Myths About Equine Nutrition During Winter Months

Among the many suggestions for providing additional nutritional winter support for your horse are several popular notions that aren't particularly beneficial, writes Marcia King in the December edition of The Horse.

1) "The number one myth is the benefits of hot bran mashes," says Dr. Carey A. Williams, the equine extension specialist at Rutgers University Equine Science Center. "Wheat bran does not serve as a laxative, nor does it keep the horse warm. Bran mash is what we, as nutritionists, call a 'comfort food.' It makes the owner feel better. Although it is neither harmful nor helpful to your horse, do not make a daily practice of this as wheat bran is not nutritionally balanced for horses and may throw off the mineral ratios of their normal ration."

2) You need to add digestive aids/anti-colic supplements for increasing digestion and reducing colic risk. "These products usually consist of some sort of probiotic or yeast culture, which has never been found to increase digestion in a healthy horse," Williams says. "However, if you have a horse that is having digestive problems or illness during the winter (or any other time), these products could be beneficial. As for anti-colic supplements, usually the problem in the winter is with a decreased water intake, and that can only be cured by increasing their water intake."

3) Hoof supplements for winter-dry hooves. "Hooves may be brittle or crack from the cold, dry climate in winter," Williams says. "But hoof supplements will not help. Biotin and other hoof supplements work from the coronet band down and usually take six to 12 months to have any effect. If you are trying to treat a brittle, cracked hoof due to weather conditions, you need to apply something topically. It is best to talk to your farrier about what product would be best."

4) Calming aids or B-vitamins have no research support as to whether they calm a nervous horse, but the theory is there. "If you've tried them and they seem to work, go ahead and use them," Williams says. "Some horses get very nervous if stalled for a long period (for example, in bad weather they can't go outside), and if your horse responds to these supplements, they may not be a bad idea. B-vitamins are water-soluble, so if your horse has too much, he will just get rid of what isn't needed in the urine. The only thing you would be hurting is your pocketbook."