carbohydrates

Carbohydrates

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What are they?

  • Sugars
  • Starches
  • Fibres

This is a group of sugar-based compounds, also called saccharides, and comprises important energy sources for the horse.

The simplest carbohydrates are monosaccharides (made up of one unit and also called simple sugars), such as glucose, fructose.

Another type of carbohydrate is a disaccharide (two sugars bonded together), which includes lactose (found commonly in milk, made from a unit of glucose and galactose) and sucrose (table sugar, made from glucose and fructose).

There are also oligosaccharides (three to 200 units each) and polysaccharides, or “complex carbohydrates” (each made up of multiple units, typically 200-2,000, which include compounds such as starch and cellulose). Cellulose is considered a type of dietary fiber, along with hemicellulose, lignin, pectins, and fructans.

How do carbohydrates work in horses?

First a horse consumes the carbohydrates found in forages and grains, then the enzymes found primarily in the small intestine break down disaccharides and starch into monosaccharides.

These are then absorbed into the bloodstream, where they are converted for energy or energy storage.

However dietary fibers, such as cellulose, hemicellulose, and pectins, are NOT digested by enzymes, but instead undergo fermentation.  These are broken down in the cecum and large colon by the large population of microbes which turn these fibrous carbohydrates into volatile fatty acids. These are used as an energy source by the horse.

What are the issues with feeding carbohydrates in a horse?

Gut problems:

Horse are limited in their ability to digest starch in large amounts. If a horse consumes too much (such as a grain overload), the enzymes in the small intestine cannot cope and undigested starch makes its way thru into the large intestine. The microbes in here are highly sensitive and not used to dealing with starch and this amount makes for an unhappy environment. In turn this causes an overproduction of acids like lactic acid which can result in the horse getting colic.

Laminitis:

It can also result in some of the special microbes dying and releasing toxins into the bloodstream causing lamintis.

Insulin Resistance, Equine Metabolic Issues:

High starch and sugar diets result in an increase in blood glucose concentrations, followed by an increase in insulin concentrations.

Put simply, when your horse eats something with starch the enzymes breakdown the large starch molecules into small glucose pieces. This glucose then leaves the small intestine and enters the bloodstream where it can be used for energy by the body’s cells.

BUT in order to get into cells it needs help to get thru the cell doors. This is where Insulin helps by grabbing the glucose and sending it into cells.

In the horse in Insulin Resistance basically, the cell has no doors to allow the insulin to get the glucose inside and the glucose molecules remain in the blood stream.

Even worse a cascade of effects occurs where the pancreas thinks it needs to send out more insulin to help the glucose get into the cells and so the blood levels of insulin continue to rise along with the glucose!

Eventually the glucose can enter the cells and the blood glucose returns to normal levels but it is slow. And if this situation described above occurs often enough over a long period of time the pancreas cells have to work too hard and may fail, then the blood glucose levels may never return to normal.

Another hormone involved at this stage called ‘Leptin’ which is released by the fat cells and normally will shut off appetite as it permits the uptake of nutrients into the cells. When things go wrong and cells become resistant to leptin, the horse continues to be hungry, continues to eat and leptin continues to be produced at higher levels. This triggers a stress response in the body and suppresses the thyroid. This slows the metabolic rate of the horse.

Both these responses can lead to fat storage or deposits, and the more fat a horse, the more signals are sent to reduce the cell receptors for insulin. Then the more fat produced the higher the insulin levels as the cells become resistant to the insulin. Also, an underweight horse with a high metabolic rate can be insulin resistant and will eventually develop the fat deposits commonly seen along the neck and tailhead.

All this can also lead to Laminitis = weakened laminae attachment in the hoof.

What should I feed my horse if there is a problem?

Different feed types contain different types of carbohydrates; these have implications for the horse’s nutrition and health, in part because of their ability to cause gastric upset.

If your horse has metabolic health issues such as PPID or IR, it is especially important to analyze your feed to determine the carbohydrate fractions within it. The following are key carbohydrate fraction terms you might encounter on a feed tag or pasture/hay analysis:

Nonstructural carbohydrates (NSC) A measure of the easily digestible carbohydrates, including simple sugars and fructans. Horses sensitive to glucose should be fed a low-NSC diet.

Water-soluble carbohydrates (WSC) A measure of water-soluble sugars, including simple sugars and fructans.

Ethanol-soluble carbohydrates (ESC) A measure of ethanol-soluble sugars, including mostly monosaccharides and disaccharides.

Amy Gill, PhD, a private equine nutritionist based in Lexington, Ky., recommends that for sensitive horses, hay total starch and sugar should be below 10% and the total diet below 15%. According to Gill, if a hay analysis is unavailable and the horse is symptomatic, owners can soak the hay (for 30-45 minutes) to help reduce any soluble sugars that might be present.

Do not just think about the NSC component as it is not the best measure when evaluating a horse’s carbohydrate intake. NSC doesn’t give you a complete picture of the types of carbohydrates in a feed or forage that can affect your horse’s condition.

The group of carbohydrates all noted under the NSC tag includes nearly all the non-fiber carbohydrates–those that come from plant cell contents rather than tough, fibrous cell walls. They are generally more easily digestible and yield more energy to the horse than the fiber carbohydrates, but they’re not all digested in the same part of the horse’s gastrointestinal tract or by the same process. Thus, they affect a horse’s blood sugar and gastrointestinal health differently, and this is why it’s important that they be evaluated separately.

Paul Sirois, manager of Dairy One/Equi-analytical Forage Analysis Laboratories in Ithaca, N.Y. explains: “Let’s say one hay sample has 5% simple sugars+starch and 10% fructan, with an NSC value of 15%.

And you have another with 10% simple sugars+starch and 5% fructan that is also 15% NSC.

They’re not the same hay even though they have the same NSC value.

The one that’s 10% simple sugars+starch might be more of a problem for the insulin-resistant horse (because simple sugars and starch, which are primarily digested in the small intestine, cause a greater glycemic or blood sugar response than fructans).

The hay that’s 10% fructan could be more of a problem for a laminitic horse.” (Fructans are primarily digested in the large intestine; large doses can upset the microbial population there, resulting in colic and/or laminitis. Some fructans are in fact used at high doses to induce laminitis in some research situations.)

Instead of looking at NSC, nutritionists are recommending that we evaluate water-soluble carbohydrates – WSC, ethanol-soluble carbohydrates – ESC and starch.

WSC—Simple sugars and fructans, which is simply termed “sugar” on some analyses. Interpreting and using this value depends on the proportions of sugars and fructans in the sample; simple sugars are digested and absorbed in the small intestine and have a significant impact on blood sugar (glycemic response), while fructans are fermented in the large intestine and induce a much smaller response. However, when eaten in large amounts, some fructans have been shown to cause laminitis due to disruption of the bacterial population in the large intestine. Fructans are rarely analyzed separately from other WSC.

ESC–are a subset of WSC that is primarily digestible in the small intestine and includes much fewer fructans. As such, this fraction is generally used to evaluate one set of carbohydrates in a feed that will induce a high glycemic response. Depending upon the lab doing the analysis, WSC and ESC may both be reported as “sugar.” This has caused a lot of the confusion in the industry, notes Sirois. “At Dairy One/Equi-analytical, we no longer report ‘sugar,’ ” he adds. “Carbs are correctly identified as either WSC or ESC.”

 What is the desired feed value?

If the values for starch and ESC are low, there will be little glucose available to be absorbed from the small intestine.” This would mean a low glycemic response, which is good for insulin-resistant horses or others that can’t handle large swings in blood sugar levels.

If the WSC and starch values are low, there should be only a small amount of material reaching the large intestine that will be rapidly fermented. Therefore, low starch + low WSC means less opportunity for large intestinal disturbances. This feed would be good for a laminitic horse, particularly one whose disease was initiated by diet-related colic.

The best values are ESC + Starch below 10%.

Dale Logan

©DL Equine

Magnesium Supplementation in the Horse

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Its green autumn pasture right now and your horse has way too much energy and is spooking more than normal making your usual laidback ride feel like you’ve just been entered into the local rodeo!

Sandra (and her friends) on the local horseriding fb group keep telling you to feed more magnesium that it will cure all and turn your horse back into that unicorn you are used to!

Want to know if this is actually true? Is there actual science behind feeding more magnesium?

Let’s break it down:

What is the function of Magnesium?

Magnesium is a major mineral involved in over 300 enzyme activities in the body.  Yes, your horse requires the mineral Magnesium. In most cases your horse will need to be fed this mineral in its diet.

Up to 60% of the body’s Magnesium is found in the skeleton, with only 30% of that available for mobilization during times when it is needed elsewhere in the body.  Magnesium works in concert with Calcium in activities such as nerve transmission and muscle contraction.

Within muscles Calcium and Magnesium work antagonistically: Calcium causing muscle contraction and magnesium – relaxation. Magnesium also directly competes with calcium for some of its binding sites, allowing greater binding of calcium to enzymes in hypomagnesaemia. It is also an important coenzyme for the sodium-potassium ATPase pump.

Magnesium is primarily absorbed from the small intestine and filtered by the kidney. Only 5% of the magnesium filtered by the kidney is excreted, and the remainder is reabsorbed.

What happens when your horse is Magnesium deficient?

Lack of magnesium in the diet and resulting magnesium deficiency can have varying symptoms which include nervousness, muscle tremors, hypersensitivity of the skin, increased body temperature during exercise, and ataxia.

Magnesium is essential for the functioning of a magnesium dependent enzyme called acetylcholine esterase. Acetylcholine esterase is needed for the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. During periods of magnesium deficiency, acetylcholine esterase does not function as it should and acetylcholine accumulates at the motor end plates causing neuromuscular excitability. This accumulation of acetylcholine is likely to contribute to the tense muscles, incoordination, muscle twitches and spookiness seen in magnesium deficient animals. (Exert from Dr. Nerida Richards FeedXL)

How does your horse become deficient?

It is actually rare in our horses that are grazed at pasture to be Magnesium deficient as most grasses in NZ will have adequate Magnesium content.

What is much more common in reality is competitive mineral interactions, which result in magnesium intakes or availability below optimal levels. A particular scenario in our horses is the high potassium in our pastures which competes with magnesium for uptake within the gut.

High dietary potassium is also reported to reduce magnesium absorption in humans. While it is only through extrapolating from data in other animal species, it is likely that excessive potassium in the equine diet also reduces the absorption of magnesium in horses. What’s the harm in high Potassium? Potassium is concentrated in the fluids inside the cell wall, each time the body has to use a nerve or a muscle, potassium is ejected from the cell and the change in ionic balance sparks an electrical impulse causing the cell to react, by contraction in a muscle cell.

Once the reaction has occurred, the original cellular balance between sodium and potassium is restored and the nerve or muscle will relax (potassium’s relaxing effect inside the cell is similar to magnesium’s outside the cell).” Excerpt from, “Minerals: The Metabolic Miracle Workers” by Dr. Robert Erdman and Meiron Jones. A diet that is too high in potassium means that the extra cellular fluid is permanently high in potassium. This upsets the delicate sodium: potassium ratio and hence, the nerves and muscles cannot relax.

Put this together with the fact that Potassium competes with Magnesium, this reduced absorption, coupled with a low magnesium concentration in the diet could result in an induced magnesium deficiency.

How can you determine if it is Magnesium deficiency making your horse nervous?

As stated above, Magnesium is stored in the bone and muscle, and only 1% of total body magnesium is found in the extracellular fluid, so blood Magnesium levels are a poor indicator of body Magnesium levels. Diagnosing deficiency is best done with muscle biopsy or dietary analysis, though deficiency would be unlikely in any horse with day-to-day access to good-quality forage.

Therefore, a pasture test analysing the mineral content of your pasture is an extremely useful way to accurately see what is available to your horse and what other minerals may be interfering. However, another issue with lush spring or autumn pastures is that they can also have large amounts of nitrate accumulated in their leaves, especially when plants are very young and in the one or two leaf stage. In order to remove nitrate from the body, ruminants and horses bond the nitrate to a cation (a positively charged ion which includes calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium) to form an ionic complex which is then excreted. Professor T.W. Swerczek, a researcher with the Department of Veterinary Science at the University of Kentucky, USA has reported that when a sodium deficiency exists (which is common in grass-based pastures) nitrate is more likely to bond with calcium or magnesium, so under high nitrate conditions, a magnesium deficiency can occur.

Makes your life feeding horses difficult right?!

Unfortunately, there is very little research proving that supplementing extra Magnesium does for a fact calm nervous behaviour in horses. One actual positive study to compare magnesium supplementation to a known sedative agent, was a research project conducted by equine scientists from Charles Sturt University in Australia and the Waltham Equine Studies Group in the U.K., where six Standardbred geldings were supplemented with 10 grams of magnesium aspartate. The horses were already being fed hay made from clover and ryegrass, a diet that contained the recommended daily intake of magnesium. The average reaction speed response was measured before and after supplementation. The response after supplementation was reduced by more than one-third in these horses. This suggests that magnesium aspartate may positively influence behavior in some horses.

There is of course much anecdotal evidence that suggests supplementation can improve anxious behaviour of horses. It’s important to note the study mentioned tested the usefulness of a magnesium supplement only in the short term; the amount of cortisol in the horses’ blood, which indicate the horses long-term stress level, did not change significantly with the supplement or the acepromazine.

How much Magnesium does your horse need?

According to NRC, an intake of 20mg of Magnesium per kilogram of bodyweight per day is necessary to maintain normal blood serum levels. Thus, for a 500kg horse in light to moderate exercise, an intake of 10g per day is necessary to maintain blood levels at the minimum value reported.

Consulting with well-respected nutritionist from the University of Guelph, Canada, Dr Don Kapper, his response was that – ‘The feeding trials where extra Magnesium was given to ‘calm’ the horse, worked for very short period of time because the horse will begin ‘dumping’ the extra Magnesium in their urine, similar to what they do with excess Calcium.  Therefore, you can safely add up to 20 mg/kg of Body Weight/day, starting 30 days before these symptoms are known to begin, and continue for 30 days after the grass has slowed in its growth rate.’

These studies have shown that horses normally excrete dietary magnesium in their urine, and it took 13 days of feeding a magnesium-deficient diet before horses began to conserve magnesium or excrete less in their urine!

Although excessive magnesium will be excreted in the urine, overdoses have been linked to decreased calcium and phosphorus uptake, compromised intestinal integrity, heart conduction problems and renal trouble, so it’s important not to over supplement. No more than 30g of magnesium should be in the total diet as a safe upper limit.

Feeding multiple supplements of magnesium at once will imbalance the ratios of minerals and interactions in the body, can cause more harm than good and is costly. Magnesium should be fed in correct ratio with Calcium to the horse. That is less than 2 parts calcium to one-part magnesium.

Often horse owners will definitely see a positive change in their horse’s behaviour once they have feed a supplement. Often this can be due to multiple change in feeding practices, primarily due to removing the horse from problem pasture and at the same time the inclusion of a supplement which adds not only Magnesium but also other necessary minerals and vitamins such as Calcium, Sodium, Selenium and Vit B1 and B6.

Summary:

Consult an Equine Nutritionist

Balance your horses’ diet! See a nutritionist to obtain the optimum balanced diet for your horse. Balancing your horses’ diet is key. They will be able to recommend a complete vitamin/ mineral supplement with the correct Magnesium content for your horse. A nutritionist will provide a diet that is based on the correct forage, such as soaked mature grass hay low in potassium to help, along with alternatives to grain-based feed which can exacerbate nervous behaviour.

Start supplementation early

Before grass flush and continue for a month after. Do not feed all year, this will imbalance the precise mineral ratios and wastes $. Also recognise high risk periods for your horse such as Spring and Autumn. At this time either remove your horse from the pasture or begin magnesium, sodium and vitamin B1 supplementation early!

Practice calming training methods

You are dealing with a large flight animal. Supplementation is not the magic cure-all. Running away from scary things and shying are how horses cope with the world. Introduce a good method for relaxation into your training.

Dale Logan

DL Equine

Resources:

The National Academies 2007 Nutrient Requirements of Horses.

https://aaep.org/sites/default/files/issues/eve-8-5-341-348_borer_lores.pdf
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27597134/

Equine applied and clinical nutrition: health, welfare and performance, Geor, Raymond J., editor of compilation.; Harris, Patricia A., 1959- editor of compilation.; Coenen, Manfred, editor of compilation.

Equine nutrition and feeding, Frape, David,

The ‘Forage Substitutes for Horses’ Fact Sheet 09/05, from The University of Guelph, Dr. Sarah L. Ralston, VMD, PhD, dACVN – Associate Professor/ Department of Animal Science/Rutgers University College/New Brunswick/New Jersey; Dr. Bob Wright – Lead Veterinarian/Disease Prevention/Equine and Alternate Species/OMAFRA. – tells us that – Long-stem hay and pasture grasses contain over 20% crude fibre.

Mycotoxin Binders

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Let’s talk about Toxin Binders:

Nearly every day on some form of media you can read about horses being grass affected the need for horse owners to calm their horse’s behaviour by feeding a Mycotoxin binder. However, there is a lot of misleading information out there.

Do you really know what a toxin binder horse product does? Do you understand what is in these products? Do you know what your pasture species are that your horse is grazing on?

Let me start by explaining that yes, many horses get benefit from the feeding of a toxin binder! However equally many people are feeding this type of product without knowledge of why it can work or again why it may not be working at all!

In NZ especially, we all hear the terms such as ‘grass affected’, ‘grass staggers’, mycotoxins and binders. Many of these terms get mixed up or used in the wrong situation completely.

Let’s break it down:

What is a ‘grass affected’ horse?

This could mean a horse has ingested a mycotoxin from the grass it has eaten or alternatively it could mean that horse has gone a bit silly in its behaviour due to too much spring grass, too much sugar, too much energy and not enough work. Be careful in how you diagnose your own horse and its health.

Don’t feed what you don’t need to be that an additive or the amount of grass you give!

What is ‘Grass staggers’?

This is a health issue in horses that have ingested a toxin causing a neurological reaction called staggers. This is behaviour such as shying, and literally staggering around not walking properly. (This is often confused with health problem ‘grass tetany’ or magnesium deficiency staggers).

There may be weight loss or reduced growth rates, diarrhoea, excitable, unpredictable, irritable or uncharacteristic behaviour such as over-reaction to common stimulus they would normally be OK with, muscle twitching or twitching of the face, lips and eyelids and loss of coordination, especially in the hind end, and staggering etc.

What are Mycotoxins?

These are chemical compounds produced by actively growing molds (fungi). The most well-known toxin that affects New Zealand pasture fed horses is lolitrem B.

It is found in rye grass that has been endophyte protected (to prevent a weevil from destroying the grass).  It is mainly found in dairy pasture and horses are vulnerable when they are grazed on these paddocks when the grass is short.

The fungi is found at the base. This is often seen in the Autumn.

What is a Mycotoxin Binder?

Mycotoxin binders or adsorbents are substances that bind to mycotoxins and prevent them from being absorbed through the gut and into the blood circulation.

Toxin binders come in two basic formats,

  • either an adsorbing agent
  • or a bio-transforming agent.

Adsorbing types of binders are basically two types: a series of aluminosilicates, bentonite, montmorillonites and zeolite, all basically mineral clay structures and then there are the yeast type – mannon protein/carbohydrate (glucan) of binder. 

The adsorbing types cover a larger spectrum than the biotransformers and therefore they are the ones most commonly available. The main mycotoxins are aflatoxins and fusariums. (also found in mouldy hay or grain).

What is important to know is that neither totally capture all toxins. Research has shown that Aflatoxin for example is a polar mycotoxin and is very easily ‘picked up’ by a yeast derived glucomannan based binder.

However pasture based mycotoxins such as lolitrem B are not picked up by yeast based binders at all.

There may be other issues at work as well…One problem is that not all clays bind all toxins equally. They can vary widely in how well, or poorly, they bind specific fungal toxins depending on even small variations in their content of the component minerals such as the aluminosilicates. 

Another problem is that some of the bentonite products bind aflatoxins very well under acidic conditions, such as occur in the center of a mass of moulding grain, but when the get into the animal and hit the higher pH either of the rumen or the distal intestine and large bowel of a horse, they actually then release the toxin so what they have ended up being is a very efficient delivery system.

So what do you do? 

Be sure of the difference between overactive behaviour from too much high sugar grass and actual mycotoxin ingestion.

Get to know your pasture well, do you actually have ryegrass? 

If the answer is yes, I have a lot of ryegrass then the best answer is to remove the horse from this type of pasture and also feed the right type of toxin binder prior to and during the high-risk time to reduce the response.

Dale Logan

DL Equine

New Spring and Autumn grass issues

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Spring (or Autumn) has begun! I know because a week of sun and a little (or lot) of rain has meant our grass is very green! This new growth pasture can present some unique problems for horses.

As the amount of pasture changes, so does your horse’s need for supplementary feed. Failure to adjust your horse’s feed correctly with changing seasons could result in an overweight, hyperactive horse or an underweight, tired horse.

Spring and Autumn are well known as ‘danger times’ for laminitis, colic and unwanted behaviour. So, what is it about pastures growing during these seasons that make them unique and how can they be managed?

Fibre:

Lush spring pastures can contain as little as 15% dry matter meaning they are up to 85% water. Because of the extremely high-water content of these pastures’ horses need to graze for long periods and eat large amount of pasture to ingest their required amount of 90% dry matter feed. A horse should be consuming around 1.5% of its body weight in dry matter per day.

There is also very little fibre present in pastures during these early growth stages. Fibre that remains undigested to some extent as it passes the whole way through the digestive tract is important for the normal functioning of the gastrointestinal tract and the formation of manure.

Horses that are not given an additional source of fibre when on lush new grass may experience diarrhoea and are at a higher risk of colic associated with a low gut fill.

Energy:

On the other side of the coin the pasture alone can often go close to meeting a performance horse’s requirement for energy. When these high-quality pastures are available, there can be little to no need to feed additional hard feed.

It can be a difficult thing to manage for some of us with little control over paddocks and grazing.

What can you do:

The best thing to do is strip graze slowly into fresh paddocks if you can.

Pile in the fiber NOW. Low energy chaff and plenty of hay and other sources such as beet pulp etc. The extra fibre in these feeds will improve gut fill and manure consistency reducing the risk of colic and diarrhoea and also help your horse to consume the calories he needs when pasture water content is very high.

Reduce the sweet feed or concentrate feed.

When adjusting feed amounts up and down to match pasture conditions, be aware of the diet’s mineral balance because controlling energy intake by reducing the amount of complete feed you are giving may be inadvertently causing mineral deficiencies that will affect your horse’s health. 

Remember to feed a vitamin mineral supplement.
If you choose to add extra Magnesium remember that research findings conclude that this extra amount will only work for very short period of time because the horse will begin ‘dumping’ the extra Magnesium in their urine, similar to what they do with excess Calcium.  Therefore, you can safely add up to 20 mg/kg of Body Weight/day, starting 30 days before these symptoms are known to begin, and continue for 30 days after the grass has slowed in its growth rate.  It is unwise to add multiple products of extra minerals to your horse as this unbalances very fine ratios required in the horses system.

Add a well researched probiotic with a high number of live microbes to give your horses good gut bacteria a boost.

For some horses a cup of dried chamomile flowers added into your daily feed can soothe both the gut and the spring behavior.

Take-Home Message

For optimum horse gut health, our feeding and management practices should mimic nature as much as possible because unnatural conditions can adversely impact horses’ GI tract health and function.

This means paying attention to what we feed (nutrient and fibre levels) and how we feed, in terms of meal size, frequency, temperature, season, grass growth.

The key to knowing when to adjust the amount of feed you are feeding according to pasture conditions is regularly body condition score your horse to detect changes in body fat condition and taking careful note of your horse’s behaviour.

Feed by weight, not by volume. A scoop or handful can hold a greater weight of pellets than of sweet feed, so the horse getting “three scoops” of feed may be getting more or less than the optimum amount.

DL Equine

Developing Topline

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Having a well-developed topline musculature in a horse is a beautiful sight and often sought after by many horse riders.

There are varying discussions and opinions in the horse riding circles about how to develop this in your horse. The following are a few tips to consider: Remember it takes TIME!

Issues to consider first:

Consider why your horse may have an underdeveloped top line, is it malnutrition? Poor posture? Health issues? History? All of these?

Many horses have poor posture,   Nicole Rombach, APM, MEEBW, CCBW, PG AM, MSc, PhD, president of Equinenergy/Caninenergy Ltd and chair of the International Equine Body Worker Association for the U.K. and Europe, tells us that ‘Like humans, horses need good posture when standing and moving to stave off back and neck pain, with their abdominal tunic (which covers the oblique muscles and supports the abdomen) working to help support the back. “If the core stability isn’t there, the back and neck take over to manage that stability, and that’s where things can become painful,” she says.

“Topline issues can develop when some horses are ridden too young, when they’re too weak to carry the rider, because of bad saddle fit, or back or neck problems,” she says. Lameness is another common culprit. “Lameness and neck/back problems are fairly synonymous,” Rombach says. “They’re not mutually exclusive.”

After a long period of rest, whether due to injury or simply not ridden for a spell muscle mass can waste. Also, it is important to consider the horses health status, for example it has been found that horses with pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (equine Cushing’s disease) have difficulty metabolizing and using muscle-building proteins as they should.  

Pain or ill-fitting saddles and bridles should always be addressed first.

After that issues of horse posture can be remedied by correct core building exercises, training using methods such as your physio can advise on, combined with the latest techniques of ‘ Core Conditioning for Horses: Yoga-Inspired Warm-Up Techniques: Increase Suppleness, Improve Bend, and Unlock Optimal Movement for horses’ by Visconte Simon Cocozza, Trainer and Examiner for the La Fédération Française d’Equitation (FFE). Visconte writes that ‘The horse’s ability to use the powerful mechanisms already built into his body relies not upon the strength we can see on the outside but the strength on the inside. This invisible and complex arrangement of internal “core” muscles control the horse’s posture, suppleness, and agility.’

Diet:

The next step in your programme should always be the diet. Get a diet individually formulated for you horse using an equine nutritionist.

In building muscle, it’s not a case of simply increasing the protein in a diet: Its all about the correct building blocks of protein.

What this actually involves is feeding the best sources of protein that contain essential amino acids that a horse cannot supply themselves. –

As horses do not actually have a requirement for crude protein as such what they require are the amino acids that make up protein. Some amino acids are essential and must be provided in the diet as the horse’s body can’t produce them.

(Proteins are digested and broken down into the individual amino acids through the actions of hydrochloric acid in the stomach and various enzymes in the stomach and small intestine. The individual amino acids are absorbed into the bloodstream and can then be used to build different proteins for the body (e.g. structural elements such as collagen, or hormones such as insulin, or the amino acids can be broken down further and metabolized to provide energy.)

There are 10 amino acids that are considered essential for the horse: arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.

A “limiting” amino acid is an essential amino acid that is often found in less than adequate amounts in feeds. All protein synthesis by the body will be limited, therefore, to the amount of that amino acid provided. Lysine is considered the first limiting amino acid, because it is required in relatively large amounts, and is not found in adequate levels in many foods.

Poor topline development; might indicate a requirement for a source of better-quality protein in the feed. In this situation a high-protein ration balancer might be a good option. An equine nutritionist can help you determine the best solution for your horse. When formulating a diet for horses to meet their protein needs, it means formulating a diet to meet their essential amino acid requirements, and to provide a source for non-essential amino acid synthesis.

Dietary Sources of Protein

When formulating a diet for horses, we need to consider both protein quantity and protein quality. In terms of protein quantity, the horse needs a certain number of grams of protein per day and, of this, a certain amount (grams) of lysine needs to be provided.

Not all protein feeds are equal! i.e. The greater the proportion of essential amino acids there are in a protein, the better the protein quality. Equine feedstuffs vary greatly in their protein content and in their amino acid profiles.

Legumes, such as Lucerne (alfalfa hay) have higher amounts of protein than grass hays. Soybean meal and other seed meals (linseed meal, cottonseed meal for example) lupins and peas are excellent sources of lysine and some other essential amino acids. Other excellent sources of protein include animal derived proteins such as casein (dried milk protein).

Your horse needs a balanced amino acid profile in the diet, which means finding high-quality, balanced protein sources, avoid trying to improve quality on your own, however. Supplementing is an art requiring a delicate balancing act, not just piling on more of a single nutrient.

As a nutritionist I can help you find the right commercial feed for your particular horse, I take into account the horse’s work level, age, breed, personality, pasture, size, body condition, health issues, and more to create the right diet targeted for your horse’s individual needs.

The correct diet works together with the correct exercise and posture for building topline and maintaining it!

Chaff Types

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How do you know what type of Chaff to feed your horse?

Here is a breakdown of the basic different types available and their attributes:

Lucerne Chaff

Also known as Alfalfa. High in protein and energy than grass or cereal hays and chaffs. Lucerne contains a lower level of starches and sugars than many grass hays.

Lucerne also contains high concentrations of minerals calcium and magnesium, and when fresh, the vitamins A and E. Lucerne is typically low in phosphorous and depending on where it was grown, contains varying concentrations of other minerals.

Can be a great feedstuff for working and training horses, eventing and performance. Older horses needing extra energy and injured or recovering horses, also growing horses = generally those requiring more energy and protein. Lucerne can also be fed to laminitic horses who need high quality protein to repair damaged laminae in the hoof.

Not advisable for those ponies whose daily protein requirements are already met with pasture and/or other feed.

Use = Fiber, Protein, Energy 

Meadow Chaff

Generally, contains a combination of all grass types harvested. Therefore, can have an unknown level of minerals and protein. However, the later the grass (mature grass) was harvested the lower the protein and energy levels can be expected. Typically, less energy and protein than Lucerne.

The amount of leaf to stalk (stem) will dictate the quality and its energy content.

Use = Fibre, Energy

Oaten Chaff

Oaten chaff is the chaffed stubble or hay portion of an oat crop. Should not contain any actual oat grain.

Oaten chaff often contains high sugar + starch, poor mineral levels. Early-cut oaten (and wheaten chaff or hay) can contain a lot of sugar, which makes them very palatable and increases the energy content. However, has good fibre and low protein levels.

Use = Fibre

Timothy Chaff

Timothy is a horse-friendly grass species, grown well in New Zealand and Australia.

Has lower protein and low sugar levels than lucerne, it is also low in non-structural carbohydrates, which is great for horses that are prone to metabolic issues such as laminitis or insulin resistance. Great fibre.

Use = Fibre, protein, Energy

The Respiratory System and Allergies

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Body Detoxification Process:

Healthy detoxification is largely dependent on a healthy, balanced relationship between the exposure to external toxins, the production of internal toxins from normal metabolism and the ability of the body, in particular the liver and the kidneys, to process and remove them.

Multiple stresses caused by exposure to preservatives, pesticide and herbicide residues, insecticides along with high-sugar, high-starch, highly processed feeds can also contribute to sluggish elimination and detoxification processes.

These environmental and feed related toxins which cannot be eliminated efficiently can result an overloaded immune system particularly affecting the skin and respiratory systems of the horse. Intolerances and allergies can provoke symptoms such as coughing, breathing difficulties, poor coat and hooves, skin rashes and poor performance.

What happens in the horse?

The immune system is extremely complex in the horse, but in a true allergic response the horse becomes hypersensitive to particular allergens, for example pine pollen can cause coughing and asthma attacks when ever the horse is exposed to this particular allergen. Immunity involves activation of specific lymphocytes that combat a particular pathogen or foreign substance.

The body system that carries out immune responses is the lymphatic system.

Equine herbalist Victoria Ferguson writes in her book ‘Horse herbal’ that antibodies circulate throughout the body in the gamma globulin portion of the plasma in the blood. In allergic reactions portions of the antibodies attach to mast cells which release histamine when the matching antigen is encountered.

True allergy lasts forever because antibody levels never completely disappear from the body, ready to circulate and act again upon allergen exposure.

Horse Respiratory System:

Dr Eleanor Kellon, VMD and Horse Nutritionist writes that the first line of defense of the respiratory system is a mucus layer on all surfaces. This traps potential irritants and is a barrier to invaders. There is a rich antioxidant system to both combat incoming problems and protect the tissues from immune system responses. The local immune system is robust but may also be triggered to have strong reactions against irritants and potential allergens.

What to Feed:

The following specific nutrients can support healthy toxic processing and elimination to provide support for the detoxification systems, support the respiration and lung function.

DL-Methionine, the sulphur containing amino acid, is an effective detoxifier of arsenic.

MSM supports healthy detoxification processes, kidney and liver function and oxidative reactions.  It is also effective at improving arsenic elimination.

Magnesium supports cellular energy production, healthy glucose metabolism and acts as a buffer for the acids from toxic exposure and elimination.

Acetyl L-Carnitine is essential in the healthy processing of fatty acids as a source of energy, contributes to healthy endocrine balance and aids in the detoxification of the most common environmental pollutants.

A full vitamin mineral supplement containing:

Niacin (B3), Calcium Pantothenate (B5), Thiamine (B1), Pyridoxine (B6), Riboflavin (B2) and Vitamin B12 support healthy liver function, energy production, metabolic balance, stress recovery and detoxification.

Mixed Tocopherols including Vitamin E support healthy cellular function, help reduce excessive oxidative stress and protect against free radical damage.

Vitamin C is a major antioxidant in the lung and known to be in high concentration in lung tissues and secretions.

Zinc and Copper have synergistic roles in helping combat environmental toxic effects, reducing excessive oxidation and supporting tissue integrity.

Chromium supports normal, healthy glucose metabolism and energy production.

Selenium directly supports healthy detoxification mechanisms, supports liver function, helps fight the effect of environmental toxins and exhibits a cellular protective benefit.

Herbal:

A prescribed herbal mix by an equine practitioner for a full 12 weeks along with a formulated diet is often the best defense when dealing with viruses, allergies and the immune system. Some useful herbs include:

Echinacea the researched and proven antiseptic, immune system boosting herb that is a prophylactic to prevent infection from contagious viral and bacterial infection. Also, a detoxification of resistant infections.

Euphorbia is used for allergic rhinitis and upper respiratory allergies as it is anti-asthmatic and anti-spasmodic to the bronchi.

Antiseptic herbs such as Elecampane or coltsfoot and thyme for respiratory viruses.

Liquorice is an extremely effective expectorant and also an adrenal booster to help energy levels. This is a particularly for horses whose allergies need to be managed by cortisone, as it stimulates the body’s own production of cortisol.

Chamomile is a safe and gentle antispasmodic, calming herb.

Yarrow for tissue repair of damages lungs or airways.

Grindelia stimulates bronchial cilia to move normally thus reducing breathing difficulties it is also a mucous expectorant.

Gingko is an antioxidant, anti-allergy, anti-histamine, anti-inflammatory, circulatory stimulant that improves blood flow though the capillaries.

Jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum) has many health promoting properties. Assistance in maintaining relaxed, open airways.

Natural nutrients:

Spirulina is a fresh water, nontoxic, blue-green algae with some unique properties. In addition to excellent antioxidant capacity, Spirulina helps maintain balanced immune function and antibody production as well as stability of the mast cells which store histamine.

MSM and Grapeseed meal and extract are also potent antioxidants in the respiratory system, while citrus bioflavonoids both help bolster antioxidant defenses and contribute to the health of the fragile network of capillaries where gas exchange occurs.

Co enzyme Q10 is also a powerful antioxidant, capable of regenerating other antioxidants, such as vitamin E and vitamin C. In horses, certain forms of CoQ10 are absorbed well and supplementation has been shown to increase CoQ10 levels in serum and muscle.

DL Equine 22 December 2019

Laminitis caused by Insulin Resistance

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What if your horse has lamintis and IR?

It has been estimated that 80% or more of laminitis cases fall under the category of those caused by hormones, such as in the case of horses with PPID and EMS.

Laminitis is now considered to be a clinical syndrome associated with systemic disease (endocrine disease, sepsis or systemic inflammatory response syndrome, SIRS).

The cascade of tissue destruction caused by inflammation does not occur in laminitis related to this hormonal disruption.

Meaning that; Laminitis in IR horses is not inflammatory. This is important because it explains why the response to NSAID drugs (such as ‘Bute’) for pain in IR horses is typically poor and why these drugs do not “treat” anything.

(See research –  Suagee et al 2012 found no correlation between insulin levels and inflammatory cytokines like TNF-alpha and IL-6 that are elevated in IR humans. Vick et al 2007 found a correlation between IR and TNF-alpha levels but only in mares older than 20. No other cytokine changes.  Burns et al 2010 found higher inflammatory cytokine levels in the neck crest fat but no difference between normal and IR horses.)

It also does not mean that heat processed grains or co-product foods like brans or wheat midds cause IR. Food does not cause insulin resistance and many of these co-products are lower in sugar/starch and higher fiber than the whole food.

 

What else can you feed?

You should also feed potent antioxidant supplements containing both plant based e.g.

  • Rosehips,
  • Grape Seed extract,
  • Boswellia

 

and nutrient sources

  • N-acetyl-cysteine,
  • vitamin C,
  • lipoic acid,
  • vitamin E

also, pain relief, the liquid herbs Devils claw and meadowsweet together work just as well, if not better, in controlling pain in acute episodes compared to NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory) drugs and without the potent side effects.

 

Supporting blood flow to the hoof is also important.

The herbs which are circulatory stimulants such as:

  • Ginko biloba,
  • Nettle
  • Rue,
  • Jiaogulan, (Gynostemma pentaphylluma)

 

are extremely potent vasodilators and should only be administered by a qualified equine herbal practitioner.

The proportion of each herb in the mixture and dosage rates varies enormously dependant on each horse and the stage of laminitis.

 

 

Laminitis in a nutshell

  • Weakening of the laminae in the hoof
  • Can cause the coffin bone to rotate
  • Extremely painful condition for the horse
  • Can be caused by endocrine (hormonal) factors e.g. PPID or EMS
  • Can be caused by overload of grain or high sugar/starch feeds and pasture
  • First take horse off pasture and stand in a sand pit to alleviate pain of standing on hard ground
  • Feed water soaked hay (leaches out excess sugar)
  • Feed a diet formulated by a nutritionist to give necessary vitamins and minerals
  • Feed liquid herbs prescribed by equine herbal practitioner
  • Feed Flax seed oil
  • Provide pain relief specific to the cause of the laminitis – i.e. NSAID for inflammation caused by sugar/starch. Give Devils claw and Meadowsweet for endocrine related laminitis.

Insulin Resistance

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Insulin Resistance = Equine Metabolic Syndrome

Let’s talk about Insulin, a major player in these conditions.

What is Insulin?

Insulin is a hormone that is released into the bloodstream by the pancreas whenever blood sugar (glucose) levels begin to rise. Glucose is often the product of sugar and starch digestion in the small intestine (foregut) in the horse.

 

What does Insulin do?

Put simply, when your horse eats something with starch like oats the enzymes breakdown the large starch molecules into small glucose pieces.

This glucose then leaves the small intestine and enters the bloodstream where it can be used for energy by the body’s cells.

BUT in order to get into cells it needs help to get thru the cell doors. This is where Insulin helps by grabbing the glucose and sending it into cells.

 

What happens in the horse in Insulin Resistance?

Basically, the cell has no doors to allow the insulin to get the glucose inside and the glucose molecules remain in the blood stream.

Even worse a cascade of effects occurs where the pancreas thinks it needs to send out more insulin to help the glucose get into the cells and so the blood levels of insulin continue to rise along with the glucose!

Eventually the glucose can enter the cells and the blood glucose returns to normal levels but it is slow. And if this situation described above occurs often enough over a long period of time the pancreas cells have to work too hard and may fail, then the blood glucose levels may never return to normal.

Another hormone involved at this stage called ‘Leptin’ which is released by the fat cells and normally will shut off appetite as it permits the uptake of nutrients into the cells. When things go wrong and cells become resistant to leptin, the horse continues to be hungry, continues to eat and leptin continues to be produced at higher levels. This triggers a stress response in the body and suppresses the thyroid. This slows the metabolic rate of the horse.

Both these responses can lead to fat storage or deposits, and the more fat a horse, the more signals are sent to reduce the cell receptors for insulin. Then the more fat produced the higher the insulin levels as the cells become resistant to the insulin.

Also an underweight horse with a high metabolic rate can be insulin resistant and will eventually develop the fat deposits commonly seen along the neck and tailhead.

All this can also lead to Laminitis = weakened laminae attachment in the hoof.

What can you feed a horse with Insulin Resistance?

The goal is to reduce insulin output from the pancreas, so avoid sugar and starch feeds as above in PPID.

Have your diet analysed by a nutritionist, feed an NSC value of less than 10 – 12%.

Restrict pasture and grazing.

Keep your minerals balanced.

Most especially Magnesium and Chromium.

Brewer’s yeast for your B vitamins.

 

IR in a nutshell

  • Insulin is a hormone
  • It is released into the bloodstream when blood sugar (glucose) levels rise after eating
  • Insulin helps to get glucose inside cells for energy
  • If cells don’t allow insulin to get the glucose into cells then the glucose remains in the blood stream. Then more insulin is released in response….
  • Causes cells to become resistant to letting insulin take glucose into cells
  • Causes fat deposits and can cause laminitis
  • Avoid feeding high sugar and starch to horse
  • Restrict grazing

Metabolic Problems

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What are the issues?

PPID = pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID), also known as Cushing’s disease

IR = Insulin Resistance (also known as Equine Metabolic Syndrome)

EMS = Equine Metabolic Syndrome (also known as Insulin Resistance)

Laminitis = weakened sensitive layers of tissue (laminae) inside the hoof in horses

 

Note – PPID and EMS have Hyperinsulinemia = Insulin Resistance

All of these conditions can get laminitis.

Therefore, it becomes extremely important to understand both how to control insulin levels and exactly how insulin causes damage to the laminae if we are going to effectively prevent and treat this type of laminitis.

PPID

pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction also known as Cushing’s disease.

What causes PPID?

Horses get PPID because of oxidative damage to nerves in the hypothalamus of the brain.  These nerves normally produce dopamine which controls the output of some hormones, (like ACTH, from the intermediate lobe of the pituitary). A simple blood test done by your vet can diagnose PPID.

 

What happens when a horse has PPID?

These hormones can be responsible for causing or worsening the insulin resistance that can eventually can result in laminitis. Note that Laminitis is often the worst consequence we see of the PPID condition in a horse. Also, a horse can be overweight or underweight with PPID and you need to feed accordingly.

The classical signs of Cushing’s Disease in horses (pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction/PPID) –

  • Poor topline,
  • Muscle wasting
  • Abnormal fat deposits
  • Sagging belly
  • Long curly coat that fails to shed are only evident fairly late in the condition are typically seen in the teenage horse.
  • Increased appetite
  • Excessive thirst and urination
  • Excessive sweating
  • Decreased immune function
  • Laminitis

 

  • A sharp increase (doubling is common) in water consumption and urine production late summer and early autumn is a common sign.  This correlates with the normal seasonal increase in ACTH hormone which is exaggerated in early PPID horses.
  • The development of regional fat accumulation in the hollows above the eyes, along the crest, withers, rump, tail base or chest wall is a marker of insulin resistance rather than PPID but if this appears for the first time when the horse is in his/her teens early PPID should be suspected as a cause.
  • A severe marker of PPID can be Autumn laminitis. It is caused by the sudden and dramatic rise in ACTH which occurs seasonally and the IR it causes.

 

What can you feed a horse with PPID?

Keeping the hormone ACTH in normal range with treatment given in the form of a drug Pergolide mesylate.  (which usually is possible with adequate dosing in the vast majority of cases).

A low sugar and starch, mineral balanced diet to further support control of insulin resistance.

Specific herbal prescription from a qualified herbal practitioner

Hoof care is critical to rehabing the laminitis horse.

Once stable, regular exercise is encouraged.

A diet where everything the horse eats has less than 10% simple carbohydratessugar (ESC) and starch. (Fructan is not a sugar and does not enter that 10% total.)

Examples of these feed stuffs in NZ and Australia would be:

  • Meadow hay made of low sugar horse friendly grass species (see pervious posts).
  • Meadow chaff,
  • Oaten chaff,
  • Sugar beet pulp,
  • Flax seed oil,
  • Flaxseed meal,
  • If the horse is thin then extra feeds such as French white millet and linseed will help condition.

 

PPID in a nutshell

  • Abnormal pituitary gland function in brain and hormone ACTH levels
  • Also called ‘Cushings’
  • Usually found in older horses
  • Can result in insulin resistance
  • Can result in Laminitis
  • Can treat with herbs
  • Can treat with drug pergolide
  • Feed low sugar and starch feedstuffs