Herbal supplements may give your horse’s health a boost.

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With the rise in herbal products in the diet and nutritional market for people, it’s understandable why owners are interested in giving the same type of products to their horses. Supplements containing Echinacea and ginger, to name a few, have been shown to reduce inflammation and improve overall health; however, most herbs have had little to no scientific testing on humans or animals. Without hard data, it is difficult to determine whether these products are safe or potentially harmful.

Carey Williams, PhD, is an animal nutritionist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She says before giving any supplement horse owners should look at their current feeding program. She points out that a horse with a balanced diet—good-quality roughage, a sweet feed or grain of some sort, and plenty of water—may still need supplementation.

“There still might be a nutrient lacking,” Williams says. “They might be in a perfect environment, but if they’re missing just one or two things, then you need to address that through their diet.”

She says that herbal medicine, also called phytomedicine, is the use of plants or parts of the plant for therapeutic purposes, like fighting infection or disease and improving overall health.

Williams goes over several ingredients in her paper, “Some commonly fed herbs and other functional foods in equine nutrition: A review,” published in The Veterinary Journal. It says that Devil’s Claw can reduce inflammation associated with osteoarthritis; so can ginseng, flaxseed, ginger, Echinacea, and yucca, which also have antioxidant properties. Yucca also contains a steroid-like effect and reduces muscle spasms. Garlic has been touted for it’s antimicrobial and anti-parasitic effects.

That being said, Williams says some herbs can cause adverse reactions, such as gastric ulcers or colic, and can cause a horse to test positive for a banned substance if the horse is subject to drug testing at a competition.

Williams says to avoid any problems, owners should consult with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist. They will help weigh the pros and cons of each product, including the cost to feed. They can also answer questions on which additive would best suit a particular horse based on its age, breed, sex, purpose, general health, reproductive status, current diet and medications.

Read more about equine supplements in the April 2018 issue of Western Horseman. 

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