Major misperceptions in how supplements are tested before being launched for sale

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Many horse owners are quick to try new horse supplements to remedy any number of health issues. But just how well do people understand the equine supplement industry? Recent study results from Ireland suggest there’s room for improvement.

While several studies have focused on identifying types of supplements fed according to riding discipline, Jo-Anne Murray, PhD, PgDip, PgCert, BSc(Hons), BHSII, RNutr, FHEA, a professor at the University of Glasgow’s School of Veterinary Medicine, in Scotland, and colleagues sought to learn about the use and perceptions of dietary supplements among Irish equestrians. They defined a supplement as “any additional feed ingredient that is a nutritional or health supplement.”

The researchers distributed an online survey to collect information on user demographics, types of horse supplements fed, reasons for use, factors influencing supplement choice, where respondents sought advice, and perceptions of equine supplement testing and regulation.

The researchers collected responses from 134 equestrians identified as equine industry professionals (30%) or nonprofessionals/amateurs (70%).

Most participants (98% of professionals and 86% of nonprofessionals) reported feeding at least one supplement. Joint and calming supplements were the most common, fed by 22% and 13% of all participants, respectively. Respondents fed digestive, vitamin/mineral, and electrolyte supplements least frequently.

Further, the researchers found that:

  • 12% of participants reported giving horses more than the recommended feeding rate, anywhere from 1.5 to two times the manufacturer’s suggested amount;
  • 53% of respondents sought nutritional advice from their feed merchants while 46% sought advice from their veterinarians;
  • 90% of respondents said veterinary recommendation was the most influential factor when choosing a supplement, followed by cost (69%);
  • Many respondents believed horse supplements were regulated better than current law requires; more than 93% said they believe supplements must meet legal standards, 73% believe each supplement batch is analyzed for quality, and 92% believe supplements are tested on horses before being marketed; and
  • 89% of participants reported being dissatisfied with the availability of unbiased nutritional advice for their horses.

“This study has identified the main types of supplements used in the Irish equestrian industry along with the reasons for their use,” the researchers noted. “However, it has also highlighted major misperceptions in how supplements are tested before being launched for sale and further work on this aspect of the findings would be beneficial.”

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