Owners of dressage and eventing horses in Britain typically feed two nutritional supplements to their top-performing mounts, a study has found.

The researchers set out to determine which types of nutritional supplements were used in dressage and eventing horses, and the reasons behind owners using them.

University of Nottingham Veterinary Professor Sarah Freeman and her colleagues found that owners used, on average, two supplements on their best-performing horse, with use ranging among participants from none up to 10 supplements..

The main health and performance issues identified for dressage horses were “energy/behavior,” “lameness” and “back and muscle problems.”

The main issues for eventing horses were identified  as “stamina and fitness levels,” “lameness” and “energy/behavior.”

For dressage-horse owners, the main reasons for using supplements in their highest-performing horse were “joints and mobility,” and “behavior.” For eventing-horse owners, it was “electrolytes” and “joints and mobility.”

Lameness and behavioral problems were significant concerns within both disciplines, the study team reported.

“There was incongruence between owners’ opinions of problems within their discipline and their reasons for using supplements,” the researchers reported in the journal, Veterinary Record Open.

Freeman and her colleagues noted that there was a lack of published studies on why horse owners used different supplements, and currently, the scientific evidence on their effectiveness in the prevention and management of health and performance problems was limited.

However, owners’/riders’ opinions of health and performance issues within their competitive disciplines and their horses did not necessarily mirror the supplements that they were using. This, they say, warrants further investigation.

The study team said there were several possible reasons for the incongruency between owners’ opinions of main problems and their reasons for using supplements. Possible factors may include the limited number of scientific studies on behavioral issues in horses and limited evidence on the effectiveness of behavioral supplements.

In contrast, there are considerably more studies on the use of supplements to enhance joint function and mobility.

“This may explain why owners and riders consider these supplements to be important to use in their horse, although the evidence of efficacy is still low.

“Another reason for the perceived importance of using nutritional supplements for ‘joints and mobility’ may be because owners are using supplements as a preventative measure (to try and reduce the risk of developing joint and mobility problems) rather than using them as a solution to a current health or performance problem.”

The researcher said their work identified both the perceived importance of behavioral issues in dressage and eventing, and the frequent use of behavioral supplements in individual horses.

“This highlights the need for research into the incidence, frequency and causes of behavioral problems in performance horses, and further research into the efficacy of nutritional supplements in the horse.”

Agar C, Gemmill R, Hollands T, Freeman SL. “The use of nutritional supplements in dressage and eventing horses,” Vet Rec Open 2016;3:e000154 doi:10.1136/vetreco-2015-000154

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