Essential Supplements for Racehorses

Essential Supplements for Racehorses
5 October 2021 | Foran Equine

Supplements can be a controversial topic on a racing yard, some trainers use copious amounts of products, while others use none.  Here at Foran Equine we are always interested to hear of new products and the, sometimes, radical claims they make regarding their purpose and efficacy.  For trainers trying to decide what they should or shouldn’t use, it can really be a minefield. 

Let’s start by talking about what we mean by a supplement?  Traditionally a supplement was anything given on top of the forage portion of a diet; by this definition a hard feed is technically a supplement.  However, the term has developed over the years and is now considered to be anything fed in addition to hard feed and forage combined.  Most supplements provide additional vitamins and minerals to compensate for a deficiency in the hard feed/forage combination, or they may provide an ingredient not available in the hard feed, but still considered useful to the racehorse, such as a joint supplement. 

Racehorses are the likeliest candidates to have a need for supplementation.  Various factors including: stage of training, age, health status, quality of the hard feed and time of year; all determine the need for that little bit extra.  Horses involved in strenuous exercise are more likely to deplete their reserves of key nutrients, impacting performance and recovery, far quicker than a horse in minimal work would.  ` 

However, this doesn’t mean that it is advisable to load your racehorse up with every supplement available; in our experience it is best to keep it simple and to consider using a few essential supplements; lets now talk about what these might be. 


The most common thing we get asked is “should I give an electrolyte supplement”.  Well the answer is yes!  We understand this can be frustrating for trainers as they assume electrolytes are in their hard feed, and they are right as electrolytes definitely are in hard feed!  However, it is difficult for commercial feed manufacturers to put enough electrolytes in their feeds as high levels of salt in feed will affect palatability and may make the feed more prone to spoilage.  To confidently cover the potentially high level of electrolyte loss through sweat; especially in warmer temperatures, it is best to use an electrolyte supplement for horses two to three days a week and always post-race.   

Be flexible with your approach and be willing to provide electrolytes if the environmental temperature has suddenly escalated and you know the horses have sweated heavily.  Excess electrolytes will be excreted by the body meaning water loss and extra work for the kidneys, neither of which is desirable. However, an electrolyte deficiency will affect hydration status, muscle function, and recovery, all of which have detrimental effects on performance, so striking the right balance is key.   

Foran Equine Equi-Lyte GEqui-Salts, and Refuel products all provide an excellent supply of electrolytes to support racehorses throughout their training.  You can find out more here 


Second in importance to electrolytes are antioxidant supplements.  These incredible substances work to scavenge reactive oxygen species (ROS) that are produced as part of just about all physiological processes, leading to what we commonly call oxidative stress.  This can cause damage to cell membranes and especially muscle tissue.  Providing antioxidants, most commonly in the form of vitamin E and selenium, can enhance recovery by minimising the damage caused as a result of oxidative stress.  Vitamin E and Selenium supplementation is particularly important in horses with exertional rhabdomyolysis, aka tying up, and can help to reduce the stiffness and soreness seen in these horses after work. 

Antioxidant supplementation can support the immune and respiratory systems, and are beneficial when given to horses recovering from illness.  

To know more about antioxidants and antioxidant supplementation please see our article here

Copper supplementation. 

Location often determines the need for copper supplementation, or at least the location of where your forage is made!  Copper, along with zinc, is generally present in low levels in forages, largely due to poor concentration in the soils.  Some areas of the UK and Ireland have higher levels than others, but many are very low.  Copper is crucial to the racehorse and it should be present in your commercially produced feed but, depending on what feed you use the levels and the bioavailability of the copper, it will vary.  Copper is needed to maintain red blood cell function and to keep coats and hoof health at an optimum. A copper deficiency could lead to multiple problems, including reduced performance.  Providing your racehorses with additional copper using a Foran Equine Copper-Max paste; can yield excellent results if you suspect a deficiency.   

To know more about copper and copper supplementation please see here 

Bone health supplements. 

The skeletal system is integral to the racehorse’s ability to perform; from birth to maturity it is key to support this system comprehensively.  Again, commercial feeds should be supplying all that the bone needs to thrive, however, in some circumstances a supplement can become essential.   

Two-year olds in early training go through an intense bone conditioning period; during this time feeding rates are often kept to a minimum, as energy demands are not that high and we want to keep them as level-headed as possible.  With reduced feeding rates the vitamin and mineral intake is also reduced.   

Using a bone supplement such as Foran Equine Osteo-Glycan at this time can “top up” the levels of key nutrients needed for optimal bone health and development setting them up for the season ahead.  More continuous supplementation may be required if you have a mineral imbalance in your forage; such as an inverted calcium to phosphorus ratio.  Foran Equine Osteo-Glycan contains calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin D3, vitamin A, chelated copper and zinc, and organic silica.  It also contains marine collagen organically rich in type I and II collagen, proteoglycans, chondroitin, glucosamine and hyaluronic acid. 

To know more about bone health and how best to support it please see here

Omega 3 fatty acids 

These have increased in popularity over the last few years and are present at varying levels in feeds depending on their source of oil.  Whether we can be certain that additional omega 3 is essential in the racehorse’s diet may be open to debate; but it is more than worthy of consideration.   

A supply of omega 3 fatty acids are essential to optimise health, they support the immune system and promote respiratory health by acting as a cell membrane protector and a natural inflammatory.  Recently there have been reports that Omega 3 fatty acids can improve exercise parameters, lower heart rates, and also reduce allergic reactions.  This last one is of potential significance to any racehorse that may suffer from seasonal allergies, with an impact on performance.  Foran Equine Kentucky Karron oil is an excellent source of Omega 3 fatty acids, with a well-balanced ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6.   

For more information on omega 3 and its benefits please see here

For any further information on what your racehorses may or may not require from supplements contact our expert team at Foran Equine