An increasing number of horse owners are turning to turmeric as a supplement for their horses. Lottie Butler finds out what it's used for and the research behind it

What is it about turmeric for horses at the moment? For many of us, it is just that colourful peppery spice added to Asian dishes for colour and flavour. However, an increasing number of horse owners are turning to turmeric as a supplement for their horses; a natural remedy that has been proven to be beneficial for humans and is believed to help ease a whole range of health problems in horses — from joint stiffness to skin irritations. Some owners even swear it helps horses suffering from sarcoids.

Turmeric for horses: what is it used for?

Turmeric has long been prevalent in ancient Indian and Chinese medicines as a powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant used by people suffering from a wide range of conditions, including diarrhoea, respiratory infections, dermatitis, and even cancerous tumours. Though more commonly used in the West as a condiment, there is growing awareness of its therapeutic properties.

Global Herbs, specialists in equine supplements, has been using turmeric in its products for many years. Both Flyfree, an anti-fly feed supplement, and its Skratch products, a range formulated to support horses with skin conditions, contain turmeric.

“Turmeric is suitable for horses suffering from stiff joints and itchy skin conditions, as well as offering support to the digestive system,” says Becky Darby, product advisor at Global Herbs. “A lot of people feed it to provide support to horses whose joints are under stress.”

Due to customer demand, the company recently launched a turmeric supplement.

“Our supplement consists of pure powdered turmeric and black pepper, which aids absorption of the active ingredient into the body,” says Becky.

The main active ingredient in Turmeric is curcumin, a compound found to have powerful anti-inflammatory effects in humans. It is also a strong antioxidant, that is useful for soothing stiffness and pain, maintaining good digestion and alleviating skin conditions in people.

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What’s the evidence that turmeric can help your horse?

However, it’s worth noting that there have been no definitive clinical trials to support turmeric’s medicinal impact or establish an effective dose for horses.

“There is no research into the safety and long-term effects of feeding turmeric,” advises equine nutritionist Zoe Davies. “Curcumin is well-studied in humans and has proven properties, but horse owners should be aware that it is not the only biologically active compound in turmeric.

“Turmeric only contains about 2.5-3% of curcumin — experimental data suggests it could take as much as 250-500g turmeric to deliver an effective dose to a horse.

“Similarly, curcumin can affect iron metabolism in the horse’s body, which could contribute to development of anaemia. As such, turmeric isn’t advisable for horses with any kind of chronic disease or anaemia,” adds Zoe.

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How should turmeric be fed?

If you do decide to feed turmeric to your horse, it might be benefical to feed it in conjunction with a high quality oil and black pepper to help the absorption of the herb into the system.

“We always recommend to mix it with flax oil – which is rich in omega oils and good for the joints and coat,” says Becky. “The quantity really depends on size of horse. For a horse of about 500kg, we would suggest a heaped tablespoon of turmeric per day (approx. 25mg), mixed into a paste with 2 tablespoons (approx. 50ml) of oil.”

As with any feed, turmeric should be introduced to the horse’s diet slowly, built up gradually over the course of a week or two. “For the fussy eater, you could add a little apple puree or juice to sweeten it up, but I am yet to come across a horse that won’t eat it,” says Becky.

NB: If you believe your horse is suffering from a medical problem, H&H recommends that you speak to your vet in the first instance for diagnosis. If your vet suggests that a nutritional supplement might be beneficial, then speak to a qualified equine nutritionist for advice.