Monday, 23 December 2013

What will your horse be tucking into on Christmas Day?

 
As we prepare for roast turkey, brussels sprouts and Christmas pudding, have you considered how or what you will be feeding your horse this Christmas? Here a few things to add to your list of festive preparations!

Water
Water is the most important yet often most overlooked nutrient in the horse’s diet, so if we have a cold snap over the next couple of days make sure you start by breaking the ice in water troughs daily. Some horses are reluctant to drink very cold water, which in older horses may be due to sensitive teeth. Try adding warm water to help tempt reluctant drinkers as reduced intake may lead to colic, particularly in horses that are stabled for long periods with additional hay (because it is much dryer than grass).

Frost or Snow
Are you worried about whether or not you can turn out your horse if we have white Christmas? Turning out for short periods can help your horse to ‘let of steam’ in prolonged periods of snow but if your horse lives out full time, remember to feed plenty of additional forage to ensure that he doesn’t lose condition. Although it may mean additional mucking out, also remember that horses prone to colic or laminitis should not be turned out frosty grass.

Tying-up
If you decide to give your horse a few days off over Christmas, make sure you reduce any high starch, cereal based feeds to help prevent tying-up. Reduce your feed by half from the evening before to the evening after his day(s) off, feeding additional forage if necessary.

Festive Treats
Horses often become much-loved family members and as such we like to treat them on Christmas day too. Some owners chose to treat their horse or pony with an additional or larger feed and sometimes even ale or Guinness. It’s important to remember that sudden changes to the diet may lead to digestive upsets such colic, so make sure you reach for horse and pony treats, an extra carrot or a few mints instead.

Christmas is a time best spent with friends and family and for many of us, this includes our horses too. As you make your final preparations, remember that reduced work and colder weather may mean that you need to make a few seasonal changes to your horse’s regime too!

Merry Christmas!

Monday, 4 November 2013

Iron: Do you know the facts?

Of all of the minerals, iron seems to be the one at the forefront of many owners mind; perhaps because we have become accustomed to associating a feeling of tiredness and not eating enough green vegetables with iron deficiency and anaemia. However, when it comes to our horses, should iron be a primary concern and is an additional supplement necessary?


Iron is a ‘micro mineral’ or ‘trace element,’ meaning that it is required in smaller amounts by the horse. Its primary function lies in oxygen transport and consequently, approximately 60% of the iron in the horse’s body is in haemoglobin – the protein which carries oxygen and gives blood its red colour.


Despite the fact that iron does not provide any energy, iron rich supplements are often propositioned as aid to improving energy levels, enhancing performance and as a ‘tonic’ or ‘pick–me-up’ for horses in hard work or recovering from illness. In truth, there is no scientific rationale to support this and iron is a great example of the fact that more does not always equal better.  Mature horses need approximately 400-600mg of iron per day, equal to only 0.4-0.6g. Iron deficiency in horses is rare even in hard working horses and tends only to occur as the result of significant blood loss (including internal blood loss). In fact, toxcosis is far more common than deficiency in horses.


The National Research Council (NRC-accepted institute for standardising animal diets) sets the maximum tolerable level for iron at 500mg/ kg of feed, although some nutritionists feel that due to the potentially high levels is some forages, this can be increased to 800mg/ kg (equal to 8-9.6g per day in a 500kg horse). Toxicosis may cause depression, dehydration, diarrhoea, an increased risk of bacterial infections, liver failure and in extreme cases death; particularly as result of over supplementation in foals where absorption is more efficient.


For the most part, iron supplements are unnecessary and should only be considered following a confirmed clinical deficiency. Although the addition of an iron based supplement will not automatically result in toxicosis, they have the potential to do more harm than good; particularly as many owners do not have their forage analysed. If poor performance is a concern and the potential for underlying medical conditions can be ruled out, consider factors such as fitness, condition, hydration, temperament and feeding a balanced diet rather than reaching for an iron supplement.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Ready to rug?



As the nights start to draw in and the temperature drops, our thoughts turn towards winter. But whilst we may soon be thinking about reaching for a thicker duvet, do we really need to be doing the same for our horses? Possibly not!

Previous estimations that horses may use up to 80% of the chemical energy derived from food to keep warm in winter were greatly overestimated. The point at which horses need additional energy (lower critical temperature) varies between individuals and is affected by factors such as wind chill, thickness and length of coat and breed. Horses, particularly natives, are far better at dealing with cold temperatures than we are and can generally withstand temperatures down to as low as -15 degrees C, even without clothes! However in the coldest of weather, the horse’s energy utilisation can increase by up to 25-30%, so making sure that poor-doers kept wrapped up in warm, well-fitting rugs is certainly very sensible management. Research has shown that rugs can reduce heat loss by 18% in cold weather so equally, try to avoid rugging good-doers and overweight horses and encourage them to use some of their own reserves for keeping warm as nature intended!

Allowing natives to lose weight in the winter is both natural and healthy, although too often, good-doers are still carrying too much weight before the spring grass arrives. In fact, a study in 2011 found over 25% of horses and ponies to be overweight (BCS of 7 or above) in February, highlighting the importance of winter weight watching!

Suitable rugging alone (whether this means leaving them on or off!) will not be enough to manage your horse’s weight this winter, but making the right choices will certainly help. Remember, all horses are individuals but are much better at coping with the colder weather than we are. Whilst you may soon need your winter woollies, this is not necessarily the case for your horse!

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Warm weather feeding



After the coldest spring in 50 years, the recent warmer weather has been a welcome change, but how might this change in temperature affect your horse’s diet? Here are a few tips for ‘hot weather feeding’.

Water
Water is the most important, yet often the most overlooked nutrient in the horse’s diet. Daily intake varies between individuals but on average, is approximately 50ml/kg BW for ‘idle’ horses (25l per day for a 500kg horse). However increased heat, humidity and exercise results in increased demand, so ensure ample supply is maintained. If you are concerned that your horse is not drinking enough, buckets rather than automatic drinkers can help to monitor intake. Flavouring water with apple juice may help to encourage drinking and if possible, taking your own water to shows may be useful for those to reluctant to drink ‘strange’ water.


Electrolytes
When horses sweat they lose electrolytes (mineral salts), the main ones being sodium, potassium and chloride. For most leisure horses and those in light work, free access to a salt lick, water and plenty of forage is more than sufficient for replacing these losses. For horses sweating heavily and on a regular basis, table salt and in harder work a combination of table salt and Lo-salt, is a cheap and effective replacement (ask a nutritionist for more advice on this). In addition, pre-prepared electrolyte solutions combining minerals salts and sugars can help to support hydration and glycogen recovery following exercise.

Hay soaking
Whilst studies have shown that soaking hay for 12-16 hours in tepid water is the most effective method for reducing sugars, soaking for long periods in hot weather is not recommended. This considered, reduce your soaking time to 3-6 hours and remember that soaking for any length of time cannot guarantee safety for laminitics – speak to a nutritionist for more advice.

Grass
It is easy to assume that short, sparse or drought damaged grass has little nutritional value but in truth, levels of non-structural carbohydrate (NSC=starch, sugars and fructan) may be higher than in longer, greener pasture. Stress caused by overgrazing, drought, poor management and lack of nutrients can result in higher levels of NSC, posing a potential increased risk for laminitics. Fructan (storage sugar) may be higher in the stem than the leaf, so avoid grazing laminitics on hay stubble.

Safe feed storage
This is important at any time of year, but soaring temperatures may increase the risk of mould and grain mite. Feed should be stored in cool (12 degrees Celsius or below), dry and preferably dark conditions. Un-opened feed should be raised off of the floor i.e. on a pallet to allow air to circulate, have all shrink wrapped removed to prevent sweating and be kept away from walls (allow a gap of 0.5m). Try to avoid leaving your feed in a hot car for long periods and if feeding small amounts, avoid buying in large volumes to help maintain freshness.


Summer will sadly soon be over so enjoy the hot weather while it lasts; but spare a moment to think about how this may affect your horse’s feeding regime.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

A Late Laminitis Season?

This certainly has been an unusual year when it comes to the weather: firstly a delayed spring which saw some of the coldest temperatures for over 50 years and now in July a mini heat wave with temperatures around 30 degrees. As grass growth was delayed and owners are becoming more aware of the dangers of obesity, cases of spring laminitis have been low; but summer still holds its risks. The following is a guide to managing the risks in order to help keep your horse or pony safe.

For very susceptible animals, zero grazing will be the safest and in some cases, the only option. For those with access to grazing, consider the following recommendations:

·         It is impossible to predict fructan levels (the storage form of sugar in grass) at any one time but levels are likely to lower at night – consider turning out late until and until early morning (or mid-morning at the latest).
·         Avoid grazing on hay stubble- stems can be higher in fructans than the leaf.
·         Consider using a grazing muzzle – studies have shown that they can reduce grass intake by up to 80%. Take care to ensure that your horse/ pony’s muzzle fits correctly and he is happy to eat and drink before leaving him unsupervised. Introduce the muzzle gradually and do not leave it for 24 hours per day
·         If turning out for only a few hours, still consider using a muzzle – in recent studies, horse’s on restricted forage quickly learnt to eat almost two thirds of their daily allowance in only 3-5 hours at grass
·         As an alternative to grazing muzzles, consider strip grazing (taking care to ‘back fence’) or making use bark paddocks or ménages
·         Feed soaked hay, although in hot weather it is not advisable to soak for more than 3-6 hours due to the increased risk of bacterial growth or a hay replacer approved by The Laminitis Trust during periods of no grazing. Alternatively consider having your forage analysed
·         Do not over-feed – if you horse or pony is able to maintain weight on forage alone, a balancer is the ideal way to provide vitamins, minerals and amino acids without excess calories. If additional feed is required, avoid all mixes and choose fibre and oil based feed that are low in starch and sugar
·         Keep your horse’s waistline in check – a body condition score of 5 out of 9 is ideal
·         Where possible maintain a regular exercise programme

Laminitis can affect any horse or pony at any time so remember be vigilant as prevention is always better than cure!

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Energy vs. calories: is there a difference?

Many owners come to me looking for a feed that will provide more energy without more calories and this common conundrum is one which often causes confusion. So once and for all, let us lay the myths to rest and uncover the truth. Is there a difference between energy and calories and is it really possible to feed more of one without the other?

The simple answer on both counts is no!  Whilst people often tend to use the term ‘energy’ when referring to work or behaviour and ‘calories’ when referring to the horse’s weight, they are not two separate entities (think ‘tomayto/ tomahto’!). Put simply, energy is extracted from nutrients and the amount you feed affects the horse’s weight. Feed too little and he will lose weight, feed too much and he will gain weight. The horse’s energy requirements take into account the energy he requires to simply stay alive and the energy needed to work (which is often over estimated). Regardless of whether a feed is classified as ‘heating or non-heating’, ‘low calorie or high calorie’, feeding more energy than the horse needs/ burns is more than likely to result in excess weight gain.

In many cases, lethargy or a lack of ‘sparkle/ oomph’ is not diet related and therefore simply changing or increasing feed is unlikely to be the solution. Instead, ask yourself if your horse’s weight, temperament or fitness could be responsible. Decreasing weight and/ or increasing fitness, is sometimes all it takes to improve the horse’s natural energy levels. However for sudden, severe and/ or uncharacteristic lethargy, seek veterinary advice to rule out any underlying medical conditions.

Changing the type (rather than the quantity) of energy fed may result in a more energetic performance, but this method only works in some and horses and even then, is not without its pitfalls. High starch, cereal based feeds are not suitable for laminitics and may also encourage more rapid weight gain compared to fibre and oil based feeds. Considering their potentially increased risk laminitis, it could be argued that such feeds may not ideal for any pony, native or good-doer.

As an alternative to changing your feed, you may have considered an ‘energy supplement’ and for some horses, this can prove an effective way of encouraging a more energetic and focussed performance. However, it is often wise to avoid the iron based/ high iron supplements. Horses are rarely deficient iron and in fact, there is not scientific reason to suggest that oversupplying iron will improve energy levels. Iron is also one of the few minerals which can be harmful if over fed.

Despite what you may have been told (or what we might sometimes wish for), energy and calories are exactly the same thing. If your horse is in good or overweight condition, it's not advisable to increase the amount of energy you feed him, regardless of his ridden performance or enthusiasm.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Ribs: to see or not to see, that is the question...

In recent years the media has been filled with messages about obesity and this message and indeed the problem, is one that affects our equine population too. Although many of the horse owners that I speak to seem aware of the problems associated with excess weight gain, we are still seeing large numbers of overweight horses and because of this, sometimes find that the perception of ‘ideal’ is skewed.

Body Condition Scoring (BCS) is an objective and effective way of assessing if and where the horse is carrying body fat and in many respects, is of greater importance than the horse’s actual weight. The 1-9 scale assesses 6 main areas which should be scored individually before calculating an average. For leisure horses, a score of 5 (described as ‘moderate’), is considered ideal. A ‘perfect 5’ is defined as:

·         No crest, neck blends smoothly into the body
·         Shoulder blends smoothly into the body, no fat pads behind the shoulder
·         Withers ‘defined’ but smoothly rounded
·         Back level, no fat pads behind the ‘saddle area’
·         Ribs can be easily felt but not seen
·         Fat around the tailhead beginning to feel spongy

However when using the BCS system, there a few important considerations, one of which is the horse’s breed and another being the natural cycle of seasonal weight loss/ gain. For example on a TB horse, you can often see a faint outline of the last two ribs (particularly when they turn), even when they are at an ‘optimum weight’ or in ‘ideal condition’.

Ponies and other native breeds evolved to gain weight in spring and summer and lose it again over the winter, ready for the return of better grazing in the following spring.  Allowing natives to slim down and enter spring a little on the ‘lean’ side as nature intended (perhaps a score of 4.5), helps to prevent excess weight gain.  Provided that the horse or pony is otherwise fit and healthy, seeing ribs is not automatically something that we should be concerned about, even for natives! In addition to whether or not you can see the horse’s ribs, consider other areas on the BCS chart as well as factors such as general health and fitness, skin and coat condition and hoof quality/ health. Whilst ‘ideal condition’ and seeing ribs can go hand in hand, owners of such horses can sometimes be faced with conflicting advice from other liveries, particularly if there are several overweight horses on the yard.

Like people, horses come in different shapes and sizes and for natives particularly, the natural cycle losing and gaining weight is very important. This considered, is being able to see your horse’s ribs a problem? Not always!  

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS): Is it just another label?

EMS or just an incredibly good doer?
An increasing number of horse owners are contacting me for advice regarding Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS); a condition which seems widely open to confusion or misinterpretation. So, what is EMS and what does it or should really mean when it comes to feeding our horses?

The term EMS was first adopted in 2002 after some similarities were drawn between horses and the human ‘metabolic syndrome’. In humans, metabolic syndrome is a set of diagnostic criteria that identifies individuals at high risk of disease associated with Insulin Resistance, primarily type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In horses, EMS is defined as the collective presentation of 1) insulin resistance 2) obesity or regional adiposity (fat) 3) previous or current laminitis. However since first adopted, the term EMS and the criteria for its diagnosis has often caused confusion, which may explain why it seems open to overuse and misinterpretation. There seems to be some agreement that this syndrome has yet to be rigorously defined and that currently, there is no widely accepted definition or set of clinical diagnostic criteria.

EMS is not a disease and is considerably different to the human metabolic syndrome. Despite popular belief diabetes in horses is extremely rare and is likely that there have only been a handful of genuine cases to date. Horses and ponies that have not had, or that are not currently suffering from laminitis, do not fit in with the current criteria for EMS and therefore should not be described as such. In addition, not all laminitics have EMS and this syndrome should not be automatically used as an ‘excuse’ or ‘explanation’ for obesity. There is a concern amongst some that overuse of the term EMS may mean that the true cause or risks of obesity and laminitis could be overlooked. EMS cannot be confirmed without comprehensive veterinary diagnosis and more research into this area is still required. In fact, some nutritionists question whether the term EMS should be used at all at this stage; feeling that the limited research and confusion surrounding this ‘syndrome’ may lead to excessively restrictive or liberal management depending on whether or not EMS is ‘diagnosed’ when in fact, focus should be on identifying and managing the risk factors associated with laminitis.

Nutritional management of EMS, as with any laminitis prone animal should focus on:
·         Providing a diet low in non-structural carbohydrate (NSC – starch, sugar and fructan)
·         Restricting or possibly removing grazing
·         Feeding soaked hay (12-16 hours & ideally in tepid water) or a low calorie hay replacer approved by The Laminitis Trust. Alternatively, consider having your forage analysed
·         Managing weight – aim for a body condition score of 5 out of 9 and remember that it is normal and perfectly healthy for ponies/ natives to lose some weight over the winter before the arrival of better grass in the spring
·         Maintaining regular exercise programme
·         Providing a balanced diet, including suitable levels of vitamins, minerals and quality protein – a feed balancer is the ideal way to provide a balanced diet without excess calories
·         Providing enough fibre – do not restrict forage to less than 1.5% of bodyweight (7.5kg per day for a 500kg horse) unless under veterinary supervision

Laminitis is a serious condition, the risk or occurrence of which should certainly not be taken lightly. However, is simply being able to understand, identify and manage the risk factors associated with laminitis more important and potentially safer than imposing a label of EMS? Some would agree so.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Bran benefits

Bran, often in the form of bran mash, has long been fed to horses as a source of fibre or laxative to help prevent colic, as a warm and palatable feed for sick horses or those with poor teeth and after a hard days hunting. However, should these feeding practices be considered as words from the wise or an outdated tradition?

One of the biggest problems associated with feeding bran is its very high phosphorus content. The ratio of calcium to phosphorus in the horse’s diet should be ideally maintained at 1.5-2:1 (1.5-2 times more calcium than phosphorus) but in comparison, bran contains 10-12 times more phosphorous than calcium. High levels of phosphorus decrease calcium absorption, resulting in deficiency. Consequently, calcium is drawn from bones (where 99% of calcium is stored) which in serious cases, causes them to weaken. Although far less common now, feeding large amounts of bran and consequently high levels of phosphorus, can result in ‘Millers Disease’ (Nutritional Secondary Hyperparathyroidism); a condition which eventually results thickening and distortion of bones caused  by lost minerals being replaced with fibrous tissue.

Feeding small amounts of bran on an infrequent basis will not cause major mineral imbalances, but as we all seem to appreciate that new feeds should be introduced gradually, why make an exception for bran? In fact, some researchers believe that this could have a negative effect on the hindgut microbes responsible for fibre digestion. Research has also shown than bran does not act as laxative, regardless of whether it is fed wet or dry. Instead, any ‘laxative effect’ is likely to be the caused by the mild disturbance or irritation resulting from the sudden introduction of a new feed.

For people, fibre (including bran) can increase the bulk of stools by helping them to retain more water and consequently make them easier to pass. However, fibre requirements in horses are much higher and whilst bran does contain fibre, the content is much lower (10-12%) than in sugar beet (20% - unmolassed) and hay.  In fact even as a source of water, the benefits of a bran mash may be questionable when you consider the small amount of water actually consumed in comparison to the horse’s daily requirements.

Many of us reach for a mug of hot chocolate or soup in colder weather and whilst a feeding a warm bran mash may be a comforting thought, it will not continue to keep your horse warm after he has eaten it.  As a result of fermentation in the large intestine, the digestion of hay and other forages produces heat (regardless of the weather) and therefore nutritionally, feeding additional hay is more likely to help keep your horse warm.

Whilst feeding bran will not always result in serious harm, particularly if properly balanced and fed in small amounts to adult horses; reported benefits are based largely on tradition. Consider whether adding bran to your horse’s diet is really necessary as unfortunately, it is one feeding tradition that may potentially cause more harm than good.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Electrolytes: What are they and does your horse need them?

Electrolytes are mineral salts which, when dissolved in water, become electrically charged particles called ions. However, whilst scientifically accurate, this explanation offers little help to many horse owners when it comes assessing their horse’s need for electrolytes.

When horses sweat they lose electrolytes, the main ones being sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium and magnesium (although calcium and magnesium are lost in smaller amounts). Sweating rates can be as high as 10-15 litres of sweat per hour, with electrolyte losses of approximately 10g/ litre.  Electrolytes are important for many cell functions including muscle contractions and the transmission of nerve impulses. A lack or imbalance of electrolytes can affect almost every physiological system in the horse's body and result in conditions such as heat stress, fatigue, synchronous diaphragmatic flutter (thumps) and tying up. Electrolytes control the direction of water in the body and maintain fluid balance. The body needs electrolytes to retain water which is why you may have read that it is more difficult to rehydrate by drinking water alone.

However, the amount of electrolytes lost is proportionate to the amount the horse sweats and consequently, free access to a salt lick and plenty of forage (hay provides potassium) is more than sufficient for many leisure horses and those in light work. In fact, most losses would gradually be replaced over time, simply by the horse eating and drinking normally. However for horses sweating heavily and on a on a regular basis, a water and electrolyte solution will aid a more rapid and effective recovery.  Regardless of this, it is not possible to replace total losses in one feed/ solution. Such supplements aim to support hydration and the replenishment of electrolytes but in fact, it will take several days for levels to be fully restored following heavy and prolonged sweating. Whilst it is not possible to ‘preload’ electrolytes, maintaining hydration and electrolyte balancer prior to exercise/ competition is an important precaution, helping to reduce the risk of conditions such as tying up.

Table salt (sodium chloride) and in heavier work a combination of table salt and Lo Salt (potassium chloride and sodium chloride at a 2:1 ratio), can be a cheap and effective form of electrolyte replacement, either added to horses feed or diluted in water. Water must be available if adding salt directly to the feed and must also be offered as alternative to horses that refuse to drink the salt and water solution (this is also the case if using commercial supplements). Apple juice has been recommended by many as an effective flavouring but horses should be ‘taught’ or accustomed to drink the flavoured water before salts are added.

Although more expensive, commercial electrolyte supplements can be beneficial, despite speculations that some contain little more than sugar.  Whilst we now know that horses do not need high levels of sugar in order to absorb electrolytes, ingredients such as dextrose and sucrose are often still included to help make supplements palatable and provided that they also contain appropriate levels of electrolytes, this is not a problem. Look for supplements containing sodium, potassium, chloride and ideally magnesium and calcium too. Sodium and potassium should feature near the top of the list of ingredients, with sodium provided in the largest quantity. For competition horses, also take care to ensure that any supplement used does not contravene FEI rules and is covered under the UFAS BETA NOPS code.

Electrolytes are undoubtedly important, but it is easy for such a scientifically complex subject to cause confusion. If you think your horse may need additional electrolytes, ask a nutritionist for advice on adding salt to his feed, or look for a supplement manufactured by a reputable company. Such companies should have a nutritionist available to clearly explain the benefits of their product, what’s in it and how to use it safely.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Seaweed: A word of caution

Seaweed supplements have long been fed to horses and perhaps you feed or have fed a seaweed supplement to one of your own horses? Seaweed is often promoted as being an effective broad spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement, a good source of amino acids and a beneficial joint supplement. However, due to the potentially high iodine content, feeding seaweed could have harmful effects.

Iodine is one of 8 ‘micro minerals’ which by definition, means it is needed in very small amounts by the horse. Although only needed in small amounts, iodine is essential for the production of thyroxine and tri-iodothyronine (thyroid hormones), which influence numerous aspects of horse health including metabolism, heat regulation and bone development. However, iodine is one of the few minerals that can be harmful when oversupplied and for which intolerable levels can be reached relatively easily.

Iodine toxicity is more common than deficiency and in most cases, is the result of over feeding high iodine supplements such as seaweed. Even for horses without access to grazing, the recommend ration of compound feed, broad spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement or balancer should easily meet the horse’s iodine requirements without the need for additional supplementation. In fact, because all of the vitamins, minerals and amino acids are naturally occurring (and the levels at which some are provided), a seaweed supplement alone will not provide a balanced diet. In addition, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that seaweed is beneficial joint supplement.

It is estimated that a 500kg horse needs 1-2mg of iodine per day, with the National Research Council (NRC – the accepted institute for standardising animal diets) setting toxic levels at 50mg per day (or 62.5mg for very hard working horses). However, some nutritionists believe that ‘undesirable effects’ or even toxicity can be reached at much lower levels.

Seaweed supplements may typically contain around 835mg of iodine per kilogram and may be recommended at a rate of 50-150g per day for a 500kg horse (iodine levels and recommended rations of seaweed do vary between suppliers). Based on these figures, owners could be providing 42-125mg of iodine per day from seaweed alone. Whilst not all companies selling seaweed recommend rations containing toxic levels of iodine, some nutritionists question whether it is ‘good for horses’ to be oversupplied with a nutrient required in such small amounts.

Excess iodine poses greatest risk to pregnant mares, potentially causing infertility, abortion and due to the high concentration on iodine in the placenta and milk, weakness and goiter (swelling of the thyroid gland) in foals. In non-pregnant, adult horses, iodine toxicity can cause hypothyroidism; a condition which affects thyroid function/ hormone production and can result in  goiter, obesity, poor coat condition, lethargy and intolerance to cold.

Seaweed can be fed safely to horses and may have some benefits to offer. However, if you are using a seaweed supplement, first and foremost establish whether or not you reaching toxic levels of iodine (a nutritionist will be able to offer advice on this) and if the answer is yes; remove or reduce your supplement and never provide ‘free access’ or ‘ad-lib’ seaweed.. If not, it may still be worth asking yourself whether you are oversupplying iodine unnecessarily and if any benefits of feeding seaweed could be achieved more appropriately.