Form Factor: Powder, Pellet, Liquid, or Paste Supplements

Using different forms of supplements to give your horses just what they need, when they need it.

pellets, liquid, and powder forms of equine supplements
Updated April 16, 2024

Keeping your horse in peak condition often involves targeted supplements. But with so many options available in various forms (like powders, pastes, pellets, and liquids), how do you pick the right one? We’ll explain the differences between these forms, when each may be used, and why one may be preferred over another.

Preserving Ingredient Potency and Efficacy

Some ingredients are better served in one particular form over another. However, there is no hard and fast rule on one form – whether it be a pellet, paste, powder, or liquid – being superior in absorption or bioavailability.

Instead, it all comes down to the specific ingredients in the supplement and which form is best for their quality, efficacy, and potency.

Take the antioxidant vitamin E as an example. It can be fed as a pellet, powder, liquid, or paste, but what’s more important for its efficacy lies at the molecular level – whether it’s the natural or synthetic form of the ingredient.

Research has established that while both natural (d-alpha tocopherol) and synthetic (dl-alpha tocopherol) vitamin E are absorbed and usable in the body, natural vitamin E more effectively raises serum levels, and you can feed less of it to get similar results [1]. So, it is key to first consider the particular ingredient, and then, which supplement form they’re best formulated in.

Paste Supplements on an As-Needed Basis

paste supplement being given to a horse

Supplements in paste or gel form are generally intended for occasional, targeted use, acting like a booster to your horse’s daily supplement regimen. With a paste tube, it’s easy to give your horse a precise dosage that can be fed on an as-needed basis outside of regular mealtimes.

For example, your horse may consistently be fed a pelleted digestive supplement for day-to-day support, but he could still benefit from a paste supplement for additional support to his GI tract in times of stress, like traveling or showing. Consider it like the cherry on top of a situation in which your horse may need extra support depending on his needs. Other common examples of when you might use a paste could include:

  • A calming paste may be useful when your horse is in a new situation or more anxious than usual.
  • An electrolyte paste could come in handy after a long ride to replenish minerals lost through sweat and encourage your horse to drink water.

Powder Supplements

There are numerous horse supplements available as powders. They’re a convenient, easy-to-measure, and often economical option that many horses quickly devour without a second thought.

Many supplements are available as either a powder or pellet, which makes it easier for you to shop based on your horse’s preference. Some supplements contain ingredients that are better served as powders, as they may not hold form as pellets very well.

Pelleted Forms of Supplements

pouring smartpak supplements into horse's feed bucket

Historically, powders were the most widely available form of supplements. Then, pellets entered the scene and became a useful option for feeding specific nutrients.

Pelleted supplements are easy to administer into meals, especially for horses fed a small amount of grain or ration balancer in their feed tubs. Pellets are a bit larger in volume than powders and can be a more palatable option since manufacturers can add flavorings.

The Pelleting Process

The extrusion process of creating a pelleted supplement involves pressure, and sometimes heat, which isn’t ideal for all ingredients. Specific ingredients, like mushroom extracts, may denature or change nutritional value or natural qualities if subjected to even slightly elevated temperatures during processing. Therefore, some ingredients are not best suited for the pelleting process to guarantee they retain their efficacy and potency.

These precise requirements are why SmartPak works with manufacturers who monitor the pellet processing equipment to ensure temperatures do not exceed a standardized, acceptable range.

Liquid Supplements for Horses

liquid supplement for horses

Oil or water-based supplements (referred to as liquid supplements) have grown in popularity as a great option for delivering targeted, highly bioavailable nutrients. Some liquids might even have shorter ingredient lists because they don't require the binders or excipients needed for solid forms, like pellets.

At a cellular level, some ingredients are aqueous or belong in a water-based solution to retain their highest quality, efficacy, and potency. These ingredients can be delicate and are often not able to be converted into a solid form without degrading. Therefore, they are kept as liquids to best retain their sought-after qualities. For instance, the molecules of camelina oil or some vegetable oils can be naturally higher in quality when in liquid form.

Some water-soluble vitamins and minerals can be more readily absorbed in the body. This is because the body doesn’t have to break them down. For example, liquid-based vitamin E may increase serum volume levels of vitamin E faster than a powder or pellet.

Feeding Tip: Add your horse’s supplements to their meals right before feeding for optimal potency. Be sure to check the specific feeding recommendations on each of your horse’s supplements.

Delivery Method Matters

Some ingredients are versatile and can be given in multiple different forms. In these instances, the choice of which type to give can come down your horse’s preference and the situation.

Your horse might shake his feed bucket so much that the powder falls to the bottom and is untouched, which would be a good reason to see if a pellet version is available. If you have a picky eater, he may also find a flavored pellet more enticing than a plain powder form.

Maybe you board your horse at a large facility where barn staff makes all the grain buckets the day before. In this situation, it might not be convenient or possible for them to dispense a liquid into your horse’s bucket right before feeding time.

Can I soak my horse’s supplements with their grain?

If you regularly wet your horse’s meals with water, SmartPak recommends adding your horse’s supplements to their soaked grain right before feeding. Soaking supplements for a long amount of time can leave the active ingredients open to degradation.

Why Choose SmartPak for Your Horse's Supplements?

smartpak supplements aerial view on green background

When deciding which form of supplement to make, SmartPak does a deep dive into science-based research studies on specific ingredients. Our research team uses this information to determine which form will produce the highest quality, most efficacious supplement for your horse.

Nutrients can also influence each other in ways that may enhance or inhibit their absorption rates. SmartPak considers this when formulating supplements by carefully choosing ingredients that work together synergistically and allow your horse’s body to properly absorb each nutrient.

Whether the product is providing core nutrients, like vitamins and minerals, or the building blocks of healthy joint tissue, like glucosamine or Hyaluronic Acid, supplements are designed to be fed every single day, and that is how they will work best. Daily dose SmartPaks are an easy way to ensure your horses are getting the full benefits of their daily supplements on a consistent basis.

Evidence-Based Reference

  1. Fiorellino, Nicole M., et al. “Absorption of different oral formulations of natural vitamin E in horses.” Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, vol. 29, no. 2, Feb. 2009, pp. 100–104,

SmartPak strongly encourages you to consult your veterinarian regarding specific questions about your horse's health. This information is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease, and is purely educational.