Supplementary horse feed - who needs it and what it brings

Roughage, concentrated feed, minerals and supplementary feed - there are various ways to provide your horse with feed and all the necessary nutrients, minerals and vitamins. But when does your horse need additional feed, what is it and what does it actually do? Time for an overview of what feed is necessary in addition to hay and concentrated feed to keep your horse fit, healthy and alert.

Supplementary feed for horses: what is that anyway?

Horses are primarily fed with roughage and concentrates. This fills them up and is the basis for optimal horse nutrition. Roughage is understood to mean dry or moist products rich in raw fibre. This can be pasture grass, silage, hay or straw. Concentrated feed, on the other hand, consists of oats, corn or barley. The latter is particularly important for athletic horses. But with heavy use, increasing age or even an illness, your horse demands more! Then special trace elements or vitamins should also be given. These supplements are called supplemental feed. 

Roughage, concentrated feed, additional feed - do I really need all of that?

Yes, good nutrition consists of several components. The basis for a healthy horse feed is always the roughage, whether hay, straw, silage or grass from the pasture. The digestive tract of our horses is designed in such a way that small amounts of roughage have to be ingested throughout the day. This is the only way to keep the metabolism going. Depending on performance and physical activity, concentrated feed is also an important component of horse feeding. If you also pay attention to the necessary minerals, vitamins and trace elements, your horse will stay healthy and fit. The right combination of individual building blocks forms the golden path to horse nutrition.

Supplementary feed for horses – who needs it?

The feeding of your horse is very individual and can also vary depending on the season and the level of training. The general state of health, special preferences or deficiency symptoms also play a role. When asking whether your horse needs additional feed, you should consider these factors and consult your veterinarian if you are unsure.

form of husbandry

Does your horse stand in the box and is only moved for training or does your horse in the open stable or on the pasture also move during the day? With additional exercise, your horse needs more energy and has an increased calorie requirement.

Sporting activity

An hour of exercise a day or several hours of daily training just before the tournament season? Exercise and training times have a big impact on how much feed your horse needs. Sport horses in training in particular need significantly more energy than leisure horses that are under the saddle for an hour a day.

illness or pregnancy

If your horse is currently ill or pregnant, additional energy is also required. In the case of illnesses in particular, however, you should first discuss with your veterinarian which additional feed is suitable for your horse. Incidentally, pregnant mares always need a little more support, after all, they also have to look after their foals.

Supplementary feed for horses - what's in it?

According to the definition, supplementary feed for horses includes everything except roughage and concentrated feed and provides your four-legged friend with many important ingredients. Depending on the composition, these can have a positive effect on individual organs, fur, hooves or general well-being. Supplementary feed can be mineral feed in its own right or specific oils, drops or powder that you mix into the concentrated feed.

The most important ingredients for your horse are:

  • calcium

  • Vitamins

  • Zink

  • Various sulfur compounds

  • copper

  • Selenium

  • amino acids

Depending on the additional feed, these ingredients are contained in different compositions and dosages.

What types of supplementary feed are there?

You have now learned quite a bit about supplemental feed for horses, but which ones are there and what is the specific purpose of each supplement? Here is an overview!

trace elements

The need for most of the trace elements is already covered by the concentrated feed, but many horses are particularly deficient in selenium. This is mainly due to the soil, which has been becoming increasingly poor in selenium for years. Most of the time, a selenium deficiency is detected during a blood test, and then it's time to feed more! Other trace elements are iron, cobalt, copper or zinc. Zinc, for example, is also a real miracle weapon for infections or skin diseases.


In general, there are fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins. Often only the fat-soluble ones such as vitamin K, E or A have to be supplied. But there is not always a deficiency here. Some horses meet their needs through normal feed. Water-soluble vitamins, on the other hand, are produced by the horse's organism with a normal diet and in a generally good condition all by itself, but often quickly excrete them again when stressed - that's why you should also feed them if necessary. Don't worry - too much will be excreted automatically. A blood test at the vet provides clarity!

bulk elements / minerals

Bulk elements are essential for horses to survive! They make up around 70% of the mineral content. A well-known bulk element is magnesium. It is often given to nervous, restless horses because it is responsible for the regulation of the nerves. Potassium, sulphur, calcium and sodium are also such bulk elements. Many horses receive a corresponding salt lick to take it in.

Special supplementary feed for your horse's organs

Some supplementary feeds optimize the horse's organ function. Selenium and biotin play an important role in hoof health. For horses with a sensitive gastrointestinal tract, feeding flaxseed makes sense. But be careful: Oversupply can also have an impact. Too much calcium damages your horse's kidneys.

Supplementary feed – who needs what?

Supplementary feed contains many important nutrients and vitamins. For some horses, such additional nutrients are an absolute must. But you can also support your horse in many other situations. As always, if in doubt, talk to your uncle or aunt doctor. Because: an overdose of certain nutrients is usually just as harmful as an undersupply and can even lead to poisoning in the worst case.

minerals for everyone

An adequate supply of minerals and salts is important for health and performance - that applies to everyone, whether it's a leisure horse or a professional tournament horse. There are various mineral feeds or the famous salt lick stone. Be careful with foals, who get stomach problems and diarrhea from too much salt.

winter and shedding

Your horse also needs a little more support during the cold season and when changing its coat. The trace element zinc in particular promotes the change of coat and supports the immune system. This keeps your horse healthy in winter and well-armed for infections.

Competition horses - be careful with waiting periods

Dressage competitions, show jumping competitions or the racetrack - when our four-legged friends give their all at tournaments, they need extra power and special support. With such a sporting load, not only the concentrated feed of your horse has to be adjusted, but also the additional feed.

Owners of competition horses should familiarize themselves with the waiting period before competitions and the ingredients of the additional feed. Special nutrients, herbs or essential oils are considered doping. Other additives are really good for your horse. So read carefully!

riding horse

If you are regularly active on the field, in the hall or in the field, your horse needs a lot of energy. Whether you have to resort to additional feed depends on how high your horse's energy expenditure is. Posture and physical activity are also important. However, the right supply of minerals must be.

grazing horses

If your horse has access to pasture for a few hours a day or permanently, you should adjust the roughage accordingly. To cover your horse's mineral and salt balance, you can hang up a salt lick in the pasture. Be sure to discuss this with the other horse owners! Such a salt lick is not optimal for foals in particular - if they also come to the pasture, you should choose a different dosage form.

Horses with joint problems

With arthrosis or other joint problems, your horse often also needs additional feed, which primarily supports joints and cartilage. If you have joint problems, it is best to talk to your veterinarian about which supplementary feed is suitable and whether MSM, glucosamine, chondroitin, hyaluronic acid or devil's claw are valuable additives here.


If a small foal is growing up in your mare, the mother-to-be needs an extra portion of vitamins and nutrients. In order for both the mare and the growing foal to remain healthy and alert, the entire feed must also be adjusted. Shortly before birth, the need for energy and protein increases and you should pay particular attention to the feeding of trace elements in a pregnant mare.

muscle building

Whether after an accident, illness or in training - if your horse is to build up more muscles, additional feed is a sensible and necessary supplement to restore performance. Above all, proteins and various carbohydrates are important energy suppliers that support muscle building. You can find out what to look out for when building muscle here.

Wrong Beliefs: It all comes down to the RIGHT additions

Unfortunately, too many horse owners just choose their supplementary feed randomly. But that can have serious consequences. We will tell you three beliefs that you should say goodbye to directly.

A lot helps a lot!

Attention overdose: If too many vitamins or trace elements are administered, this can permanently damage the liver, kidneys or other organs of your horse. Therefore, always pay attention to the dosage recommendation and calculate the correct amount based on the horse's body weight.

It used to be possible without additional feed!

Some owners believe that horse supplements are not needed at all. After all, horses used to get by without them. That's not quite right! Because the life expectancy of horses was even lower until a few decades ago. In addition, home remedies for diseases were administered hundreds of years ago.

I know my horse best!

Yes, that's right. However, regular vet visits are important. You don't see a lack of supply in your horse at the beginning. And by the time you see them, it's actually already too late. If you want a happy and healthy horse, you have to take him to the doctor regularly.

Does your horse need additional feed?

The decision as to whether your horse needs supplementary feed depends on many different factors - for example training periods, seasons and your horse's feed. However, the addition of minerals and salts is recommended for all horses. If you are unsure about the other supplementary feed substances, it is best to speak to your veterinarian about which nutrients your horse needs. This applies above all to horses with illnesses or other special needs, such as pregnant mares or tournament professionals.