The importance of B-vitamins

  • Ever had a horse go off its feed or lose its enthusiasm for work? Or maybe you have a competition horse that receives plenty of food, but still has poor feet.

    These problems could be related to B-vitamins — essential nutrients required in minute amounts to regulate a large proportion of the body’s metabolism. You may think that if they are only required in tiny amounts then they’ll always be present whatever is fed, but this is not always the case.

    The horse has its own internal B-vitamin generators in the form of the micro-organisms that populate its large intestine. In healthy diets, these are well capable of supplying all a horse needs. However, when demand outstrips supply, or when the hindgut isn’t functioning effectively, supplies can be marginal at best.

    Research has revealed clinical deficiency of vitamin B1 in sheep when high-starch diets affect microbial fermentations. The same effect is guaranteed in the horse, as the principles are the same.

    Appetite and movement are affected because B-vitamins are involved in the metabolism of energy, and if insufficient are supplied the horse can become fatigued easily.

    Hoof quality can also be affected as biotin, which is well known for its beneficial effects on hoof quality, is also a B-vitamin.

    B-vitamin facts

    Situations where B-vitamin production can be impaired:

    • Diets where low levels of forage and/or high amounts of cereals are fed
    • Horses in hard work
    • Hay or haylage that isn’t palatable leads to poor forage intakes
    • Unsupplemented oats diets
    • After eating bracken (which contains an enzyme that destroys vitamin B1)
    • After having antibiotic therapy
    • Poorly stored (ie exposed to heat and light) feeds

    Where to find B-vitamins:

    • commercially prepared feeds and supplements
    • Naturally produced by the digestion of adequate amounts of fibre (more
      than 1% of bodyweight per day) in the hindgut
    • It is difficult to provide too many B-vitamins, as they are water soluble, and any excess is excreted in the urine.
  • This article was originally published in Horse & Hound (22 January).

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