Hay is an excellent horse food; many varieties provide the required fiber, protein, energy, and minerals to keep an average horse solid and healthy.
However, there is one nutrient that hay may not provide in sufficient amounts, and it's vitamin E.
Vitamin E is a vital nutrient naturally present in the fresh green pasture, but it starts degrading once the leguminous plants or grass is harvested.
Additionally, the longer you store the hay before feeding it to your horse, the lesser the amount of vitamin E it will have.
Horses that solely feed on hay with minimal or no grazing can quickly develop a vitamin E deficiency.
Furthermore, horses doing heavy tasks or intense training are at higher risk if they don't get adequate amounts of this vitamin.
If your equine isn't getting vitamin E naturally, you will need to supplement it in his diet.
Below we look at the importance of vitamin E, how much horses need, and how you can supplement it.
What's vitamin E?
Vitamin E is a combined name for a set of eight compounds with specific antioxidant activity.
The eight compounds fall into two categories, four tocotrienols, and four tocopherols, each identified with a delta, gamma, beta, or alpha.
Out of the eight compounds, alpha-tocopheral is the most available, and it's what equine nutritionists measure to asses if a horse has vitamin E deficiency.
A horse's body handles vitamin E quite differently than water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C. The body gets rid of excessive amounts of vitamin C in urine.
However, when a horse takes fat-soluble vitamins, it can store the surplus amounts inside the fat tissues and the liver.
When the nutrient is abundant, the horse will store some of it for later use when unavailable.
Grass has copious amounts of vitamin E, but as it matures, the levels of vitamin E also reduce drastically.
Horses foraging on dried winter grass will utilize their stored vitamin E and replenish it when the fresh green grass grows during spring.
This means that a domesticated horse is at a disadvantage, as it doesn't go foraging on green grass but only relies on hay.
Given that more than 80% of vitamin E in hay disappears before reaching your horse, offering it as a supplement is essential.
How does vitamin E benefit horses?
It prevents damage by free radicals.
Vitamin E is a highly effective antioxidant. It binds with free radicals, limiting the damage they cause in the body.
Since free radicals possess an unbalanced electrical charge, they tend to take electrons from nearby molecules to attain stability.
However, when one molecule loses an electron, it takes an electron from another molecule, initiating a chain reaction.
When there are many free radicals in a horse's body, they may damage cell walls and other vital organs.
Free radicals originate from the body's utilization of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats as fuel.
They have beneficial functions like neutralizing viral or bacterial threats but do more damage than good to the body.
Vitamin E helps by positioning itself on the structure of a cell membrane, where it binds with free radicals, which would damage cell walls.
Insufficient vitamin E means a horse will have increased oxidative damage in cells all over a horse's body, including immune and muscle cells.
Horses that do heavy tasks or partake in rigorous exercises burn more energy; thus, they require more antioxidants.
So, when there isn't enough vitamin E, such horses will have a slow recovery from exercise and reduced performance.
Other benefits of vitamin E are:
- Reduces chances of horses developing exertional rhabdomyolysis
- Boosts immune response by enhancing the bacteria eradication ability of immune cells, aiding equines recover faster from illnesses.
- Increases insulin resistance. According to research, a regular 1000 IU vitamin C intake could enhance insulin sensitivity.
- Lessens effects of neurological disorders such as equine degenerative myeleoncephalopathy (EDM) and equine motor neuron disease (EMND)
- Supports faster muscle recovery after an exercise session
- Enables horses to sustain high activity levels for a prolonged period.
How much vitamin E does an equine require?
Researchers have yet to determine the amount of vitamin E a horse needs to excel.
Even so, the National Research Council recently published a report recommending that a 1000-pound horse doing light duties take at least 500 IU (international units) of vitamin E daily.
Furthermore, the NRC recommends breeding stallions and mares, or horses doing heavy tasks require higher amounts of vitamin E. They state 1100 IU a day as the minimal amount.
There have also been some studies that indicated that racing and working horses require up to 5000 IU of vitamin E per day.
The argument is that the more vitamin E a horse gets, the higher amounts it will store, thus reducing the chances of deficiency.
Horses with particular health conditions also require excessive amounts of this vital nutrient.
They include equines with issues like metabolic syndrome, allergies, tying up, or those recovering from a surgical procedure.
Studies have shown that horses with allergies greatly benefit from antioxidants.
Numerous professionals recommended a standard guideline to offer horses with laminitis, metabolic syndrome, or allergies at least 5000 IU daily.
Stressed horses or those with chronic ailments may also need between 2000 IU and 5000 IU, depending on the particular equine condition.
Considering a horse's body stores vitamin E in fat reserves, underweight horses will also require vitamin E supplements, for they have minimal fat. For malnourished horses, about 1500 IU a day will do.
Dangers of excess vitamin E
Beta carotene, a vitamin A building block, and vitamin C have a similar absorption pathway.
Therefore, excess amounts of vitamin E may reduce the levels of beta carotene in an equine body.
Insufficient beta carotene in a horse is detrimental as it may lead to lower immunity and the development of cardiovascular disease.
How to supplement your horse with vitamin E
Before you offer your equine vitamin E supplements, you must let your veterinarian conduct a blood test.
The blood test will determine whether your horse requires a boost or not.
If your vet doctors measure the alpha-tocopherol serum concentrations and find it above two micrograms in a millimeter, the horse is okay.
However, 1.5 up to 1.9 micrograms are considered marginal, and lesser than 1.5 means there is a deficiency.
Once your vet recommends you increase the levels of vitamin E in your equine's diet, you will have numerous options.
The Natural way
The first is allowing your horse access to more green fresh grass. Grass has about 30 to 150 IU of vitamin E in one kilogram.
Though your horse will stand a risk of becoming obese or developing laminitis.
You will also have to get freshly cut hay, as grasses cut while young have copious amounts of vitamin E.
How much vitamins the hay loses depends on conditions like harvest time and how long it was aired in the sun. Sunlight degrades all vitamins.
For instance, a study indicated that alfalfa hay losses up to 75% of vitamin E after ten weeks of storage. Grains like barley, corn, and oats also lose vitamin E when stored for long.
Experts recommend keeping the hay in a dark and dry area to preserve its vitamin composition.
The artificial way
If you want to ensure your pony gets the required amounts of this critical vitamin, you can use commercial feeds or probiotic supplements.
Most commercial feeds contain fortified minerals and vitamins. They usually provide between 100 and 150 IU of vitamin E in each pound.
Assuming a horse eats three or four pounds of grain daily, it will have adequate amounts of the vitamin, provided it doesn't do heavy duties.
Vitamin E is also included in various supplements such as Probiotic Enhance.
Probiotic Enhance will not only boost your horse's vitamin E levels, but it will also.
- Enhance digestion
- Improve immunity
- Increase nutrient absorption
- Reduces bloating
Moreover, Probiotic Enhance has digestive enzymes that aid in the breakdown of starch and sugar.
Like humans, horses require certain nutrients and vitamins to thrive. Vitamin E is top on that list.
You can thus provide this essential vitamin to your equine by allowing the animal to graze on green pastures.
If that's not possible, you can use commercial feeds or supplements like Probiotic Enhance.