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


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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Airway disease in racehorses

University of Guelph researchers examined lung tissue from 95 racehorses that had actively raced or trained before their deaths and found that a majority had inflammatory airway disease.

Racehorses need to breathe well to run their best, but inflammatory airway disease (IAD) can rob them of their stamina. New research in the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) at the University of Guelph shows that IAD is much more common than previously thought.

“We looked microscopically at the lung tissue of horses that died during or just after races and quantified the inflammatory cells within their airways,” professor Luis Arroyo with the OVC department of clinical studies said. “We expected to find that the majority of the animals would have normal airways, with only a small number actually affected with the disease, but that was not the case.”

Along with graduate student Federika ter Woort and pathobiology professor Jeff Caswell, Arroyo discovered that most of the horses had some degree of IAD, with mild to severe airway changes.

Previous research suggested that the disease occurs in up to half of equine athletes, the announcement said.

“The disease was known to be common in racehorses, but not as widespread as this study reveals,” Caswell said. “The findings suggest that IAD does not result from unique exposure of an affected horse to the stimulus that causes the disease, but, rather, the research suggests that all racehorses may be exposed, with inflammation of the airways experienced by many.”

With results published in the American Journal of Veterinary Research, the study examined lung tissue from 95 deceased racehorses, including thoroughbreds, standardbreds and quarterhorses that had actively raced or trained before their deaths.

This was the first study to assess inflammation on a tissue level and the first to discover airway inflammation in horses not specifically selected for poor performance.

“None of the deceased horses showed obvious signs of airway inflammation in their final three races,” Arroyo said. “The research shows that inflammation is always prevalent in racehorses, even those that may or may not have respiratory signs.”

Unlike equine asthma in older horses, IAD causes no observable symptoms at rest — only during exercise. It most readily shows itself in poor race times, Caswell explained.

Possible causes of IAD include recurrent pulmonary stress, deep inhalation of dust, atmospheric pollutants and persistent respiratory viral infections. Young horses have higher risk of exposure to these factors because of frequent transport, intense exercise and increased time spent in stables, OVC said.

Little is known about how IAD changes an affected horse’s lungs, Arroyo added.

“At this stage, the findings are mainly relevant to understanding the nature of the disease and how it develops. Until now, there was no knowledge about a potential correlation between the classification of the inflammatory cells in the airways and the lung tissues.”

The Ontario Racing Commission requires a mandatory autopsy when a horse dies in or soon after a race. That means experts know a lot about what causes racehorses to die. Since IAD is not fatal, it had not been closely examined until now, Arroyo said. read more







Vaccinate your equine aginst Rabies

Viral respiratory and neurologic diseases are the leading preventable causes of horse deaths. One of the core equine diseases—rabies—has a 100% fatality rate once clinical signs appear, but is easily preventable via vaccination.

“My first equine rabies case happened in a suburban barn—this family had a barn behind their house,” recalled Buff Hildreth, DVM, of Richland, Texas. “Their 2-year-old gelding, who was new to the barn, started out not wanting to eat and being a little depressed.”

She evaluated the horse in the morning and thought the animal might be colicking.

“I talked to them and told them, if he doesn’t improve, then I need to come back,” she said. “I came back that evening, and he had become averse to drinking and didn’t like to be touched.

“I could remember Dr. Joe Joyce (DVM), who told me when I was a veterinary student, ‘If it looks like everything yet nothing, think rabies,’” Hildreth said. “So, that’s when it clicked.”

Horses across the United States have the potential to be exposed to rabies through infected wildlife, commonly bats, raccoons, foxes, and skunks. No matter where a horse lives, or what a horse does, wildlife exposure is a reality.

“Turns out this horse had not previously been vaccinated against rabies,” Hildreth said. “So I … referred the horse to Texas A&M. Within the amount of time it took to hook up a trailer, the horse started having laryngeal spasms and becoming somewhat aggressive and hyperexcitable.

“Unfortunately, they only made it about 30 miles and the horse began seizing violently,” she said. “They called me back and said, ‘We think we lost him.’”

Rabies is 100% fatal for horses and, as a zoonotic disease, is also a risk to horse owners and their families.

“The hardest thing for me was dealing with the mother after the horse succumbed to rabies,” Hildreth said. “She had three sons who had all been exposed to rabies. She was very scared for her sons’ health.”

Annual vaccination is the only way to protect horses from rabies. Rabies is one of five core equine diseases against which the American Association of Equine Practitioners recommends all horses should be vaccinated annually. The additional core equine diseases include West Nile virus, tetanus, and Eastern and Western equine encephalomyelitis. Read more…




Don’t horse around: dental health




Unfortunately dental caries weaken the horse’s tooth leaving it susceptible to fracture and infection.



The horse’s tooth, like the tooth of any other species, is subject to decay. It is only recently that the nature of the tooth decay and its implications to the health of the horse have been recognized and identified.

The reasons for this are twofold. The abilities of the equine dental provider to recognize and identify the tooth decay has advanced and in addition there is likely an increasing incidence of dental caries in horses related to the modern equine’s diet and lifestyle.

The cause of dental caries in horses is likely multifactorial. Processed feedstuffs and reduced long-stem forage intake contribute to changes in the pH of the horse’s mouth, and interrupts the full expression of the elliptical chewing pattern of the horse.

Proper healthy development of the young horse’s tooth is highly dependent upon a high-fibre diet. The high-fibre diet initiates chewing forces which shape the adult tooth to be resilient and strong. It triggers key physiological occurrences in the dental arcade such as proper shedding of the baby teeth and/or caps, eruption of the molars and development of the continuously erupting teeth in the dental arcade.

Tooth decay – known as dental caries to veterinarians – is a condition where dental surfaces in the horse’s mouth have been eroded away.

Caries is a disease process which leads to tooth decay. Tooth decay is the breakdown of the structure of the tooth and when the decay becomes visible it is termed a cavity. As the decay progresses, the structural integrity of the tooth is compromised, leaving it vulnerable to fracture, exposure of sensitive nerve endings and pulp cavities and root infection.

There are typically two types of tooth decay or caries seen in horses – infundibular caries and peripheral caries.

The infundibulum is an anatomical structure that is unique to the equine tooth. It is an invagination of the enamel folds on the grinding surface of the horse’s tooth and is thought to substantially increase the surface area for grinding and enhance the durability of the tooth.

Equine infundibular caries is a unique nuance of the horse. Decay in the infundibulum of the upper cheek teeth happens if defects occur within the invaginated infundibula and allow food material and bacteria to accumulate in the centre of the tooth.

Fermentation and acid production leads to decalcification and weakening of the surrounding dental tissue. Once the process of decay has begun, it continues to progressively worsen and may escalate to the point where the tooth is weakened and fractures.

The fractured tooth is then susceptible to bacterial entry of the root, infection and abscessation. Only the upper cheek teeth can contract infundibular caries as they are the only cheek teeth with the particular infundibular structure. The infundibulum of the upper cheek teeth, actually two per tooth, is subject to food and bacteria getting stuck in these invaginated areas thus placing them at a higher risk for decay. The lower cheek teeth do not have an infundibulum. The incisor teeth do have a singular infundibulum, however, caries are extremely rare in the incisors.

The second type of caries which is much less common is that which forms along the gum line of the tooth. These type of caries is often indicative of other functional and structural problems in the mouth.

Clinical symptoms of dental caries in the horse may not always appear and when they do appear their presentation can vary due to the position of the tooth involved and the severity of the caries process.

Some horses do not exhibit any clinical signs of discomfort, while others will show symptoms of pain in the mouth such as hypersalivation, difficulty chewing feed, sensitivity or aversion to drinking cold water, loss of appetite, and may show a change in behaviour. If the problem is severe enough there may be a foul odour from the mouth or discharge from the nostril if the sinuses have become involved.

A thorough oral examination with a full mouth speculum, bright headlight, dental mirror and fine dental probe are necessary for the diagnosis of infundibular decay. Visual examination will often reveal abnormal food packing into the centre of the occlusal surface of the tooth. The tooth is probed to assess the severity of the decay and degree of tooth involvement. It is important to assess the involvement of the decay, which may include radiographs, as that assessment determines the direction for further treatment.

Proper equilibration of the dental arcade will be of primary importance in the followup dental work as it will spare the weakened tooth from unnecessary forces.

Restoration of infundibular caries in horses is in its infancy in comparison to restoration of cavities in human dentistry. Although principles and applications from human dentistry may have some similarities, repair of the dental caries in the horse is a complicated process due to the structure of the tooth and the nature of the pathology.

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A look at horse oral joint supplement ingredients

A look at oral joint supplement ingredients that are backed by science

Supplement in Container

Can you name one of the most common causes of lameness in horses? If you said osteoarthritis (OA), you’re right. As common as it is, OA remains an incurable disease, and once it presents itself in a joint, there’s no going back.

Knowing this might cause you to sprint over to the supplement aisle of your local feed or tack store, only to be met with an overabundance of oral joint supplements, each label touting an ability to prevent or slow OA progression. But, believe it or not, most of these supplements’ ingredients have no scientific backing in horses, with label claims relying on data extrapolated from research performed in humans and other animals. So which oral joint ingredients do have published results specifically in horses? Let’s find out.

Glucosamine & Chondroitin Sulfate

Glucosamine is an amino monosaccharide (sugar attached to the amino acid glutamine). Chondroitin sulfate is a glycosaminoglycan (GAG), an important component of articular (joint) cartilage.

Mode of Action Both glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate help protect and provide nutrients to joints. Glucosamine is a precursor to (it transforms, chemically, into) GAGs such as chondroitin sulfate. Chondroitin sulfate gives articular cartilage resistance to compression.

Research Researchers have performed many in vitro (in the laboratory, on tissue samples) studies to better understand glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate’s mode of action at the cellular level, either alone or combined. Note that unlike in vivo studies performed on living animals, these experiments do not precisely mirror the conditions found in nature. One involved corticosteroid joint injections, which veterinarians commonly administer to promote joint health. However, some corticosteroids can inhibit proteoglycan (basically a chain of GAGs with a core protein molecule) production, negatively affecting articular cartilage. At the University of Illinois in 2008, Byron et al. found that glucosamine helped protect proteoglycan production when the cartilage was exposed to a corticosteroid.

Using articular cartilage from horse cadaver limbs in 2003, researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) found that glucosamine reduced the expression of genes for matrix metalloproteinases (enzymes responsible for cell degradation) and could help protect joint cartilage.

Another team of MSU researchers took articular cartilage from cadaver limbs and exposed it to mechanical impact to simulate a joint injury. By culturing the cartilage with a combination of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate (GC), they concluded that GC could help mitigate some of the inflammatory response following joint trauma (Harlan et al., 2012).

Outside of the lab, Martha Rodgers, VMD, of Shephard Hill Equine, in Kentucky, followed 10 hunter/jumper and eventing horses for eight years in a published field study looking at a glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate supplement’s effects on hock injection frequency. Before starting on the supplement, the horses averaged 1.7 joint injections per year at 6.8-month intervals. During the six years they consumed the supplement at the manufacturer’s recommended dose, the horses’ average number of joint injections dropped to 0.85 every 9.98 months. Rodgers did note that six to eight months of consistent GC supplement use is necessary prior to seeing results. It’s also important to note that the level of evidence in this small-scale study is not as strong as that of a placebo-controlled and blinded trial.

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The equine therapist


Plopped onto a horse at only a few months old, Jenny Norton Schamber, the owner and trainer of Rope This Ranch, cannot picture a life without them. With over 30 years of experience with horses, and with the ranch being open for 18 of those years, Schamber’s love of riding began at a young age.

“I was born riding on a horse,” she said.

An Upland native, Schamber completed her undergraduate degree in mathematical economics at Ball State University. She then went on to receive her master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from Indiana Wesleyan University. While at Ball State, she was on the equestrian team. In 1996, on Ball State’s team, she competed in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association Nationals at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center and placed 3rd in the nation for Open Stock Seat.

Just four years later, she opened the ranch, located just two miles from Taylor’s campus. Currently, she is a counselor at Taylor’s Counseling Center, in addition to her regularly scheduled lessons at the ranch. Schamber has incorporated some equine therapy in her lessons, which is a type of therapy that involves horses.

She recalled using the therapy with some adolescent boys from a group home. As a result of the riding, the boys channeled their energy into a positive outlet instead of expressing themselves in negative ways.

“People say ‘When do you relax?’ but this is how I relax,” Schamber said, gesturing to the barn around her with a laugh. “There’s something therapeutic about being in the barn for me.

Casually dressed in jeans, a red sweatshirt layered with a black vest and riding boots one day last week, Schamber projected an easy going personality, much like the atmosphere surrounding her barn. The 120,000 square-foot indoor space is lined with dusty metal rails with dark, grainy sand covering the ground.

When the doors to the entrance of the barn are open and it’s lightly drizzling, the rain mixes with the smell of horses to produce a peaceful aura.

While training at a recent Tuesday night’s lesson, Schamber called out commands for the horse and rider duos to complete. Phrases like, “Round the yellow barrel” and “Heels down, eyes up” could be heard across the room, interspersed with encouraging comments.

She believes there are many ways we can learn from horses. Since she has worked with a lot of horses that have been abused, it is evident horses feel things, according to Schamber. She sees their initial mistrust and gradually gains it through baby steps, similar to how human beings relate to one another.

Despite the possible setbacks in the beginning, nothing compares to the proud feeling Schamber has when she sees a student succeed. One recent example involved a horse who would not pick up his legs, but after time and practice, jumped the hay bales one foot taller than necessary to clear them.

“(Seeing it,) it was like a horse and human team, seeing how far they’ve come in that,” Schamber said. “I get to see that happen a lot, which is really cool about my job.”

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Dietary changes to help reduce the laminitis risk with your horse

Horses with equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) and pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID) are at a greater risk of developing laminitis than healthy horses. Dietary changes can help reduce that risk and are one of the most important aspects of keeping affected horses healthy.

Those changes are not necessarily cut and dried—they require planning, sourcing of proper feed products, and management shifts. Teresa Burns, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, an associate clinical professor of equine internal medicine at the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, in Columbus, reviewed how veterinarians can use nutrition and medication to help manage endocrinopathic laminitis cases at the 2017 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Nov. 17-21 in San Antonio, Texas.

“EMS is prevalent in equine populations, and we’re learning more about how to manage it,” she said. “PPID is also very common.”

All EMS horses and roughly 30% of PPID horses suffer from insulin dysregulation (ID, excessive insulin response to oral sugars, evident as postprandial hyperinsulinemia, fasting hyperinsulinemia, or insulin resistance based on when it occurs), she said. As such, managing ID can help reduce the likelihood of complications—such as laminitis—from arising.

Burns said nutritional EMS and ID management currently involves three steps:

  • Reducing dietary nonstructural carbohydrates (NSCs; essentially, the sugar and starch component of the horse’s diet);
  • Restricting pasture access until ID is under control; and
  • Restricting calorie consumption to encourage weight loss.

She offered practitioners several feeding tips to help achieve these goals.

Aim to keep the total dietary NSC concentration to 10% or less, and base the horse’s diet on low-NSC grass forage. Burns said that while there’s no clinical research to back up the 10% figure, anecdotal evidence suggests it’s an appropriate target. Achieve this by providing most of the horse’s calories via structural carbohydrates—the fibrous portion of plants. Hay typically constitutes the greatest percentage of structural carbs in a horse’s diet. Horses cannot digest structural carbohydrates without the help of billions of microorganisms in the hindgut. This microbial fermentation breaks down fiber into volatile fatty acids, a usable energy form. Nonstructural carbohydrates, on the other hand, are broken down into glucose, which can contribute to obesity and ID. It’s advisable to test hay prior to feeding to ensure low NSC levels; find more information on hay testing at

Feed forage at 1 to 2% of body weight. Avoid going above, to encourage weight loss, or below, which could lead to gastrointestinal issues as well as boredom.
Avoid feeding cereal-grain-based concentrates. This means no sweet feeds, corn, oats, and the like, she said. If your horse needs more calories (not all ID horses are overweight), consider a commercially available low-NSC product (such as a high-protein ration balancer) or adding a fat source (such as oil), which produces a lower glycemic response than NSCs.

Reduce or eliminate pasture access, which can be unpredictably high in NSCs. Turn your horse out in a drylot with low-NSC hay access, if possible. If pasture turnout is essential, use a grazing muzzle or strip grazing (cordoning off small areas to graze at a time, using temporary fencing), or turn horses out in the early morning (pasture sugar content peaks in the late afternoon) for a short period.

Consider soaking hay. Burns said soaking hay for 30 to 60 minutes can leach some water-soluble carbohydrates out of hay, but it also removes some important minerals. She advised still starting with a low-NSC hay and working with a nutritionist or your veterinarian to ensure your horse’s mineral needs are being met.

Don’t rely on supplements. While some owners report that certain supplements seem to help their ID horses, Burns said most supplements aren’t backed by research. As such, she advised not basing your feeding program around a particular supplement.

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