The Horse Physio - Delivering care with expertise since 1992

12.9.2021 Sharing the Science

Do you feed supplements to your horse? If so, why? A study in 2016 looked at what owners saw as the main issues for their horse(s) in dressage and eventing, and the main reasons they fed supplements. The abstract (which you can read below) suggests that the reasons people feed supplements does not match the issues that people feel their horses have. When you look at the full text of the study though, participants were asked to use their own words to describe the main health and performance issues, but they had to tick from various options to describe why they fed the supplement(s). So someone might describe ‘lameness’ as a health concern for their horse, but when it came to giving the reason for feeding a supplement, lameness wasn’t an option. The categories that might have fitted this in the ‘reasons for feeding supplements’ were:

  • joints and mobility
  • bone and muscle
  • hoof / foot problems
  • tendon and ligament problems

Overall, joints and mobility came out as the top reason for feeding a supplement. Personally I wonder whether in many cases people were unclear on the reason for the ‘lameness’ they were hoping to help, and didn’t want to (or weren’t able to) locate it to bone, muscle, tendon, ligament or hoof.

These results are from 599 questionnaire responses. The most common level of competition amongst the people who responded was Novice Affiliated, in both dressage and eventing. I find it interesting, in the introduction of the study, to read that in 2011 the average spend per year on supplements was £198. Somehow I thought it would be more. In this study, the average number of supplements fed was two, although in at least one case there were twelve supplements! It would take a lot of time to mix that feed!

Lameness and behaviour were significant concerns in both dressage and eventing. As always, this brings me back to the links between pain and behaviour. The research is clear that apparently sound horses can suffer from musculoskeletal pain, and that this can affect their behaviour and their performance. If you’d like to read more about my thoughts on this, as well as learn from the 27 guest contributors, you’ll find a link to buy my book ‘Understanding Horse Performance: Brain, Pain or Training’ here.

The use of nutritional supplements in dressage and eventing horses


The aim of the study was to determine which types of nutritional supplements were used in dressage and eventing horses, and the reasons that owners used supplements. An online questionnaire was distributed through British Eventing and Dressage websites, to collect data on demographics of owners and their horses, supplements used and their opinion on health and performance problems. Data were evaluated using descriptive analysis, Sign and Fisher’s exact tests for quantitative data, and categorisation of qualitative data. In total, 599 responses met the inclusion criteria (441 dressage and 158 eventing horse owners). Participants had 26.4 (3-60) (mean (range)) years of riding experience, owned 1.2 (0-10) horses and used 2 (0-12) supplements in their highest performing horse. The main health and performance issues identified for dressage were ‘energy/behaviour’, ‘lameness’ and ‘back and muscle problems’. The main issues for eventing were ‘stamina and fitness levels’,’ lameness’ and ‘energy/behaviour’. The main reasons for using supplements in their highest performing horse were ‘joints and mobility’, and ‘behaviour’ for dressage, and ‘electrolytes’, and ‘joints and mobility’ for eventing. Lameness and behavioural problems were significant concerns within both disciplines. There was incongruence between owners’ opinions of problems within their discipline and their reasons for using supplements.

Agar C, Gemmill R, Hollands T, Freeman SL. The use of nutritional supplements in dressage and eventing horses. Vet Rec Open. 2016 Feb 8;3(1):e000154. doi: 10.1136/vetreco-2015-000154. PMID: 26925239; PMCID: PMC4762206.

© Sue Palmer, The Horse Physio, 2021

Treating your horse with care, connection, curiosity and compassion