a block, cribbing  or wood biting chances are they aren’t getting enough. Horses mineral needs change with the weather just like our grasses content also change with the weather, which leave us in a position of not knowing what’s in the hay and grass we are giving them.


One of the problems of feeding vitamins and minerals in feeds that owners rarely use the recommended amount so they could be over or under feeding these supplements and this is if the food companies got the ratios right in the first place.