By Eleanor Blazer
Did you take your vitamins? My mother asked me that almost every night. It never occurred to me to ask, “Why?” Of course in that era, children did not question parents. I now know why I have to take vitamins – I have Celiac Disease and don’t utilize nutrients available in food. (As a child we didn’t know I had the disease.) Humans have other needs for vitamins as well.
But why give vitamins to horses? Vitamins are essential nutrients. This means they must be provided orally – via food, water or a supplement. The body cannot produce enough vitamins internally (synthesized: process of digestion) to support bodily functions, growth or repair.
There are 13 vitamins; four are fat soluble – vitamins A, D, E and K. The rest are water soluble. Excess water soluble vitamins are flushed from the body. The fat soluble vitamins are absorbed by fat cells and circulated within the body. It is possible to create a toxic situation if vitamins A, D, E and K are over supplemented since they can’t be “flushed out.” Each vitamin plays an important part in the process of building body tissue and extracting energy from proteins, fats and carbohydrates. They help prevent diseases caused by nutritional deficiencies. Vitamins also play an important part in the healing process.
Vitamin A is an antioxidant and is important to the body’s mucus membranes (the lining of the digestive tract, reproductive and respiratory systems). It is also needed for the production of sperm and eggs. Vitamin A is very crucial to eye health. It is also important for healthy skin, coat, and skeletal growth. Vitamin D is important to the absorption and movement of calcium and phosphorus in the body. One hour in the sun provides all the vitamin D a horse needs. Horses kept indoors and foals not exposed to sunlight can become deficient.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant. It is also important to the health of red blood cells and the vascular system. It is present in all grains and forage. Vitamin K is important to the clotting of blood. Enough vitamin K precursors are available to the horse through his diet, so deficiencies are rare. Precursors are substances that are chemically converted into another active substance which the body can use.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant. It is very important to the body in its fight against infections of the respiratory tract. Vitamin C is needed for collagen formation which is important to skin and connective tissues (ligaments, tendons, and joint capsules). It also helps transport iron within the body.
Vitamin B1 is important to the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. It is needed by nerves for the transmission of impulses. Some horses experience a calming effect when supplemented with high doses of Vitamin B1. Vitamin B2 is important to horses that need energy aerobically (with oxygen). It helps extract the energy needed from carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
Vitamin B3 is needed for the metabolism of protein, carbohydrates and fats. It is also important for a healthy skin. Vitamin B5 is important to the metabolism of fats and glucose. It aids the production of steroid hormones and is needed by the nerves for the transmission of nerve impulses.
Vitamin B6 aids the muscles in using energy from stored carbohydrates (glycogen). It is important to the metabolism of protein and the production of neutrotransmitters within the brain. Vitamin B6 is needed for the conversion of trytophan to niacin. Vitamin B7 (Biotin) contains sulfur. Sulfur (trace mineral) is important to the collagen which makes up hooves, ligaments, tendons and cartilage.
Biotin is also needed for growth, glucose metabolism, absorption of niacin (B3) and other B vitamins. Vitamins B9 and 12 (folic acids) are required for the production of red blood cells. They are also important for protein metabolism and cell reproduction. Fresh grass contains more folic acid than hay or grain.
Supplementing one vitamin to cure a perceived problem does not work. There must be balance in the diet and a true deficiency to see results. For example, vitamin B1 has a reputation for calming nervous horses, but without adequate amounts of magnesium it will not be utilized. And if the nervous horse is receiving a balanced diet with the recommended amount of B1 it might be a training or breeding issue.
Unless your horse has a specific disease requiring supplementation it would be safer and more natural to feed adequate amounts of good quality forage, make sure he gets some turnout time in the sun and eats a good feed designed to compliment the forage. It sure beats swallowing a pill every day…or trying to get your horse to eat an expensive supplement.
About the Author: For information about caring for and feeding horses take the online “Nutrition for Performance Horses” taught by Eleanor Blazer. Discounts for CHA members on online courses and they count towards continuing education to keep your instructor certification current. Go to http://horsecoursesonline.com for more information.