Updated: Jan 26, 2021
Doesn’t it seem suspicious to you that nearly all equine supplements on the market today, including but not limited to joint, digestive, calming, muscle, and so many more, all recommend the same size scoop? Nearly ALL of them are within 20-50 grams of each other (that's 20-50 paper clips)! It would appear that nearly every ingredient claiming nearly every benefit, requires a strikingly similar dose no matter the size or activity level of the horse? Does this point to some previously undiscovered law of equine metabolism or is there something more interesting going on here? What does this imply about the supplement industry?
If you know me at all you know two things; 1) I’m obsessed with the directions on feed and supplement labels, and 2) I’m very critical of feeds and supplements and will not use them or recommend them without thorough scrutiny. I need a product to make sense! In my constant review of equine nutrition supplements, both good and bad, I’ve discovered a couple patterns.
A shocking number of supplements come with the same size scoop. It would appear that WHAT ingredient we deliver to horses plays little role in the recommended DOSE of that ingredient. There are two scoop sizes that appear again and again in my supplement reviews; 10 grams/0.35 ounces and 28 grams/1 ounce. There may be times when this tiny amount is ok. Let’s take yeast and bacterial digestive aids for instance. A review of studies using prebiotics and probiotic (Garber et al., 2020) showed five studies using anywhere from 4 to 30 grams per day. So, I can support the recommended dose of 28-57 gram (1-2 ounce) servings of prebiotic and probiotic supplements. A major problem arises, however, when supplements try to be everything in one scoop. For example, let’s say that a supplement company wants to be a joint supplement, a digestive aid, and a hoof supplement all-in-one. Now, how are they going to fit all those ingredients into that same size scoop? In my humble opinion, many companies are doing what we call in the industry, tag dressing. Tag dressing is listing an ingredient or nutrient with the full knowledge that there is not enough in there to work. It’s a marketing strategy.
Photo Caption: Comparing a 28 gram scoop with a 10 gram scoop. A handful of "scoops" from my feed room.
Here’s a practical example of tag dressing for you concerning a nutrient category that we actually know a lot about- minerals. If we reference the NRC Nutrient Requirements of Horses (2007 Edition) we can see that horses require grams of major minerals and milligrams of trace minerals each day. There are 1,000 milligrams in a gram, so there are orders of magnitude higher requirement for major minerals compared to trace minerals. However, all too often, I see major minerals listed in milligrams per serving. If a horse needs 35 grams of calcium per day, but the supplement only offers 35 milligrams, that’s 0.1% of requirement. Is that enough to change the needle on your horse’s calcium needs? I think you know the answer.
An even greater sin is recommending the exact size scoop regardless of life stage, size, activity level, presence of disease, forage quality, or management strategy. This suggests a level of “guessing” far beyond my comfort level. If a supplement company recommends the same dose to a 2,000 lb draft and a 300 lb mini, you won’t hear me recommending it.
Finally, I have found that a suspicious number of supplements cost exactly or very close to $1.00 per day. Why is it that so many nutrients providing a variety of benefits in so many supplements all cost about the same? Assuming that supplement ingredients come from all over the world, require unique manufacturing techniques, and have different commodity values shouldn't their costs be very different? In my years of consulting work, I have found that horse owners will tolerate the cost of a supplement under $1.60 per day ($48 per month). Any product more expensive than that does a nose dive down the supply/demand curve. At $1.00 per day ($30 per month) horse owners will tolerate just about any product if there’s a 1% chance that it will make their horse better. So, is the $1.00 per day serving more about the economics of selling product or more about efficacy of the ingredients?
Perhaps I’ve asked more questions than answered this morning, but I hope that I’ve sparked a curiosity that makes you question the need for that fourth or fifth supplement. My conclusion= considering that most supplements on the market today have little to no evidence supporting their ingredients a 10-28 gram scoop seems to be the best guess! If anyone has a better theory, please comment below. Miso and Shoyu would like to know.