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06 April

Supplement Guide for the Competition Horse

author image Edeline Bourrier & Kate Jupp
Supplement Guide for the Competition Horse image

Our competition horses and ponies have the same basic needs as any other, they require access to clean water and good quality forage at all times. On top of this we can tailor their diet to support any additional nutritional requirements they have due to a higher workload. A degree of this will be with suitable high-quality concentrates for a balanced diet which we can add supplements to.

1. Vitamins and Minerals 

Vitamins and minerals are essential for the horses’ bodies to function efficiently. There are many broad-spectrum supplements designed to ensure the correct amount is received. Many good quality horse feeds contain the necessary amount of vitamins and minerals, so for horses in hard work they may receive the majority of the vitamins and minerals that they require from their hard feed. 

If you’re looking for a natural source of vitamins, minerals and trace elements, Seaweed is the herb to look for. The Seaweed combined with rosehips (a great source of vitamin C) in Hilton Herbs Hoof & Health can provide a valuable supplement for those on lower quantities of hard feed and competing at low levels.

2. Electrolytes

Electrolytes are minerals dissolved in the blood and tissues of the body. They carry a positive or negative charge and can bind with another ion to make a salt. In this way they help keep a correct balance of fluids in the body’s cells essential for muscle function and the processing of waste products produced during exercise. The main electrolytes are: Sodium (Na+), Chloride (Cl-), Potassium (K+), Magnesium (Mg2+) and Calcium (Ca2+). Horses loose electrolytes thought sweating, urine and faeces. Competition horses often sweat more due to the increased amount of exercise, this increases the need to replace the electrolytes by adding them to the horses feed or water. A lack of electrolytes can lead to dehydration and aggravate issues such as exercise induced rhabdomyolysis (tying up). Electrolytes can be fed by adding one of an array of powders and pastes on the market. Alternatively, you can make your own using table salt (NaCl) and Low-Salt (KCl) in a ratio of 2:1 to supply the 3 key elements. 

You can provide a Himalayan salt lick for free feeding however horses are not the best at self-regulation so during periods of intense training and competition additional supplementation and regulation is advisable. Himalayan granules can be used instead of table salt, this salt provides trace minerals, calcium, potassium, and magnesium that aren’t in table salt but with slightly less sodium provided you will need to feed about 1/3 more than regular table salt. 


Helpful reading:

Castle Horse Feeds - Electrolyes for Horses 


3. Joint and muscle supplements

Our competition horses are likely to put their Musculoskeletal systems under great stress and will benefit from additional support. 

On the supplement shelf you’ll find a vast array of products containing: 

  • MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) is a bioavailable source of sulphur. Initial studies have shown that MSM can help reduce the inflammation and degradation of cartilage. Indeed, it acts as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory mediator.
  • Glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate are often used together to support cartilage and the synovial fluid health. It is worth noting that glucosamine and chondroitin are not absorbed by the horse’s body very well and it may be necessary to feed a large amount for it to be effective. Feeding it alongside sulphur can improve effectiveness. 
  • Hyaluronic acid is a component of the synovial fluid, the lubricant of the joint. It also contributes to the health and elasticity of cartilage.
  • Omega 3s or fatty acids. You may be familiar with these especially if you’ve read our blog on supplement for the skin’s health (hyperlink). In addition to the beneficial effect on skin, they help support the joints thanks to their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

On your traditional herbalist’s shelf, you will find many herbs to support the joints and muscles: 

  • Boswellia: contains boswellic Acids which has been shown to have anti-inflammatories properties. 
  • Turmeric: a tuber rich in curcumin, an anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant. It is often paired up with black pepper containing pipeline to improve the uptake by the body.

Note: Devil’s claw is an herb traditionally used to support the musckuloskeltal system, however it’s active principal the harpagoside is on the FEI list of ban substances.

Our Multi-Flex PLUS supplement has herbs to help support blood circulation (hawthorn, nettle) muscular and joint aches and pains (Black cohosh, curcuma & black pepper, meadowsweet, Boswellia) energy and recovery (Siberian ginseng) and Liver support (Milk Thistle).

Regular treatments from a registered physiotherapist or similar practitioner can also help to keep muscles and joints supple and functioning fully.  Another great therpy for competition horses is Theraplate therapy.


Useful Reading:

 Siberian ginseng in human athletes


4. Stress and digestive support

One of the main issues encountered by owners of competing horses is stress related digestive issues. 

Prevention is often better than cure, so ensuring that your horse has access to plenty of forage all day long and is getting along with his stable neighbours and paddock friends is very important. 

Caring for the digestive system

For those who are prone to digestive issues such as ulcers, it is worth taking a closer look at any hard feed they may get throughout the day, they may need 2 or 3 small feeds rather than one big breakfast. Avoid highly concentrated feed or those rich in starch to promote a healthier gut. Look out for high fibre and oil content to ensure that your horses are getting the energy they need. 

There are a lot of supplements on the market, look out for these ingredients: 

  • Pre and probiotics. Prebiotics provide food to the gut bacteria, whereas probiotics are the good digestive bacteria. They can be sold under the name gut balancer.
  • Omeprazole is a medication use to reduce gastric acidity and can be a short-term solution to ulcers. 
  • Antiacids are a fast-acting way to neutralise the stomach acid. The most common are calcium carbonate, bicarbonate of soda (sodium bicarbonate) and magnesium hydroxide.
  • Glycine. Studies have shown that this amino acid can reduce gastric secretions (Acid production).
  • Glutamine is another important amino acid in helping to protect and heal the stomach lining.

If you’re after natural ways of supporting your horse’s digestive system, these herbs can be helpful: 

  • Aloe vera is widely used for its healing properties
  • Turmeric. Its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties are not only supporting the horse’s musculoskeletal system but also the digestive tract
  • Meadowsweet is a herb traditionally used for it antiacid properties
  • Marshmallow. This mucilage rich herb has been used by herbalists for centuries to help soothe the digestive tract. It can also be combined with slippery elm. 

Supporting stressed and anxious horses:

Stress can also be a precursor to digestive issues. Training, competing and transport can affect the horses stress level. 

Calming supplements are available in many forms, from pastes to cookies. The main compounds used in competition legal supplements are: 

  • Magnesium which is thought to help in regulating the release of stress hormones by binding to some brain receptors leading to a calmer outlook. 
  • Tryptophan, which is a precursor to serotonin, this in turn helps reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Chamomile, vervain, passiflora and skullcap are key herbs for supporting the nervous system.

Note: stay clear of any supplement containing valerian as it is ban substance under FEI rules 


5. Immune support 

As we’ve seen above, stress can impact on digestive health. A lesser known effect of stress is its impact on the immune system. In addition, horses who are competing tend to travel and “meet” a lot of other horses, so it is paramount that their immune system is on top form. Horses who already receive vitamin and mineral supplement tends to have sufficient intake of vitamin A, C and D as well as zinc. 

Supporting the immune system can also be beneficial for recovery after a competition or intense training or with the vaccination program. 

One of the key herbs for the immune system is echinacea which is traditionally used for its antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and immune-stimulant properties.

6. Airways

Dust, pollens, heat or freezing temperatures impact on the horse’s airways. Whilst we all do our best to offer the best living environment to our horses some aspects are out of our control. Supplementing a competition horse to support his upper and lower respiratory tract may be seasonal for some or all year round for others. 

A key to performance is efficient and clear airways that allow optimum oxygen intake. Whilst the vet is your first port of call for a cough, bleeding or nasal discharge supplementing a competing horse to support his upper and lower respiratory tract can be beneficial.

7. How do I know if a supplement can be use in competition ?

There are many supplements available on the market and it can be hard to know if they are competition legal. First and foremost, always to check the rule book of your chosen discipline as it may vary from one governing body to the next. 

Our PLUS products have been independently tested for NOPs and are FEI clean sport compliant. For your piece of mind, you can find all the test results on the product pages.

Our Product Suggestions:


author image About Edeline Bourrier & Kate Jupp

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