Understanding the role of micro-nutrients in equine diets is complex

by Clare McCafferty, Equine Nutritionist

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It is well known that vitamins and trace elements are critical to metabolic processes in horses, so most feeds and supplements are formulated to include them.

These are most commonly added into feeds via a premix, which is often included in a feed as standard. However, the specific reasoning behind each individual micronutrient addition is sometimes forgotten.

Clare McCafferty, equine nutritionist at Premier Nutrition, gives insight into some of these key nutrients and why they are so important to consider when formulating a ration for horses.

“Micronutrients fall into two categories: vitamins and minerals, but vitamins are further broken down into two more sectors: fat soluble and water soluble,” she says.


“Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat soluble, their roles focus around the development and maintenance of tissue structures. These cannot be made by the horse in sufficient quantities, so are essential to provide in the diet.

“Water soluble vitamins, including all B vitamins and vitamin C are synthesised in the horse’s body but it is often common practice to provide a top-up of synthetic forms in the diet where endogenous production is considered insufficient to meet requirements. The main function of these water-soluble vitamins is to act as a co-enzyme to aid or control an array of metabolic processes,” says Clare.


Trace elements, often referred to as micro minerals, have been considered for many thousands of years, far longer than vitamins which were first discovered in the early 1800s.

Clare explains that the role of trace elements in the equine diet generally involves assisting in the active sites of key proteins such as hormones, enzymes, energy and oxygen transmission proteins.

“It’s worth considering that many of these nutrients are generally already found in forage and cereals. So, it’s important to factor this in when formulating feeds, as this will help to ensure dietary levels aren’t harmful to the horse.”


“While the roles of all nutrients within a premix are important, ensuring the product is made to a high standard and meets legal requirements is also at the front of mind” says Clare.

Feed safety and quality are top priority throughout Premier Nutrition with all staff across the business being trained on the subject, not just the nutrition teams. “A lot of time goes into making sure we source raw materials from assured supply chains, so we know we have full traceability of where everything is coming from.

In addition to its UFAS and ISO22000 accreditations, Premier Nutrition is also BETA NOPS® accredited. A focus on prohibited substances is a huge part of the equine nutrition team’s focus.

“A lot of my time is spent delving deep into the supply chains of our ingredients to ensure we know as much as we can to make the best-informed decision about whether it’s safe for us to use. We do of course test as well, but I feel it’s safer to find out if there’s a potential risk before it comes anywhere near the factory” advises Clare.

Labelling of products is also crucial to the process but can be tricky to get right. Clare explains that this can be a minefield as there are several pieces of legislation which relate to it.

“I often act as a sounding board for customers to confirm their labels are right. We make both premixes and complementary feeds, with differing labelling requirements for both. These can be affected by any specific claims the customer may wish to make as well”.

Therefore, understanding how to formulate and label a horse feed product requires an in-depth knowledge of many different factors.  Clare recommends taking a balanced approach and says that by working in partnership with customers she and the Premier Nutrition team are able to ensure the best possible premix is designed to meet the nutritional requirements of the feed for the target horse and time of year.