Friday, 14 August 2015

What is in our horse's food? - Minerals

This week's blog is about Minerals ... for more about Vitamins see last week's blog.  Minerals are just as essential to a horse and they have a wide variety of important roles.

Essential minerals are those that have been proven to have a role in a horse's metabolic processes.  They are inorganic and can be divided into macro and micro or trace elements based on their concentration in the body.


  • Calcium:  provides strength and stability to the skeleton.  It is essential to for bone growth, maintenance and development.  Also involved with blood coagulation, lactation, nerve and muscle function and acting as an enzyme activator and inhibitor.  Found in green leafy foods eg: alfalfa it is closely related to phosphorus.  Deficiency will show as an increase in blood clotting time, the onset of azoturia and developmental diseases.  

  • Phosphorus: as mentioned is closely related to calcium in bones and is also involved in energy metabolism.  Found in cereal grains the ratio of phosphorus to calcium is of vital importance.  A deficiency causes bone abnormalities.

  • Magnesium: is associated with calcium and phosphorus  metabolism.  It is also a co-factor and activator for enzymes involved with metabolism of proteins, fats and carbohydrates.  It is also involved with cell metabolism, nerve and muscle function.  Magnesium can be found in alfalfa, clover, bran and linseed.  A deficiency can cause nervousness, excitement and muscular spasms.
  • Potassium: is important in body fluid regulation, acidity balance, nerve and muscle function and also carbohydrate metabolism.  Found in grass, hay and other forages a deficiency is rare.


  • Sodium: is also important in regulating body fluid and the acidity balance of the body.  Again, involved with transmitting nerve impulses and also the absorption of sugars and amino acids from the gut.  Most feedstuffs are low in sodium so giving access to a salt or mineral lick is important.  Deficiency results in dehydration, poor growth and the reduced utilisation of protein and energy. 

  • Chloride: is closely associated with sodium and potassium in their role in fluid regulation.  If sodium needs are met chloride levels will be fine!

Trace Elements

  • Copper: is involved with bone formation, also the formation of cartilage, elastin and hair pigment.  Copper is also involved in the utilisation of iron during haemoglobin and red blood cell production.  Found in seeds and seed by-products the levels of copper in feedstuffs is directly related to the levels found in the soil where they were grown.  A deficiency in copper can be seen as anaemia, poor growth, hair de-pigmentation and hair loss.

  • Zinc: important for normal cell metabolism and the activity of enzymes.  Found in yeast bran and cereal germ.  Deficiency is rare but can cause skin lesions and reduce the appetite and growth.  High zinc levels will interfere with the ability of the body to utilise copper and so causing lameness and bone abnormalities.

  • Manganese: used in the activation of the enzymes which are involved in the formation of cartilage.  Found in wheat bran, the content of grass and hay varies.  High calcium intake will impede manganese uptake and therefore can result in abnormal skeletal development and reproductive problems.

  • Iron: this is essential for normal haemoglobin and red blood cell production.  Found in most natural feeds, but not milk.  Deficiency is unlikely unless the horse has a high worm burden.  Deficiency  will cause anaemia.

  • Iodine: involved in the synthesis of thyroxine (a hormone that controls the rate of chemical reactions in the body).  Trace levels found in most feeds.  A deficiency or excess will result affect cell reaction rates and mares may have reproductive problems.

  • Selenium: is vital for the maintenance of normal muscle tissue.  It is closely related to Vitamin E working as a cell membrane stabiliser and protector.  Found in linseed but also in grass and hay although the levels will vary depending on the soil.  Soils which receive high rainfall often have selenium deficient pasture.  I addition some soils have toxic levels.  If the horse's diet is high in cod liver oil, linseed or corn oil then the need for selenium (and Vitamin E) is increased.  Low levels result in pale, weak muscle in foals and has been found to be associated with poor performance in racehorses.  Excess selenium is toxic and will cause mane and tail loss, hoof deformities, joint stiffness, lethargy and anaemia and weight loss.

  • Cobalt: is vital for synthesis of vitamin B12 in the gut and also for activating enzymes.  Found in most feeds deficiency is rare but will lead to impaired vitamin B12 production and so anaemia, weight loss and reduced growth.

Fats, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals are all vital to a horse's health.  Since confining and controlling our horse's access to food we are solely responsible for them and their health.  Even horses that live out 24/7 are confined - they cannot wonder freely to find the herbs and forages they need to supply their requirements.  It is important then to understand and ensure that our horse's receive their needs through forage and concentrates!

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