Food and health - Turning work horses into race horses?
We all want the best for our horses, which is why the business with food supplements and therapeutic offers is booming. Of the estimated Euro 4.1 billion in turnover that the equestrian sport retail trade and horse-related services bring, hundreds of millions are earned with food supplements, wellness and rehab products or medical treatment such as physiotherapy or osteopathy.
Plenty of cures are promised among the miracle food supplements and therapeutic offers. Most of them aren't able to turn work horses into race horses. Nevertheless, it is often sensible to adjust the fodder accordingly after routine checks such as blood tests and veterinarian examinations and to have the horse treated regularly by a physiotherapist or osteopath where necessary. One has to filter all of these offers: What is and what isn't effective and beneficial?
Physiotherapy, massage and co.: from gentle to hard
"Emotionality plays a more important role than performance and competition for most", the German Horse Society, the FN, established in its survey on equestrian sport that was released in November.
The horse as a "personal companion" has a different standing than a few decades ago. One now prefers to consult professionals if problems crop up. Someone at the stables often has a tip, but if not: There are specialised horse physiotherapists and osteopaths throughout Germany, many of them are highly active on Instagram, YouTube and Facebook. Those who place great value on the osteopath having the qualifications of a veterinary or physiotherapist, should ask where he did his training. Three training facilities in Germany are recognised by the FN and only accept students with the above-mentioned backgrounds.
The professional title "equine osteopath" is not patented, so many therapists, who have arrived on the scene from other areas can offer their services – which doesn't necessarily mean that they are less good at their job.
Jonas Bettaque from ZePo (Centre for Equine Osteopathy) is observing an increase in demand: "The sector is growing rapidly. We train nearly 50 osteopaths a year. In the past, one had to explain what that is, but among others thanks to Tamme Hanken, every horse owner knows today what possibilities of treating a horse there are."
Whether one prefers to trust the official lists of therapists or the personal recommendation from the yard's "grapevine", there is one criterion: A good therapist always checks the overall picture, i.e. the horse, saddle and rider before starting treatment. Because limited mobility or lameness can have a host of reasons and the saddle is an important part of the jigsaw.
In addition to the professionals with certified qualifications, many horse owners rely on the do-it-yourself method – not so much as a real therapy, but as a kind of "wellness programme for the horse". Above all the relaxing muscle massage is popular, since one tends to run less of a risk of harming the horse. The tools for the DIY horse massage prior to and after the training vary greatly: from the cheap curry comb for a few Euros through to the professional massage gun for several hundred Euros.
Magnetic field therapy, for instance using the popular "Bemer blanket" has also enjoyed immense popularity over the past years. Alena Knauer from Bemer explained: "They are simple to use. The third generation of our set comprising of a blanket and two boots is so sophisticated that we even won the German Design Award and the Red Dot Award for it. One thing is clear though: The Bemer set is indeed a therapeutic appliance which requires expert advice and support." Bemer currently sells the items exclusively via partners – with growing success. The customers include end users as well as trainers and stable owners. Some livery stable owners even purchase the magnetic field blanket as a hire item, which like an equine treadmill or other services can be booked by the tenants as an additional service.
Pellets and powders: Fit from the inside
One also endeavours to enhance the horse's health and performance by feeding it diverse minerals, proteins and vitamins. Because the dream of a fit sporting ace or a happy, healthy oldie doesn't come true for everyone. The experts say: Hay alone (however good the quality) doesn't provide the horse with everything it needs. So the horse owners mix herb pellets, green-lipped mussel and magnesium powder in with the muesli, add linseed oil or vitamin cocktails in liquid form and put metabolism-enhancing bacterial cultures directly into the horse's mouth. It is a huge market.
"More and more leisure riders have been opting for food supplements over the past years," observes Timm Hartlaub from Reitsport Wüst. The range is so successful at the specialised dealers in the lucrative Rhine-Main area that the manufacturer, Naf, had even planned to hold a seminar there this year, which unfortunately had to be cancelled due to Corona. St. Hippolyt, a specialist for feed and food supplements, also tours around the trade outlets with such events. "In the past, the blacksmith or veterinarian were the competent contact persons regarding health queries. Today, alternative practitioners, natural hoof carers as well as sourcing information from the Internet play a new and ever-increasing role. We support our local trading partners in underlining their competence among others by means of these in-house or online seminars," the Sales Director, Scarlet Möller, explained. The staff in equestrian sport shops are able to answer many questions competently: "In the same way that we rely on scientific research for the compilation of our products, it is expedient if the consumers rely on the expertise of the dealers."
At Wüst, the specialised dealer in Großostheim, the customers above all enquire about muscle-enhancing products, but also about sophisticated mueslis. "The Internet offers a wealth of information on the topic and the customers are very open-minded regarding food supplements," Hartlaub stated. "The appreciation and self-acquired competence among riders is increasing," confirmed Benjamin Mangelkramer from Josera. Complete feed mueslis with mineral supplements, live yeast cultures, enzymes, herbs or linseed go down well - in other words a kind of all-in-one package in the feed trough (whereby in most cases the odd muscle-enhancing substance isn't missing either). In the case of plant-based products the customers pay great attention to sustainable, preferably local, GMO-free production and controlled quality that is free of harmful substances. Sustainable packaging also plays a role in the purchasing decision.
As sports partners, friends and members of the family, horses are to remain (or become) happy and healthy for as long as possible. This is fortunately important for almost all horse owners – which results in a growing market for services and products, which are presented to a trade audience at spoga horse every year.