The old adage “hay, oats and water” to describe the best way to feed horses is antiquated and long out dated. In the modern era, we now understand that athletes truly are “what they eat” and it’s no different for our equine competitors. All required nutrients have to be supplied in the correct amount and ratio to each other on a daily basis in order for basic physiologic processes to occur. If a horse is short on just one of those, whatever processes that nutrient is required for will cease to happen. Over time, a horse may “look” fine on the outside if it’s getting the right amount of calories each day (and calories are just one of the many nutrients needed by the horse), but on the inside may actually be starting down the path to dysfunction due to vitamin, mineral, amino acid, enzyme etc. deficiency. Stress is a huge problem for horses. Just being in a stall and fed episodically is enough to be the undoing of many a good equine athlete. We owe it to our equine friends, many of whom we earn a living from, to help them be as happy as they can under difficult conditions. Because of this, emotional and physical support through nutrition modalities is becoming more important than ever before.
Additionally, targeted nutrition, meaning specific nutrient supplementation above what is needed daily, is now being used as a therapeutic tool in preventing and combating physical and emotional ailments and disorders.
Feeding horses is an art and an ever evolving science and horse breeders, trainers and owners need to progress with the times and embrace how to use nutrition as a tool for longevity in their horses. How often I hear “oh, well we have always done it this way and my horses look fine so no need to change a thing.” Well really? Ok, then give me your smart phone and I will give you a bunch of quarters for a pay phone (if you can find one) to make your calls! Seriously, so much more can be done through nutrition to prevent illnesses, injuries and down time with athletic horses if their caretakers would simply open their minds to learning what the newest and most progressive nutrition regimes are regarding long term health and soundness. Not nearly enough is being implemented nutritionally to give horses the raw materials or “building blocks” they need to get and stay healthy.
Nutrient targeting is a form of adjunct nutrition that is being embraced in human, companion animal and production animals that urgently needs to start to become commonplace in horse nutrition. It’s not ok to say this feed is “adequate.” Optimized is the key word. When, you optimize the feeding program for your horse(s) through nutrient targeting, you are streamlining, individualizing and ultimately economizing, because the end product is much better. Invariably, the result is a more precise, health conscious diet with nutrients that target specific issues resulting in horses less inclined to become sick, injured and physically/mentally exhausted. The end goal is a healthier horse that needs less injections, drugs and masking agents that simply address the clinical symptom but ignores the source of the problem. We want to break the cycles of unsoundness and poor health, not cover up the signs.
My love and respect of horses has taken me far along a journey I never could have imagined. I have always felt a deep innate sense of what animals are feeling and thinking. About 12 years ago I started to read clinical studies in multiple species that proved there are some nutrients that when added to the diet at a therapeutic dose, will exert a positive physiological effect. At the time I noticed the market was very saturated with supplements, most of which has a lot of ingredients with not enough of any to actually exert a true effect. I began to realize I could offer horses are more personalized “prescription” diet if I developed novel nutritional therapies that were very specific in what they addressed. With that I mind, my goal was to develop formulations that could be used alone or in combination with a sound base forage and feeding program to help prevent and/or overcome metabolic, immune, exercise, growth and reproductive issues in the modern horse.
The following are few the areas of focus of my research and nutrient targeted therapies that I have developed and/or currently working on:
A bio-available form of silicon (silicic acid) is a clinically proven to increase bone cell and collagen production. Very little bio-available silicon in found naturally in foods horses eat. Silicon performs an important role in bone physiology and metabolism by increasing bone building activity and decreasing bone demineralization activity in the horse. Silicon acts as a regulator for calcium and phosphorus uptake and directly contributes to a healthy bone cortex and a well-calcified bone matrix in the horse.
Silicon also plays an important role in the formation of collagen and connective tissue by increasing production of collagen in bone and soft tissues, such as cartilage, tendon, ligament, hoof, and hair (flexibility). Collagen is the organic portion of the matrix. Collagen makes up 30% of mature bone and is a major component of connective tissue and cartilage and accounts for approximately one quarter of the body’s protein. Collagen gives bone a degree of elasticity and allows it to “flex” under pressure.
Studies using bio-available silicon have demonstrated its ability to increase the length of time horses stay in training without injury when compared to horses not supplemented. Horses fed silicon were able to train more total distance without injuries (particularly to shins) and had faster times than those not supplemented.
Field studies have shown that not only do injuries such as OCD lesions, fractures, sesmoiditis and bone cysts heal faster, but the quality of new bone formation is greatly enhanced. Only stabilized silicic acid is biologically available, highly concentrated and need only be fed in very small amounts making it a natural, economical alternative to pharmacological agents.
The benefits of Silicon include:
- Increased uptake of calcium and phosphorous into bone (density)
- Increased production of collagen which is responsible for giving bone and soft tissues the ability to “flex”
- Proven to increase the ability of horses to stay in training without injury when compared to horses not supplemented with silicic acid
- Has been used with great success in performance horses to help quickly heal Tendon/Ligament injuries, sesmoiditis, bucked shins, OCD, fractures and other soft tissue/bone disorders.
- When used with an Omega 3 fatty acid oil, can be very helpful in preventing bleeding in the lungs during exercise
Until recently, the importance of equine gastrointestinal health has been both undervalued and misunderstood. Factors such as physical and psychological stress, an unbalanced diet, antibiotics, and an oversupply of starches and sugars can result in inflammation and erosion in the horse’s gut wall. This inflammation and erosion allows bacteria and toxins to escape the intestinal lining and enter through to the horse’s circulatory system. Bacteria in the bloodstream can lead to a variety of disorders. Glutamine is an amino acid produced by the horse and helps prevent this “leaky gut” syndrome by keeping the space between intestinal cells “tight” so that bacteria cannot pass through the wall. However, horses enduring stress and high intensity training often surpass their own capacity to produce enough glutamine to keep the cells in the intestinal wall tight. Additionally, horses suffering with enteritis or colitis do not have enough endogenous glutamine to repair damaged intestinal tissue.
Glutamine supplementation is helpful for:
- Maintaining a healthy gut wall and support of intestinal villi
- Preventing “leaky” gut leading to bacterial escape into bloodstream
- Support of hind gut function
Very effective for horses that have inflammation and erosion in the gut wall due to:
- Physical and/or psychological stress
- Unbalanced diet, not enough fiber
- An oversupply of starches and sugars
- Large amounts of antibiotics
Butyrate is a short chain fatty acid naturally derived from fiber fermentation in the intestine of the horse. However, like glutamine, during times of stress adding additional butyrate to the diet can help to maintain a healthy intestinal lining. Supplemental Sodium Butyrate has been shown to help prevent, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis and diarrhea. It is also beneficial in the following areas:
- Stimulation of digestive enzyme production
- Enhanced development of intestinal villi increasing surface area which improves feed utilization
- Reduction of acute inflammatory responses
- Major energy source for colon cells
- Improves insulin sensitivity
- Inhibition of cancer cell growth and the secretion of host defense peptides
- Affect and prevent the colonization of Salmonellaand Campylobacter
- Positively influence the composition of the gut microbiota
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) are compounds that are called essential because they are not synthesized by the body and, therefore, must be obtained from dietary sources, Omega 3 Fatty Acids from seed oils such as Flax, Hemp or Chia, in particular, serve as components of nerve cells, cellular membranes, and the very important regulatory substances known as prostaglandins, which help to decrease inflammation. Feeding EFA’s have also been shown to improve respiratory conditions and help accelerate the healing of quarter cracks and other skin and hoof disorders. Omega 3 fatty acids are extremely beneficial for horses that are ‘bleeders’ during intensive exercise as well as those that tend to have chronic inflammatory bowel syndrome. Omega 6 Fatty Acids, on the other hand are pro-inflammatory substances found in stabilized fats such as corn, canola, rice bran and soybean oil.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids help to:
- Reducing inflammation in the body, particularly the GI tract, lungs and joints
- Increasing immune response
- Reducing oxidative damage during exercise
- Increasing oxygen carrying capacity of the blood
- Improving hormonal balance
Specifically for the horse, Omega 3 Fatty Acids can help:
- Prevent colic by reducing gas production and inflammation in the hind gut
- Reduce inflammation in the airways thereby reducing bleeding
- Improve stride length which is directly related to oxygen uptake
- Reduce joint inflammation
Omega 3 Fatty Acid Supplementation is excellent for all horses of every breed at any stage of life, but especially hard working, stressed horses or those prone to digestive disorders due to intense exercise, stress from confinement and high starch diets.
As much as we try to provide our horses a well-kept, clean, and equine-friendly environment, horses are still prone to weakened immune systems and situations where infections can become prevalent. In instances w equine immune modulator can help.
Beta-1, 3/1, 6 D-glucan (also known as Beta Glucan) from purified yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) is clinically proven to activate the immune system by stimulating production and activation of macrophages, the natural pathogen scavenger in the horse. As an equine immune cell stimulant, Beta Glucan gives the horse the ability to fend off infections before they become established, without the need for pharmacological agents.
By stimulating the immune system to fight off foreign pathogens, Beta Glucan is very effective for:
- Reducing the incidence of respiratory infections
- Fungal infections
- Skin and hoof infections
- Any type of chronic infection that is unresponsive to traditional treatments.
For situations in which your horse’s immune system needs a boost, be sure to keep Beta-Glucan in mind as a nutritional therapy, in conjunction with other measures that promote and maintain a healthy equine immune system.
Today’s performance horses endure a lot of physical and emotional stress starting at early ages. As a result, many developmental, metabolic, immune and exercise related disorders have evolved. By incorporating nutrient targeted therapies developed to aid and promote structural soundness, optimum exercise performance, strong immunity, enhanced digestive function and balanced metabolism into the equine diet, horses will hopefully remain healthy, pain free and productive long into their senior years.