So some good questions have sprung up from my introductory post on minerals for horses. What do we do about excess iron in well water? I have excess sulfur in mine…what about that?
There is a highly prevalent idea in recent equine medicine that equine supplements are unnecessary. I think there is good proof that many supplements are a complete waste of money. But I also know that our modern horses faces many dietarychallenges in their environment…poor forage options, limited grazing, isolation, static diets of grains and limited quality hay. Obesity and lameness are common. Insulin resistance and Cushings disease are epidemic. I’ve read that excess iron causes laminitis and poor foot health, and excess copper can cause anemia. Lack of selenium causes tying up. The list goes on and on. Its clear that minerals are important and that they need to be provided in an ideal amount….not too much, not to little. So how do you know what your horse needs? Is there a mathematical formula? Nope.
So lets look first at minerals in general. What are they and how do horses (or people for that matter) assimilate them?
Minerals are rocks, for the most part. Yup….not fit for eating as they are. Horses and other mammals (predator and prey animal alike) assimilate minerals through vegetables and for those of us who are omnivores…from meat, who ate the previously mentioned vegetables. Many, most really, mineral supplements are simply ground up rocks. Not easy to assimilate and hard on the system. One of the things that sold me on Dynamite products 15 or so years ago was their practice of chelating their minerals with amino acids. This is what plants do. Plants grow in soil, and chelate minerals from the soil to create their green parts, flowers and fruit. Mammal eats plant or fruit and assimilates minerals. Simple, right?
Well, it turns out that God or whoever is in charge of mineral biology created interactions that…on the surface….complicates the picture a bit. Go here to review an article written by Judy Sinner from Dynamite Specialty Products many years ago about mineral interactions. You can cross check the information via Google if you have that type of mind, but you can also trust me (and Judy) that its accurate. So, many minerals actually block the absorption of other minerals. How absurd! Really? Why on earth?
OK, here is where it becomes FASCINATING! Lets take Iron as an example. Iron blocks the absorption of copper, phosphorus, potassium and zinc. All of these minerals, by the way, are completely toxic, life-threatening, actually, in excess, but important for normal bodily functions at normal levels. The reverse is also true…these minerals block the absorption of iron. Interesting, yes? So I know, nothing in nature is an accident. Does anyone else see a safe guard here? Yes, a horse on a limited diet who is drinking iron overloaded well water will develop iron excess and potentially become sick. That has been documented. But a horse who has access to phosphorus, copper, zinc and/or potassium, either as a free choice or in their feed, is protected from the iron…and vice versa.
At my own farm, the barn well has a lot of sulfur in it. It was turned off because of fear of sulfur overload before I moved in. I turned it back on…happily. Sulfur is a great adjunct to fly control and is a natural anti-inflammatory. It DOES, however, block absorption of selenium..an important mineral in regard to muscle function. So all I do is provide selenium as a free choice or as an add on in the diet. Poof…I get the benefit of both minerals…without the worry of overload or deficiency.
So while others worry about interactions and excesses of minerals in their horse’s diets, I see a beautiful checks and balances….as long as the horse has access to what he/she needs to maintain the balance. Its egotistical and entirely shortsighted for people/feed companies/supplement companies to believe they know what your horse needs….exactly. I prefer to set it up so the horse chooses and has the opportunity to correct my feeding mistakes and the irregularities in their environment, known or unknown. So I don’t do water sampling or hay analysis or hair mineral analysis. Just not necessary…
As a last thought, a word about reading labels. I would not concentrate on how much of one mineral or another is present in a supplement, and how that affects the mineral bottom line, so to speak. Focus on the quality of the minerals and their bioavailability and on the philosophy of the company providing it. Someone asked about excess iron in Dynamite Specialty products main equine supplement. The ppm of iron has to be considered in the context of how diluted the supplement is in regard to its feeding volume. So if you have 6000 ppm iron in an ounce of supplement, that gets diluted by whatever the volume of feed your horse eats. So if your horse eats free choice hay and a small amount of grain/concentrate, that ppm gets diluted to a minuscule amount. If you find a supplement that has no iron, you are probably buying a purely synthetic (reads not natural) supplement as iron is in everything natural in the world. As long as you have the balancing minerals, it doesn’t matter. I plug Dynamite products for a number of reasons, but the foremost is that the products are thought out and produced by people I know, respect and care about. That’s important to me. There are lots of good supplement companies out there and I will not denied that. But choose your horse’s minerals with your heart and intuition, not math. More on this in my next post…