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Important Minerals for Horses

For horses the typical trace-mineralized salt block often contains 95 percent or more of salt and only contains a very “trace” amount of the mineral needs that a horse requires and almost none of the major vitamin requirements

All animals need inorganic elements called minerals to remain healthy and productive. Some vitamins, hormones and amino acids require minerals as essential components. Usually the minerals that are required in larger amounts will be listed as a percentage on a horse’s diet and are known as the major minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium and sulfur. Trace minerals are the types of minerals that are only need in small amounts. A horse needs major minerals and vitamins in order to remain healthy including adequate amounts of trace minerals.

Some of the required minerals are included in hay and grain, but there are different parts of the country where these can have deficient or low amounts and the needed minerals will be inadequate in the foodstuffs grown there. More than just a trace-mineralized salt block is required for proper mineral supplementation. Providing a well balanced mineral supplement is essential to ensuring good health. These supplements should have all the essential minerals such as Southern States’ Equimin for example.

Equimin provides the proper calcium-to-phosphorus ratio and all the needed essential minerals and vitamins in a granular form in ten to twenty-five pound pails and a twenty-five pound block to give horses balanced amounts or mixed hay feeding programs such as grass and legume.

Trace Minerals

For healthy connective tissue and proper iron utilization horses need copper. Anemia and bone and joint problems can result from a deficiency of copper. A study in New Zealand recently showed that pregnant mares who received a copper supplement had foals with a lower chance of developmental orthopedic disease or DOD. Some horses with a copper deficiency will have a dull, discolored coat; for example a black horse may have a reddish tinge to their coat.

For Vitamin B-12 synthesis horses need cobalt. Cobalt deficiency is symptomatic of a deficiency of Vitamin B-12.

To regulate metabolism and growth horses need iodine which is a component of thyroid hormone. Stillborn foals or foals born weak and unable to suckle can result from iodine-deficient dams. An irregular cycle is common in iodine-deficient mares. Goiter or an enlarged thyroid gland is a common symptom of iodine deficiency and shows as swelling on the horse’s throat.

A component of blood hemoglobin is iron. Horses rarely have iron-deficient anemia and it is more often a result of an excess or deficiency of copper or Vitamin B-12. However, anemia is the most obvious sign that a horse has iron deficiency.

For a healthy skin, bone, hoof and connective tissue a horse needs zinc. Zinc is also important for a proper reproductive function. A sign of zinc deficiency may be brittle, crumbly hooves; dry, flaking skin and dull coats.

For cartilage development and the proper utilization of other trace minerals it is important to have manganese. Cartilage and bone deformation in growing foals can result from manganese deficiency.

Major Minerals

For healthy teeth and bones horses need an adequate amount of calcium and phosphorus. It is important to maintain the proper ratio of these two minerals which is between 1.5:1 and 2:1. Osteodystrophy can result from too much phosphorus which can result in very weak bones and the tendons may detach from the bones. Rickets can occur in growing foals with a calcium deficiency in addition to osteomalacia or fragile and brittle bones. Rickets and fragile bones can also be caused by a phosphorus deficiency which can lead to fractures and lameness.

For muscle and nervous tissue function magnesium is needed. Nervousness and muscle tremors can result from magnesium deficiency and in some severe cases can actually lead to collapse, convulsions and death. Horses are usually very excitable, spook easily and may have a poor tolerance for work due to fatigue if they have magnesium deficiency.

An important electrolyte is potassium which helps maintain the cell’s acid/base balance and internal cellular fluid pressure. A horse’s potassium requirement may increase significantly in hot weather and/or strenuous work since potassium is excreted in sweat. A reduced appetite and weight loss are the major symptoms of potassium deficiency.

A major blood electrolyte that is needed is sodium which is important for the regulation of body fluids. Decreased appetite and water intake, dehydration and a tendency to chew on objects that are salty such as sweaty tack, tools and people can result from chronic sodium and/or chloride deficiency.

A component of the three amino acids methionine, cystine and cysteine is sulfur and it plays an important role in biotin, thiamin, insulin and chondroitin sulfate all of which are building blocks of synovial fluid and cartilage.

Read the next horse health tips article on Euthanasia.
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