Trace minerals are a small component of your horse’s overall dietary intake, but they play essential roles in equine well-being and health.

These minerals can be provided in your horse’s diet in either an organic or inorganic form. Not to be confused with organically-grown foods, organic minerals are bonded to organic compounds in their molecular structure.

This structural difference impacts mineral absorption in the gastrointestinal tract: organic minerals are easier to absorb for your horse’s body than inorganic minerals.

In this article, we will discuss the difference between organic and inorganic minerals, the benefits of feeding organic minerals, and how to tell which forms of minerals are used in horse feeds and supplements.

Organic Vs Inorganic Trace Minerals

What are organic trace minerals?

Organic compounds are substances, “relating to, or derived from, living matter.”

All living matter contains the element carbon in its molecular structure. Organic minerals must have a carbon-containing molecule in their molecular structure.

For example, zinc proteinates are a form of the mineral zinc bounded to amino acids.

These amino acids contain carbon in their molecular structure, making the zinc proteinate an organic trace mineral. In the image below, the carbon atoms are represented by green C’s.

What are inorganic trace minerals?

Inorganic minerals are bound to compounds that do not contain carbon, such as sulphates or oxides. They have been traditionally used in feeds since inorganic minerals are cheaper and easier to produce.

For example, zinc sulphate is zinc bounded to a sulfur molecule. This molecule has no carbon in its structure, so would be considered an inorganic mineral.

In the image below, note that there are no green C’s representing carbon atoms in the molecular structure for zinc sulphate.

Are Organic Minerals Better than Inorganic Minerals?

Organic trace minerals are considered superior to inorganic minerals because of improved outcomes seen in feeding trials.

When animals are fed organic trace minerals, researchers observe improved mineral absorption and increased production responses. [1][2][3][4][5][6]

These improvements are attributed to a higher bioavailability of organic minerals. Bioavailability reflects how easily the mineral is absorbed and utilized in the body. Improved absorption of organic minerals is shown by increased mineral levels in tissues and decreased fecal excretion. [1][3][4][5]

These research studies are mostly performed on agricultural animal species. However, recent research on horses also shows several benefits of feeding organic trace minerals.

To ensure your horse is getting the appropriate mineral source to meet their needs, submit your horse’s diet online and receive a complementary evaluation from our equine nutritionists.

Top 3 Benefits of Organic Minerals

1) Improved Mineral Absoprtion

Inorganic minerals can interfere with the absorption of other minerals or compounds in the digestive tract. For example, equine diets that are high in iron can inhibit the absorption of copper and zinc because these substances compete for the same transporters in the small intestine.

However, organic amino acid complexes of zinc and copper do not face the same problem. These mineral complexes are taken up via amino acid transporters in the gut and so their absorption is not blocked by high iron levels.

Inorganic minerals may also bind to other compounds, making them less available for the animal to absorb. Organic minerals are less likely to bind with other nutrients, and are more readily absorbed. [7]

Research in horses shows that feeding organic selenium yeast results in higher bioavailability compared to inorganic selenium. This is shown by decreased excretion and higher blood selenium levels. [11][12][13]

Improved absorption with organic minerals has been demonstrated in multiple species, although there is some contradicting data in horses.

In one study, yearlings supplemented with organic copper and zinc had significantly higher copper digestibility and daily zinc balance compared to yearlings fed inorganic minerals. [8]

Another study found that feeding organic copper and cobalt resulted in improved mineral digestibility. [9]

However, some studies have found no difference between copper, manganese and zinc absorption with mature geldings fed organic or inorganic minerals. [8][10]

The contradictory studies on organic minerals in horses make it clear that more research is needed to understand potential differences between different forms of organic trace minerals.

However, research on other species and positive preliminary data in horses suggests that organic minerals may be more absorbable for your horse.

2) Joint Health Benefits

The trace minerals copper, zinc, and manganese are particularly important for supporting soft tissues in joints. Providing these minerals in a bio-available form may increase their uptake or utilization in soft tissue.

Researchers found increased cartilage synthesis and decreased cartilage degradation in horses fed a joint health product containing organic trace minerals. The researchers partially credited the changes in cartilage turnover to the improved bioavailability of organic trace minerals. [14]

Another experiment found that yearlings fed a diet with organic trace minerals had an improved rate of cartilage turnover. [15]

Not only can organic minerals support joint health by encouraging cartilage turnover, but they can also help prevent joint damage.

In horses, high-intensity exercise can induce inflammation and oxidative stress in the joints, which is linked to the progression of osteoarthritis. [16][17]

Organic trace minerals can improve antioxidant capacity during exercise and enhance cartilage metabolism after inflammatory stimuli. [18][19]

Feeding horses a diet consisting of 100% organic trace minerals could improve joint cartilage maintenance throughout the animal’s lifetime. [15][18][19]

3) Improved Hoof and Coat Quality

Supplementing with organic trace minerals has been shown to improve hoof health and hair coat quality.

Research on pigs shows that sows fed organic trace minerals had improved hoof health scores compared to those fed inorganic trace minerals. [20] Likewise, a study involving 300 cattle showed a reduced incidence of hoof disorders in the group fed organic minerals. [21]

In horses, yearlings fed organic trace minerals had higher rates of hoof growth compared to horses fed inorganic trace minerals. [22]

A study looking at trace minerals in canine diets found that feeding organic minerals lead to smoother coats and less fragmented hair follicles. [23]

A similar study in Thoroughbreds found that horses supplemented with organic copper and zinc had increased hair elasticity and strength. [24].

Types of Organic Trace Minerals

Trace minerals can be bound to many types of organic compounds, resulting in several different forms of organic trace minerals.

Organic trace minerals are defined by the type of bonds found in the chemical structure or by the compounds that the minerals are bound to.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials defines the following types of organic trace minerals:

Metal amino acid complex:  The combination of a mineral with amino acid(s). (e.g. Copper amino acid complex)

Metal (specific amino acid) complex: The combination of a mineral with a specific amino acid(s). The specific amino acid should be named in the ingredient list. (e.g. Copper methionine complex)

Metal amino acid chelate: The combination of a mineral with amino acids, where the mineral is bound to the amino acid via covalent bonds. (e.g. Copper amino acid chelate)

Metal polysaccharide complex: The combination of a mineral and a polysaccharide solution. (e.g. Copper polysaccharide complex)

Metal proteinate: The combination of a mineral with amino acids or partially hydrolyzed protein. (e.g. Copper proteinate)

Metal Methionine Hydroxy Analogue chelate: The combination of a mineral with 2-hydroxy-4-methylthiobutanoic acid (HMTBa) via covalent bonds.

Metal propionate: The combination of a mineral with propionic acid (organic acid). (e.g. Copper propionate)

Different Types of Organic Minerals

Organic trace minerals are only effective if the mineral complex preserves its form until it is absorbed in the small intestine. [25]

The strength of the bond between the mineral and the oranic compound can impact its bioavailability. [26] An organic mineral with a high complex strength will remain in its original complex and have higher bioavailability.[26]

Some organic trace minerals are unstable at lower pH levels, which are present in the gastric environment. [25] These organic minerals may not pass through the stomach intact and may not reach the small intestine in their original form.

The instability of certain trace mineral complexes may be the reason why studies with organic trace minerals have been inconclusive. Currently, there are no regulatory standards in place to determine the strength or stability of organic trace minerals.

Some research indicates that trace minerals in a proteinate form have higher bioavailability compared to amino acid complexes or chelated minerals. [27]

For this reason, Mad Barn uses BioPlex proteinated organic trace minerals in all of our vitamin and mineral supplements. BioPlex minerals developed by AllTech use Advanced Trace Mineral Technology and ensure optimal availability for your horse.

BioPlex minerals have been shown to reduce interference with digestive processes compared to inorganic trace minerals. [28] This results in higher utilization of trace minerals in the animal’s body.

Because of the greater efficiency of absorption of organic trace minerals, lower levels of organic trace minerals have been used in other species without negatively affecting the performance of the animal. [29]

Using lower amounts of trace minerals in the diet reduces mineral excretion by the animal, which is beneficial for the environment. Feeding increased amounts of minerals increases the amount of minerals that can leach from feces into waterways, but horses fed Bioplex zinc had reduced zinc leaching from their feces compared to horses fed inorganic zinc. [30]

Identifying Mineral Sources on your Feed Tag

Equine feeds are formulated with many different types of trace minerals, and it may not always be intuitive whether a product contains organic minerals, inorganic minerals, or a blend of both.

Organic trace minerals are more expensive for feed companies to use in their products.

Some companies market their feeds as containing organic trace minerals, but actually only use a small portion of organic minerals and make up the rest with inorganic minerals. For example, you might see a product with both copper sulphate and copper proteinate on the ingredient list.

This practice is called “window dressing,” and it can reduce the cost of manufacturing a feed, but results in a lower quality product.

To ensure your horse is getting 100% organic trace minerals, review your feed’s ingredient list and look for minerals with the following words: chelated, amino acid complex, proteinate, or methionine.

If you have any doubts about the types of minerals used in your horse’s diet,