Selenium and Vitamin E: The Dynamic Duo All Horses Must Have For Proper Muscle Function and Suppleness

"I love my horse...... but........."

"OMG.... My horse is always so stiff.  They feel like cement."   "My horse has so much trouble bending."  "My horse has muscle spasms."  "My horse always seem sore."  "My horse just does not want to move, but they don't appear to be lame."  

I hear these comments many times every week!  Why??

If I had a dollar for every time I had the "selenium/vitamin E conversation" with horse owners, I would be a rich woman.  This dynamic duo is not an optional or "nice to have" mineral/vitamin combo for horses.  Many horse owners are not aware this duo in the correct amount is critical for normal muscle and cell function.  Your horse will be stiff as a board without it!  If they do not get the correct amount on a daily basis, you are literally wasting your time stretching, training, having proper saddle fit, getting your horse's feet done and seeing the vet.  Here's why.....

Give Me The Short Story (no complex chemistry please)
Selenium and vitamin E work in partnership to play the role of antioxidant aka "free radical neutralizer" and support the immune system. Oxidation is the process by which fats, carbohydrates and proteins are converted into carbon dioxide, water and the energy needed for the horse's body to function.  However, as part of the normal oxidation process, a by-product called free radicals is created.  If free radicals are not neutralized, they can damage and destroy the cell structures.    

This often results in the horse's muscles feeling hard like cement, muscle spams, soreness and tightness throughout the horse's body and even poor coat quality or loss.  The horse has a very difficult time doing their job regardless of their discipline because the cells and muscles are not able to function properly.  Sometimes the horse even appears to be lame.  Often times riders mistakenly think there is a saddle fit issue, behavioral issue, or injury.  While any of these items can also be present, ensuring the horse is getting the required amount of organic selenium and vitamin E daily is a critical step in problem solving.

How Much Selenium and Vitamin E Does a Horse Need Each Day?
The US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has recommended that the average 1000 lb adult horse needs 3 mg of organic selenium and 500 IU (international units) of vitamin E daily.  Some horses even need a bit more selenium and vitamin E.  For example, I know some horses that need 4 mg of selenium and 3000 IU of vitamin E each day.  Also, some horses who have been deficient for a long period of time may need a selenium booster shot in addition to their daily dose.  ​

​​Since every horse is an individual, it is best to work with your vet and/or equine nutritionist to determine your horse's needs.  Doing a blood test for both selenium and vitamin E is an option to consider if you think your horse may be deficient.  Too little or too much selenium and vitamin E can have equally bad consequences.

How to Calculate Your Horse's Selenium and Vitamin E Intake
While vitamin E is found naturally in fresh grass, levels begin to drop the moment grass is cut for hay.  In addition, many soils around the world (including my home state of Oregon in the US) are deficient in selenium, so the hay or pasture grass does not have enough selenium content. Therefore, supplementation is necessary.  If you do need to supplement, I strongly recommend organic selenium as it is more easily absorbed by the horse.  I have clients who thought they were doing the right thing and giving their horse additional selenium, but it was inorganic and not very effective due to lack of absorption.  Also, your horse must have the proper amount of both selenium and vitamin E.  They work in partnership, so one without the other in the proper amount will not yield great results.

In order to calculate how much selenium and vitamin E supplementation is necessary (If any) for your horse, look at all the feed tags and other supplements your horse receives and add up the selenium and E amount in each dose.  You may even want to test your hay.  Unfortunately, most grain and supplement manufacturers provide the selenium level in their products in ppm (parts per million) per pound.  So, you have to do a bit of math to determine how many milligrams your horse is receiving in each dose.  Don't worry....Help doing this calculation is close at hand!

On the Helpful Links page on my website, the two links on the left side of the page (underneath the equine vital signs link)  lead to articles containing more detailed information about selenium and vitamin E and a step by step guide explaining how to calculate your horse's current selenium intake.  You can also click here for the selenium calculation formula.

I hope you find this important horse health information helpful.  Do you provide additional vitamin E and selenium to your horse?  Do you have any questions about selenium and vitamin E?  Let us know by posting a comment on our blog or our Facebook page

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