Mineral Balancing / Iron Overload

I’ve known for quite some time that iron overload causes many issues for horses out west.  What I didn’t know was that here in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky, we also have extremely high iron content in our soil (and therefore, in our hay).  I was reading yet another blog post about iron overload issues, thinking about how similar all of these problems are to what I deal with, and just out of curiousity I searched for info on iron content in local soil.  


I was shocked to learn that we live in an area that is the brightest pink color, indicating the highest iron content on the scale!  Well, that sure explains a lot.  Here is a list of possible symptoms of iron overload from the EasyCare blog:

Iron overload symptoms, from the EasyCare blog: http://blog.easycareinc.com/blog/team-easyboot/got-iron

I could answer a strong YES to nearly every question about at least one of my horses.  I am especially interested to see if my horses’grass tolerance improves after balancing minerals to correct the high iron in their diets.  I have always found it strange that nearly all of the horses I’ve owned since moving to Kentucky have displayed varying levels of grass sensitivity, metabolic disorder, or insulin resistance.  We’re not talking about obese ponies either.  Mostly two Standardbreds and a Quarter Horse.  I know those breeds CAN develop metabolic issues, but not 100% of them like in my herd.  Also, the individuals in question don’t have cresty necks and morbid obesity like you would expect to see in a typical insulin resistant horse.  In fact, Ink (Standardbred x) still showed hoof soreness even when 50 mile fit if she ate too much grass.  That seems ridiculous!  Perhaps I have found the reason?

Also interesting is the potential explaination for hoof issues, despite the best of care.  I have struggled with thrush and mild white line funk in my horses for as long as I can remember.  Every single farrier I’ve used in KY has commented that my horses’ hooves look great and are MUCH healtier than the rest of their clients, and not to worry about the “minor” thrush or white line funk, and that it was normal.  Normal?  No.  Or it shouldn’t be anyway.  Since I took over their hoof care with trims approximately every 3 weeks and daily hoof picking they have improved sigificantly, but I still can’t 100% get rid of it, no matter what I try.  I’ve done every topical treatment, soaking in white lightening, footing improvement, increasing movement, etc…  all show improvement, but again, never 100% resolved.  Hmmm…

The photo in the blog of the inner wall cracks is what really got my attention and caused me to look into it more.  My horses all have those irregular inner wall cracks!  Despite a frequent trim schedule, no flares, a nice beveled mustang roll, an improved dry environment, treatments, and increased movment…  still little inner wall cracks.  Not nearly as bad as the photo, but with everything I’ve done to combat it, I would have expected it to be resolved years ago!

My horses already eat a low NSC (non-structured carbohydrates) diet based on primarily grass hay and a ration balancer with added omega 3 fatty acids, so I thought I was already feeding a healthy hoof diet.  Wrong!  I had no idea we live in an area with excessive iron.  I wish I would’ve looked into this years ago!

Nearly all commercial equine feeds have added iron, which is not only unnecessary, but could actually be harmful.  It is basically unheard of for a horse to need added iron, they get plenty of it from grass and hay, and horses don’t generally suffer from anemia caused by inadequate iron.  I knew about that general info, and not to ever feed iron supplements such as Red Cell, but I always thought the “excess” iron problem was just something folks out west dealt with.

Of course the gold standard is testing your hay so you know exactly what it contains and how you need balance it.  I would LOVE to get to do that!  Unfortunately, our hay this year is coming from multiple fields since we just moved and are still sorting out hay suppliers.  Eventually our own hay field will be in full production, at which point we will certainly test it and balance our horses’ diets perfectly.  Until then we just have to do the best we can.  I consulted with a couple respected equine nutritionists and read everything I could find on the matter, and all agreed that it would be best to add a copper and zinc supplement to balance the high iron.  Even without knowing exactly how much we needed, the nutritionists agreed it would be safe to add the copper and zinc at recommended levels, and that was our best option for now without testing hay.

There are a few great products on the market to balance high iron for horses out west that are generally low in selenium also.  However, I had Ink’s blood tested last year and she was at the very top of the normal range for selenium already, so adding more would be a bad idea, as excess selenium can be toxic itself.  I found individual copper and zinc supplements from Uckele, and have added those to my horses’ ration balancer.  I also saw that Uckele sells an individual Biotin supplement, without any other hoof supplement ingredients (which often contain copper and zinc also), and the biotin alone was surprisingly inexpensive.  I also added that to my cart for poor Moxie, whose hooves need all the help they can get.  The supplemental copper and zinc are VERY inexpensive, at about 7 cents per day for both.

I’m really hoping this is the big breakthrough that I’m thinking it might be.  Hopefully in a few months everyone’s hooves will be much healthier and they will be able to spend some time out of the grazing muzzles!  I’ll report back with an update on whether I’m seeing improvements, but I am so excited about the potential that I didn’t want to wait to share the info, in case anyone else is experiencing similar frustrations.

Further reading:

Iron Overload – by Dr. Kellon

Study finds link between iron overload and insulin resistance – from The Horse

Got Iron? blog – from EasyCare

Hoof Care Starts In The Gut blog – from EasyCare

*** UPDATE 9/17, see new post for details and amazing improvements seen: ***




  1. Rochelle

    Any updates on iron overload status. Did you happen to have your horses tested?


    • Yes! I keep meaning to write an update post about it, and I’ll do so soon! Short story: HUGE improvements and MUCH better hooves! I’ll elaborate more soon :)
      I didn’t do blood testing, because I was advised by more than one very highly respected vet/nutritionist that the blood levels test for iron is not considered accurate.


  2. Katrina Clay

    So, how’d it work out for you? I see in NY we also have high iron. My guy always bleaches out and has a few other symptoms.


    • The improvement was AMAZING. Two of my horses that were always tender footed before now have rock crunching feet and can ride barefoot on gravel and rocky trails! There is a link at the bottom of this post to the update post with more details :)



  1. Great Customer Service:  Uckele! | The Other Horse
  2. Iron Balancing Update | The Other Horse
  3. DIY: Thrush Treatment | The Other Horse
  4. Diet Balancing … continued | The Other Horse

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