Global Herbs’ Donna Rourke-Houguez BSc (Hons) PgDip MSc takes a look at how the volatility of our seasons is affecting both ‘going’ and the nutrient profile of forage, causing an increase in wear on tear on the musculo-skeletal system of the performance horse. She explores how nutrition can be used to help prevent this and some of the key herbs to consider if you would like to take a natural approach. First published in Carriage Driving, September 2018.

It’s hard to remember the Beast from the East when we’ve been bathed in glorious sunshine for months, but the harsh cold winter of 2017/18 extended well into mid-April, causing months of hard frozen ground. This was followed by a brief period of soft bog from May’s rainfall, and then almost immediately, we had a rock-hard pan underfoot, baked dry by an unrelenting sun.

Sudden changes in going such as this can cause inflammation and wear and tear in the musculo-skeletal system of the horse as the ‘give’ in the ground dramatically changes the angle of movement and the application of load. In particular, varying between working on training grounds one day and competition surfaces the next, can result in soreness and puffiness in an otherwise fit, healthy and well-looked after horse.


The increasing volatility of the seasons has also had an impact on the horse’s ability to recover and rejuvenate from wear and tear as the reduction in the amount of good quality forage available minimises the nutrient mix consumed. As nutrients are the building blocks to repair, this can have a dramatic impact on healing and resilience. High performance horses are particularly at risk of developing nutrient deficiencies.

Signs are occasionally clinical (obvious) but are more likely to be sub-clinical (slight). You should always talk to your vet if you have any concerns regarding your horse’s health.

Due to the long winter, horses were turned out later this year than usual, using up any ‘spare’ forage, and many have been fed next winter’s allocated hay during the summer due to a lack of growing grass. Add to this that farmers in many areas of the UK have been unable to take a second cut of hay this summer and it is obvious that we are heading for a very severe forage shortage this coming winter.

Here’s how you can improve your horse’s resilience to the effects of poor forage and testing ground conditions…


1) Feed utilisation

Utilisation is key! If you can boost the digestive system so it is working at optimal function, you will enable the horse to take every gram of energy, protein, vitamin and mineral that it possibly can out of the food you give it. This is of paramount importance when good quality forage is scarce.

There are two main parts to this – firstly, liver tonics are designed to enhance liver function to increase the production of the necessary digestive enzymes.

Secondly, a probiotic will increase the level of good bacteria in the hind-gut – these are the organisms that are responsible for breaking down the feed and delivering the nutrients to the body. This is particularly important for high performance horses on a grain based diet.

Natural liver enhancing herbs: Makoi, Creat, Milk Thistle, Gale of the Wind, Boerhaavia Diffusa

Natural gut health enhancing herbs and probiotics: Chebulic Myrobalan, Brewers Yeast, Trailing Eclipta, Guduchi

2) General health and resilience

A broad spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement is a sensible addition to the modern equine diet. Bioavailability is the single thing that will make a difference to your horse as this enables them to absorb the ingredients. The most effective are those that are complex chelated with amino acids. Amino acids are easily absorbed by the body and chelating (binding) the vitamins and minerals to the amino acids ensures their absorption. Complex chelation refers to multiple bindings to long and short chain amino acids and results in the best utilisation and results.

The probiotics mentioned above will help here too – the bacteria in the gut have an impact on ALL systems of the body – hormones, sleep, repair, everything! In addition, immune boosting supplements are believed to help the body to repair itself and speed up recovery.

Key chelated minerals: Zinc, Manganese, Copper, Iron, Selenium

Natural immunity boosting herbs: Holy Basil, Winter Cherry, Indian Echinacea, Amla, Mango, Guduchi

3) Musculo-skeletal specific

Supplementation for musculo-skeletal issues should target three things – 1) reducing inflammation, 2) improving joint fluid quantity and quality and 3) improving circulation.

Natural mobility enhancing herbs: Turmeric, Frankincense, Arishta, Arjuna, Edible Stemmed Vine. Cold-pressed flax oil is often used as a joint lubricator too.


A sensible approach to nutritional supplementation does not have to be an expensive one! All physiological systems are intrinsically interwoven and small changes to the fundamentals of gut and digestive health, and the nutrient profile of a horse, can have a huge effect on its overall wellbeing and resilience.

Specific musculo-skeletal issues should always be discussed with your vet, but it is useful to know that there are powerful herbs that may help – that’s the power of nature.

You can talk to the friendly Global Herbs advice team about your horse and the herbs that may help on 01243 773363 or – we’re here to help!

Signs to watch out for:

Puffiness around tendons and joints, even when no lameness is present


General soreness

Specific lameness

Ways to prevent issues:

Train on a surface as similar as possible to your competition surface

Cold hose after work, even if you cannot see any visible signs of inflammation

Build in additional rest days post-competition or following work on a different ‘going’ surface

Talk to your farrier about shoeing for particular ground types and for specific issues

Common signs of nutrient deficiency:


Weight loss

Abnormal bone development
(young horse)

Muscle cramps

Loss of performance

Recurrent coughs or colds

Digestive problems

Coat colour changes

Gnawing at wood

Eating soil and poo

Licking objects

Excessive or reduced sweating

Cracked hooves

Dry skin

Slower healing times than usual