Balancers: Do we need them?

Ellietotz

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I am currently just musing over balancers and wondering if we really need them.

If the horse is on decent grazing and/or hay, does this not supply enough vitamins and minerals?

And if they are needed, do you prefer a powdered supplement or a feed balancer? If so, what are your recommendations?

Thoughts on them and why? :)
 

Sossigpoker

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I'm not a fan especially for good doers as they provide unnecessary calories (unless you use a powdered one).
I'm not using one for my cob as he is very sensitive to mineral changes in his diet.
 

milliepops

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it's my understanding that lots of UK grazing is short of minerals and hay/haylage can often be short of vits too as they degrade in the drying process. so I would always feed a horse doing any kind of work (I'd include "growing up" in that category!) a supplement of vits and mins. the only difference I see between powdered vits and mins and a pellet balancer is that the pellet adds protein, and other things like probiotics (depending on the formulation). So yeah, for me, I do think we need something and the choice is up to the owner. I use both types for different circumstances.
 

Leandy

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For a mature horse on good grazing/fed good quality hay/haylage etc with perhaps some H&P nuts or similar in addition during the winter, doing not more than a medium level of work with no obvious health problems or deficiencies and in good general condition, no a balancer is not required. For youngstock, those in more work, those who do not look in robust good health then I would think it is a good idea. Feed by eye and adjust accordingly.
 

Tarragon

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I use the balancer to compensate for the lack of variety in their grazing, both herbal and mineral. I also keep my ponies unshod, so like to feed the feet, as it were. I like to feed the powder form as it allows you to vary the feed by the use of chop. I have one elderly cushings pony in light work and one younger one in full work; both get the same balancer, but the older pony gets a very basic chop and the younger pony gets a chop with higher levels of protein.
 

Griffin

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I feed my good doer a balancer because I am pretty sure my grazing lacks minerals. Also, she is barefoot, so a balancer helps with her hooves.

However, I think you have to look at horses individually. If you're feeding a mix or cubes at the recommended rates, you shouldn't really need a balancer. For example, I feed the elderly TB Dengie Healthy Tummy at the recommended rates and he looks great on it.
 

RHM

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I feed a powdered balancer/vits and mins. Partly because the poor pony is constantly on a diet and has soaked hay, and my sport horse has the same as she doesn’t get the full ration of hard feed. She could probably not need it but I seem to love pissing my money away on horses!
 

Sprat

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Our grazing isn't the best, so I feed a balancer and have done for years. My mare looks great, so I have no reason to change that anytime soon but I know it's not everyone's cup of tea.
 

sbloom

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Most UK forage and grazing has all sorts of deficiencies, unless you're providing 50+ varieties in the grazing and hedgerows, and even then, you probably are underfeeding some vitamins and minerals. And I'll always recommend a supplement or balancer (ideally balanced to your grazing) plus straights where needed over a bagged feed where under or over rationing is too easy. Also to avoid added iron whenever possible.
 

Wishfilly

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Our grazing is fairly uniform, and sparse in winter, so I feed a powder balancer. I am sure he would survive without it, but I do think it helps his hooves and coat, so is probably having some internal benefits too.
 

I'm Dun

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Most UK forage and grazing has all sorts of deficiencies, unless you're providing 50+ varieties in the grazing and hedgerows, and even then, you probably are underfeeding some vitamins and minerals. And I'll always recommend a supplement or balancer (ideally balanced to your grazing) plus straights where needed over a bagged feed where under or over rationing is too easy. Also to avoid added iron whenever possible.
This. My good doers get next to nothing in the way of feed but they do get a mineral balancer and salt. I mix my own and its costs about a fiver a month. I see a difference in feet anytime I stop it. The poor doer gets lots of high oil, low sugar and starch feed, and he gets the same mineral balancer and the addition of vitamin e.

Horses arent designed to live in small paddocks on green growing grass which is horribly high in iron.
 

Cutgrass

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My current loan gets one (no cals as she's a good doer) and it might be a coincidence but her hooves and coat are miles healthier than previous loan, who was only on grass. His coat was dull, mane and tail brittle, and hooves questionable. His general condition is one of the reasons I ended the loan.
 

Shilasdair

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Most UK forage and grazing has all sorts of deficiencies, unless you're providing 50+ varieties in the grazing and hedgerows, and even then, you probably are underfeeding some vitamins and minerals. And I'll always recommend a supplement or balancer (ideally balanced to your grazing) plus straights where needed over a bagged feed where under or over rationing is too easy. Also to avoid added iron whenever possible.
I agree with this. Many areas of the UK are deficient in minerals - often selenium - and the variety of plants our horses have access to is insufficient for a balanced diet.
 

NLPM

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Our grazing is quite 'samey', although they will eat the hawthorn hedge and thistles too, and the hazel (but only if I cut it down for them first...). I never used to bother with balancers but started my old gelding on a Blue Chip balancer last year when he started looking a bit poor and it made a world of difference, so now they're all on a BC balancer, although not the same one. I use the big bags, so they don't really have anything else other than a bit of TopChop Zero and maybe the oldie might have some Cushcare or barley rings over winter.
 

Rowreach

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Most UK forage and grazing has all sorts of deficiencies, unless you're providing 50+ varieties in the grazing and hedgerows, and even then, you probably are underfeeding some vitamins and minerals. And I'll always recommend a supplement or balancer (ideally balanced to your grazing) plus straights where needed over a bagged feed where under or over rationing is too easy. Also to avoid added iron whenever possible.
Yes, the key is to tweak it to the horse/the grazing/the forage. Too often people just shove an off the shelf balancer into their horse, a bit like shoving an off the shelf compound feed into them.

There's no art to feeding nowadays.
 

Follysmum

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I try to give a balancer which helps with what’s missing or lacking in my grazing. Forage plus did analysis for me and I find that pro balance is quite well suited.
 

Nudibranch

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Over the years I've tried various options and eventually settled on a plain mineral balancer with salt and sometimes micronised linseed in a handful of ordinary nuts or even, shock horror, bog standard coarse mix. A mug of it isn't going to do anything untoward and the minerals stick to it nicely. I actually feed about half the recommended rate of balancer as the grazing is old pasture with many species (I gave up counting at 33).
Our grazing is fairly low in selenium, calcium and something else I can't remember right now. It's not massively low in magnesium but as mine work unshod I prefer to cover all bases and in one there is definitely a slight increase in silly spookiness if they are taken off it.

ETA the other we are low in is copper. The Dales arrived with a very gingery mane, and is now fully black, and I do credit the additional copper for rectifying this. I wish I'd known bit more about minerals 30 years ago - all my black ponies always had very sun bleached manes. Not that hair colour is critical but it's possibly a useful indicator at least.
 
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Elno

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I'm not a fan especially for good doers as they provide unnecessary calories (unless you use a powdered one).
I'm not using one for my cob as he is very sensitive to mineral changes in his diet.
I have found the same to be true with my horse. Some balancers/ vit-min supplements send her completely bonkers so I have honestly just stopped feeding her them and have a sane, happy horse. She gets topped up with selenium though once or twice a month mixed with a chopped up carrot, but apart from that she only had grass, hay/haylage and a salt lick.

I have the feeling that feed companies have come to the realisation that there has been a recent-ish shift in how people manage horses- less hard feed and more forage and in order to keep up with the sales numbers a lot of balancers/supplements came to be, sold to us by clever marketing taking advantage of our will/need to provide the best for our horses. It makes us feel good to buy that balancer because we think it will provide our horse with everything it needs, where in fact that is far, far from the truth. People generally have very little knowledge about animal physiology and biochemistry and about how minerals interact with each other, and it is also in human nature to seek easy answers and quick fixes which is why feed companies and companies selling minerals are bloody blooming right now because they instill us with fear and provide easy (albeit incomplete) answers.
 

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Jellymoon

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I think they are very clever marketing from feed companies in response to a shift in horse ownership over the years from working to leisure horses. We all want to give our horses the best and it gives us something to feed the good doers.
i have used them on occasion but I dont anymore. If my horses look and feel well with shiny coats and bright eyes and are the correct weight, then all they get is grass and hay. If they ever look a bit lean, they will get some sort of hard feed. I have never had an ill horse through lack of vits or mins.
 

Tarragon

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I know of someone who kept their ponies in a local field, and one of them was never quite right. It wasn't until a local farmer mentioned that it may be lead poisoning as the area was well known for it. And sure enough, changed the field and all the symptoms went away.
 

HollyWoozle

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All ours are fed a balancer now (which we only started over the last year) and I don't regret it. None of them are in work but our grazing is poor compared to most and they don't receive other hard feed, just hay - one showed a vitamin deficiency in tests by the vet when he was looking a bit dull, now he looks in glorious health. We also have two ponies on very, very limited grazing and well-soaked hay and I feel that for them it is essential.
 

PurBee

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Most UK forage and grazing has all sorts of deficiencies, unless you're providing 50+ varieties in the grazing and hedgerows, and even then, you probably are underfeeding some vitamins and minerals. And I'll always recommend a supplement or balancer (ideally balanced to your grazing) plus straights where needed over a bagged feed where under or over rationing is too easy. Also to avoid added iron whenever possible.
Agree - when the horse has free access to chew on roots of trees/barks/hedgerow berries and leaves and an array of various grasses on varying soils…akin to their wild counterparts…they would have opportunity to source masses of various nutrients.
In domestication their diet is vastly different and very limited.

The main thing that throws out mineral balancing for uk/ireland equines (and other grazing stock animals) is the high iron soil and water levels.
I’ve been reading recently to recap on research i’d done a few yrs back about iron and there’s more studies and info regarding its detrimental effects for equines. Mainly high iron causes it to be accumulated in organs and especially the liver. Equine pathologists commonly see black livers due to iron accumulation in equine post mortems.
The liver is responsible for ensuring all kinds of extremely important body processes - hormones, proteins, wastes…its the workhorse of the body.

So excess iron is my main concern that creates serious imbalance in any domestic grazing animals body mineral status.
It’s not easy to chelate excess iron either - making it very tricky to balance.

In one study on equines exposed to high iron from food and water, of the horses that weren’t PTS for further examination, due to illness, the remainder had blood iron levels tested for a long while post study. Despite the iron being limited/reduced in their diet (to what degree wasnt stated but the horses returned to the location where iron accumulation occurred so reduction of iron in grazing is not possible unless they were never grazed - again, not confirmed) blood tests showed still high iron in blood only post study.
This makes sense however, as we have stored iron reserves and blood circulating iron - so 2 iron tests are needed for the reserve of iron. This wasnt stated in follow-up blood work.
It would make sense blood levels of iron to remain high as the only route the body has to get rid of excess iron in clogged organs is from reserves to be put into the blood. Yet we must remember the body won’t dump all excess iron into the blood, as that is sure death.
So we can only wonder what body stores iron values were - and there’s a possibility that they changed/lowered IF the high iron source imput into the diet had been totally eliminated - again, the study didnt detail if this actually happened post study. Maybe feeds containing iron were stopped, but grazing, hay supply and water source remained the same - which could have been the true source of iron accumulation - as it often is.
This is where many studies fall short. They rarely go into information details that are key elements to the subject studied. They tend to focus on just 1 thing. For this study it was confirmation of high iron, necropsy study, symptomology of very ill horses.
Mild iron accumulation wont present with such drastic symptoms, and its only after years of exposure to elevated water and food iron levels the organs mainly suffer accumulation and start to fail.
Liver failure/stress/inadequacy in horses is common and iron intake should be closely looked into.

Iron is added to many uk/ireland horse feeds, and balancers. When soil and water are high iron anyway, the plants/crops grown there are also high iron.…so grass/hay is higher iron. Reducing high iron intake is the primary focus alongside adding extra copper/zinc/cobalt etc. Water sources alongside food is the primary intake of high iron levels.
Many rural farms run off wells than mains water - well water is known for high iron compared to mains water.

The streams that surround all irish lands often run red colour….my streams are red. The soil is high iron - run-off water into streams = high iron.
It’s worth getting a water iron test and forage iron test - if your water source and forage source remain the same year round for your horse, so you know the figures and how much other minerals to balance. Iron causes other minerals to become deficient, that’s why high iron levels are worth examining.
Mineral deficiencies/imbalances can occur over many years…slowly….symptoms are mild and slowly become more obvious. Excess iron can be the sole cause of such a slow swing into mineral imbalance it can be missed altogether.
 
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My mares are left to feed themselves once the grass and hedgerows are growing after Winter.
I do feed youngsters a balancer year round but not every day in the warmer months.
Our ponies have access to 11.5 acres of mixed, rough grazing including lots of native hedging. We have fenced to control access so that the grasses get a chance to seed. I also consider it a bonus to their diet when they sometimes get to eat the grass seed heads.
The ponies are NFs and Connies so all good doers and none are currently doing anything serious work wise. Two are only just backed.
I do provide a salt lick and a salt and mineral lick year round. These are well used especially when they aren't getting a balancer.
 

ApacheWarrior1

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My current loan gets one (no cals as she's a good doer) and it might be a coincidence but her hooves and coat are miles healthier than previous loan, who was only on grass. His coat was dull, mane and tail brittle, and hooves questionable. His general condition is one of the reasons I ended the loan.
 
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