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Minerals are chemical elements and are divided into two categories.

The first are the macro elements, which are needed in larger quantities. They include phosphorus, calcium (these two elements are utilised correctly when in perfect balance as they work together with vitamin D to aid absorption.) 

Also included are sodium chloride, sulphur, potassium and magnesium.

Required in smaller quantities are the trace elements and these include: selenium, iodin, copper, zinc, manganese, copper and iron.

Minerals are found in all plants depending on the quantity and type of plant and the soil the plants grows in. when soil is mineral depleted it will be seen in the plants grown on that soil. Certain trace elements can become toxic to the horse when they receive too high a quantity of these trace elements.


Phosphorus (P)

This macro mineral is especially necessary for good energy production and healthy bone growth, this is of particular vitality in foals and young stock. It is found in quality hay, grass and cereals. Deficiency will show in slow growth in youngsters.

Calcium (Ca)

Calcium is vital for good bone and teeth growth, blood coagulation, for the function of muscles and nerves and lactation. See above for the importance of phosphorus and calcium working in tandem.  Limestone flour, alfalfa, sugar beet pulp, quality grass and hay and white clover are all good sources of calcium.


Without calcium, muscles would not contract, meaning movement would be impossible!

Potassium (K)

Aids good functionality of muscles and nerves, good heart health, maintains Ph levels and helps in osmotic regulation of bodily fluids.

Is found in all good quality green plant and herbage as well as good hay. Although very high levels of potassium may start to interfere with magnesium absorption it is a rare occurrence, as excess will be passed out through urine.

If a horse becomes deficient it will be seen in decreased appetite and rate of growth.

Sodium (Na) – Source = Sodium Chloride, also known as common salt.

This mineral is vital for the maintenance of good balanced control of fluids within the body. It is necessary in the formation of bile which in turn aids good digestion of carbohydrates and fats. It also helps in the formation of blood.

The best source is to have a salt mineral block for your horse within reach at all times alternatively, adding 30 grams of salt to the overall feed, in parts over feeds per day, as all in one feed may make the feed unpalatable. Remember that both sodium and potassium are lost when your horse sweats, if your horse does not get enough of either of these minerals it may show itself in fatigue, especially after having been in hard work. It may go of its food and digestion will slow down, which will cause constipation.

Chloride (CI)

Necessary for body fluid regulation and Ph balance as well as a component in the gastric juices to ensure good digestion of protein. A non-metallic element it can be found in most compound feeds and supplements. As long as a good quality salt/mineral block is provided and coarse mix or concentrate cubes are fed deficiency is unlikely. See sodium above.


Magnesium (Mg)

This vital mineral aids in the activation of some 300 enzymes.

Without magnesium your horse would truly be unhealthy as it is necessary in good energy production on all levels, nerve and muscle formation and aids in bone and strong teeth formation, so especially needed in growing horses, and this mineral helps in cell metabolism.

About 65% of magnesium is to be found in the skeleton and teeth and the best sources are feedstuffs such as soya beans, carrots, linseed, pulses and alfalfa and good quality hay and high-quality grass and herbage. When a horse becomes deficient it may show up by the horse having muscle spasms and nervous tension.

Magnesium is crucial for so many physiological functions, including the formation of strong teeth and bones.  Good quality hay is one source

Sulphur (S)

Sulphur is found in good quality pasture and is synthesized of plant proteins (amino acids) it is present in insulin, promotes hoof growth and activates enzymes. When the horse becomes deficient this can be seen in poor hoof growth as well as a dull coat and poor skin condition.


Trace minerals are needed in smaller quantities than macro minerals.

Iodine (I)

This mineral is important in the formation of the hormone thyroxin, which is necessary for good metabolic rate. It assists in the reproductive process and encourages growth.

Seaweed and herbs, as well as a good mineral lick are good sources or it can be bought as supplement. When a horse becomes deficient it can be noted in poor growth, abnormalities in cell structure, infertility, foal weakness and swelling of the thyroid gland. Be careful not to overdose with iodine as it can become toxic for the horse.

Selenium (Se) 

It is thought that selenium is implicated in the Azoturia when there is a deficiency in the horses’ diet in some cases. It also acts as an anti-oxidant and when used in conjunction with vitamin E it may help prevent cell damage. In high performance horses, selenium is given as a supplement, but caution is needed as to much selenium can become a toxic element, which in turn can cause hair fall out and hoof deformities. Deficiency can also weaken a foal and cause joint problems. It is found in linseed, herbage and supplements.

Molybdenum (MO)

This trace element can be found in good quality grass and green forage/herbage. It is an enzyme reactor and deficiency is rarely seen.

Cobalt (Co)

This mineral helps prevent anaemia and is a component of vitamin B12. It is necessary to start bacterial activity for digestion and aids synthesising B complex and other vitamins. It is found in mineral blocks, green herbage, and most other feeds, including compounds. Deficiency will impair B12 absorption which in turn can cause poor growth and weight loss as well as anaemia.

Copper (Cu)

Copper helps in the utilisation of iron and the synthesis of haemoglobin (a red protein responsible in the transport of oxygen in the blood)

It is also important for healthy bone growth, cartilage and elastin and aids in formation of a healthy coat. It is found in good copper rich soils, so any feedstuffs grown in this type of soil as well as linseed will provide good quantity provision. Nonetheless, deficiency will be noted in poor uneven pigmentation, depletion in pigment of the coat, slow growth, poor performance, diarrhoea and when young stock do not receive the right copper balance in their diets it may become a precursor for the development of orthopaedic disease (DOD) If there are high levels of molybdenum the availability of copper is reduced.


Coat condition is just one thing that is effected by the right quantities of copper

Manganese (Mn)

Manganese is important in the activation of digestive enzymes, it aids a healthy appetite, good cell metabolism, a healthy coat and skin, fertility and good health in the hoof and skeleton. It is found in good quality hay, herbage, mineral blocks, barley, oats and wheat or may be added as a supplement. Deficiency will show itself through abnormal skeletal growth, a dull sparse coat and reproductive problems. It is rare however to see deficiency as it is found in a variety of foodstuffs.

Zinc (Zn)

As above but a deficiency, again not common, may lead to poor growth in foals and youngsters and reduced appetite

Image credits (top to bottom); Stux, Vimesogmbh, OpenclipartVectors, Christels, Monique Vanvliet


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Geertje is an Equine Nutritionist and Behaviour Consultant covering Oxfordshire and Berkshire

Please note that the information provided is for guidance only, as each equine has their own individual needs, it is always advised that you consult an independant Equine Nutritionist.



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