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Young Horses


Photos: Sally Cooper-Johnston's "Silver Linings Cumulus" as a foal on his Mum in Nov 2015 (Photo credit Cathy Dee) and below, now competing at level 2 Novice. The last 3 tests he competed in, he won.

‘Cumo’ and his Mum have been on Premium MVA, XtraCal & ShapeUp since conception plus GrazeEzy & ToxAll as they are out on grass, plus SOS when competing.


Cathy Dee's Zephyr from 2 day old (photo Cathy Dee) to 8 years.

His dam (Merlot) was fed Premium NZ Horse Minerals and XtraCal from conception. Zephyr was fed a simple feed with the same minerals from a few months old.
Zephyr has always been so calm, Cathy nicknamed him Captain Sensible.

Feed Young Horses from Conception!

We have a constant stream of people enquiring about the health, behaviour and movement of their horses.

Many of these horses are young (under 8 ) and therefore growing.

Young horses should be problem free, exuberant and athletic but many develop, from age 4 or 5, what might be termed, ‘neuro-muscular’ and/or musculo-skeletal issues.

Thoroughbreds frequently exhibit a variety of Developmental Orthopedic Diseases by the time they are one year old!

Young horses need proper nutrition since conception so if you are breeding, now is the time to be supplementing their mothers.

Some people might be surprised to learn how the horses’ skeleton matures.

People used to say you should wait until the ‘knees close’ – however every single bone in the body has growth plates at each end, with some bones like the pelvis having multiple growth plates.

Most important to understand is that there is a schedule of conversion from ‘growth plate to bone’ and that is from the bottom of the legs up, ie the vertebral bones of the spinal column are the LAST to complete the process.

This is very relevant to nutrition of young horses: that is while smaller, sturdier FEMALES can potentially be skeletally mature by the time they are 6, the taller the horse and the longer it’s neck, the later the last fusions will occur, and MALES may not have completed the whole process until they are 8 years old.

So gender and body type can make a significant difference.

For a full understanding and some helpful lockdown reading : The Ranger Piece (Skeletal Maturation) by Dr Deb Bennett PhD in particular pages 4,5,6.

Of course it isn’t only the skeleton that is growing but the whole horse meaning all his organs and tissues. To meet these requirements young horses need an appropriate supply of Vitamins and Minerals including the macro-minerals along with their co-factors to ensure optimal utilisation. They need a small amount of protein.

The point is that if your horse is young AND large, he has a correspondingly high requirement for nutrients. He isn’t going to derive nearly enough of these nutrients from his forage whether it be lush pasture grass or hay or both.

If the diet doesn’t deliver enough of the critical nutrients to both grow AND operate nerves and muscles you may start to see the issues like ‘knuckling over’, ‘locking stifles’, hitching a leg, staggers (often mistaken for ‘wobbler’ syndrome), disuniting at the canter, loss of desire and inability to jump and many more.

There may be a corresponding loss of their ‘spark’, playfulness and athleticism.

If your horse is showing any problems resist the temptation to feed Lucerne (alfalfa) at the same time ensure the horse has a good proportion of his daily forage as very mature grass or hay.

The best way to balance your horses diet is to remove the things that UNBALANCE it. This is especially important for young horses in their formative years!

Add salt plus their daily essential nutrients in a comprehensive mineral, vitamin and amino acid mix (eg Premium MVA**). Plus a properly formulated macro-mineral supplement for skeletal integrity (XtraCal).


For the broodmare in her last trimester (when the foal doubles in size) and growing, especially those destined to be large, youngsters add quality protein (ShapeUp) – a small amount makes all the difference.

You can’t do this piece-meal by adding only the minerals that are deemed to be lacking or by adding just calcium which does more harm than good when supplemented on its own. Physiology doesn’t work that way.

** Supreme + ShipShape & in Australia


Zephyr the weanling at 11 months

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