Monthly Archives: May 2014

  • Digestive Aids in Horses

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    This month we will explore the use of digestive aids in horses, in particular probiotic usage. Probiotics are increasingly used in human medicine, production animal species, and of course in horses.  More owners are looking for safe and effective alternatives to pharmacological methods for promoting the well-being of their horses.   In this article we will discuss what type of organisms fall under the probiotic umbrella, the form in which they may be fed, their effectiveness and when their use might be warranted.

    In general, probiotics are live organisms which are fed with the intention of their survival within the gastrointestinal tract.  The original concept behind the use of probiotics was to provide a beneficial type of microorganism which can alter the fermentation process in the hindgut, or to shift the microbial population away from more negative types of organisms.  Typically these organisms promote digestion and alter the types of volatile fatty acids that are produced.  This was typically referred to as a competitive exclusion effect.  However, it is becoming more widely understand that probiotics may have farther reaching effects than just simply outnumbering undesirable bacteria.  This differs from when organisms are fed for their nutritive value, such as often done with yeasts.

    Horse owners have many options when selecting probiotics, including powders, pills, pastes, feeds, live culture yogurt or even innoculations of fecal microflora from healthy horses.  The key feature for a probiotic to be effective is that it is able to survive exposure to acid, bile and enzymes in the foregut of the horse and reach the hindgut alive.   In addition it must remain viable during processing and storage of the product. Further, microorganisms must be present in sufficient quantities to have an effect.   From extrapolations in human studies, it is suggested that foals be provided with a minimum of 10 to 20 billion colony forming units or CFUs with some studies suggesting an increase of 10 fold in adults.  Therefore concentrated forms of probiotics are often the most effective, rather than just a feed with added probiotics which may contain insufficient organisms.  It is highly recommended that horse owners read product labels carefully in choosing a digestive aid for their horse to ensure the product contains living organisms at sufficient numbers.  Unfortunately many commercial products may not actually even contain the amount of microorganisms listed on the label.  In a study from 2002, products contained as little as 2% of the CFUs claimed on the label.    In addition, some claims may be misleading and actually only contain fermentation products, which are not live cultures and therefore not probiotics.

    Beyond viability and amount of probiotics, the type of organism contained in the probiotic is key.  The most common classes of probiotics are the lactate utilizing bacteria including lactobacilli, bifidobacteria and enterococci. These bacteria are those that convert lactate to propionate in the gut which may help stabilize colonic pH.   Live yeast cultures have also been used, in particular Saccharomyces cervisiae.  This differs from the use of yeast products which may be fed in order to supply vitamins or protein from the process of digestion of the yeast itself.  When looking for a yeast supplement intended to be a probiotic, be sure that it actually contains live yeast   Most species of organisms in probiotics are not typically found inhabiting the gut of the horse. Thus they fail to form permanent stable colonies in the gut, and will no longer be present after administration has been ceased.  Therefore continual supplementation may be necessary depending on the desired outcome.

    Live yeast and bacteria supplementation may have beneficial effects beyond that of just supplying a different microorganism with fermentative capabilities.  Some yeasts may release enzymes which digest the toxic by-products of pathogenic bacteria.  It is also believed that yeasts and lactate using bacteria may have immunostimulatory effects, stimulating the gut associated lymphoid tissue.  This enhances the immune system of the horse and may make them more capable of handling exposure to pathogens. Other pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella and E coli may bind to the yeasts rather than the epithelial tissue of the gut, thus preventing their colonization. Supplementation of live yeast has also been shown to improve digestibility of fiber and increase the amount of lactobacillus in the hind gut which again may be protective against acidotic conditions in the hindgut.

    Probiotics are frequently administered when there is believed to be a disruption in normal gut microflora, such as during bouts of diarrhea, following anti-biotic administration or other gastric upsets.  This can include any stressful period for the horse such as travel, new environments, or alteration in diets. Horses supplemented with yeast and subjected to transport had greater biological diversity of bacterial species in the hindgut, and an increase concentration of lactate using bacteria and cellulytic bacteria.  Thus these horses maintained a healthier hindgut population compared to non-supplemented controls.  Supplementation of live boulardii yeast, a sub species of Saccharomyces cervisiae resulted in a shortened period of diarrhea and a quicker return to normal feces in horses suffering from enterocolitis compared to a placebo group.  Horses in this study had a broad range of causative factors for the diarrhea.  Thus probiotic administration may be an additional therapeutic tool in managing colitis or diarrhea in horses.    Probiotics may also reduce the detrimental effects of a high starch diet on the microbial population.  Typically high starch diets promote the growth of amylotic bacteria and decrease the population of cellulytic bacteria, thus suppressing fiber fermentation.  In addition, the by-products of amylotic bacteria are responsible for lowering the pH of the hind gut.  If probiotics are used in conjunction with higher concentrate diets, the overall health of the gut may be improved.

    So when is a probiotic right for you?  Certainly during periods of digestive upsets, probiotics can help return the microbiology of the gut of the horse to a healthier state.  They may also assist a horse during times of stress, not only preserving the health of the GI tract, but also the health of the horse itself.  Probiotics promote a stable pH in the gut and can assist in fermentation in the gut.  There a very few negative indicators for probiotic usage, rather just be sure that you choose an effective product.

  • Pat Parelli Endorses Omega Grande

    Omega Fields receives Endorsement for Omega Grande® from Pat Parelli of Parelli Natural Horsemanship

    Newton, Wisconsin – Omega Fields, Inc. receives a strong endorsement of its Omega Grande® product, a flax based complete nutritional supplement from Pat Parelli of Parelli Natural Horsemanship (www.parelli.com).

    Here is what Pat Parelli had to say about Omega Grande®:

    "My horses were just not looking their best.  Since I've switched to Omega Grande I can already see and feel a difference in just a few weeks.  They are shinier, have better muscle tone and so easy to feed!”
    - Pat Parelli

    And here is Pat’s barn manager, David Berry, responsible for the feeding program for Pat’s horses:

    It has only been four weeks since we started the horses on Grande and I have seen several positive changes already.  We feed Grande on top of our own special grain mix.  The mix consists of oats, barley, sunflower seeds and a little bit of ground limestone.  I have been able to reduce the amount of grain being fed since starting Grande. The horses eat it easily with or without grain.  I have witnessed improvements in coat condition with every horse.  They are all shedding their old dull winter coats and growing soft sleek shiny hair back in its place. Our red horses are getting redder and out black horses blacker.

       The most impressive change I have seen is in their muscle tone.  We were trying another complete feed before. The horses were fat but they had trouble developing muscle.  They would either be fat ponies or skinny horses. We were finding it difficult to get them fit.  Now, with Grande, they are rapidly developing muscle with exercise rather than just losing weight.    As time goes on I expect to see continued positive changes in our horses.  As an added benefit, my feed room looked like a pharmacy before Grande.  Grande has eliminated the need for mass supplementation and has allowed me to reduce the amount of raw ingredients I keep on hand.  In the past we have always been able to have fit and healthy horses but we had to mix all of our ingredients ourselves to get the desired results while keeping our principles intact.  Now nutrition is easy!  Sometimes nature and science can work really well together.  Grande is a good example of that!

    And from Lisa Alley-Zarkades (owner of Panadero XLVI – Omega Grande Ambassador and the “pretty face” on the packaging):

    “Panadero XLVI has been a loyal Omega Grande® Ambassador for many years now. His photographic beauty in films and pictures has shown off his amazing shimmering silver shine. He gets many compliments regularly on his beautiful shine as his coat color evolves each year. Panadero's longtime trainer and partner is Margit Deerman, 3 Star Parelli instructor.   She has taken Panadero to Level 4 in the Parelli Program. And he has been a guest at the Parelli Pagosa Springs Ranch several times. Linda Parelli has ridden him while at her ranch. She has always been very complimentary of his behavior, temperament and beauty.  Omega Grande and Parelli natural horsemanship have been our winning combination.”

    “Wow! It is very gratifying to be put to the test by such well experienced, discerning and demanding professionals as the Parelli’s and pass muster with flying colors” said Omega Fields’ President – Sean Moriarty.

  • Equine Body Language

    Written By Walt Friedrich

    Y’know, you can’t hide anything from a horse. He knows what’s going on in your mind. Sure, you know what he’s thinking, too, sometimes, but he seems to be so much better at it than you and I, doesn’t he?

    Our horse has gotten so good at “mind reading” because it’s his natural “language” among other horses -- and it naturally spills over into his communications with us. He doesn’t have to figure out what a “hard eye” is when he sees ours (and, of course, he doesn’t read our minds), he knows it very well because he’s seen it on other horses all his life. And that’s half of the communication transaction – that which we transmit. The other half is what he receives, or better put, how he perceives what he sees, and therein lies communication by body language! Of course it’s his natural language – raised in his natural environment among other horses in his herd, it’s the only language there is. He learns to read and comprehend the most subtle of signals, and he puts that learning to good use when we’re introduced into his life.

    There was probably a time ‘way back, before our ancestors perfected the art of language, when we, too, communicated mostly with body language. But our world then, as theirs still is now, would have been quite small, and our need for communication quite basic. Not much has changed with horses over the millenia, however, and it’s safe to assume that horses everywhere communicate in the same manner. Interestingly, those of us who spend time with horses have intuitively picked up on their language without realizing it.

    He “speaks” to us with his body language, and he expects us to “get it”. When we don’t he will sometimes add emphasis – flared nostrils, maybe, or a head nudge, or even a kick if just flattening his ears isn’t enough. And how quickly we learn from that sort of emphasis! It’s the same emphasis he uses when he’s communicating with another horse, and so it’s quite natural and not a big deal. Unfortunately, when that sort of emphasis happens many of us tend to blame the horse for an indiscretion instead of immediately realizing that he’s just “being a horse” and does not actually bear us any ill will. Usually, however, we can and do connect with his initial ear-flattened message – and so we learn, sometimes the hard way, a little more of his language.

    But there is so much more to a horse’s language than flattened ears. It should be pointed out here that ear-pinning is just one of many examples of equine aggression behavior. We tend to think of aggression as meaning physical attack, but a physical attack and ear-pinning are both examples of aggression body language. We might define equine aggression body language as any physical attempt at control, whether it’s by flattened ear or sudden kick or anything in between, and much of it has counterparts in our own body language. That means that to a degree he and we already do speak the same language. You may become displeased with your horse for some reason, and you glare at him to “make” him behave as you want him to. Your “hard eyes” (your body language) mean the same to him as hard eyes from another horse, and he reacts accordingly. You sometimes use many facial muscles to emphasize your displeasure (clenched teeth, a big frown, hunched shoulders), he sees them all and interprets them accurately. And he does the same thing, actually; if he wants to emphasize his flattened ears, he may flare or purse his nostrils, raise his head up high to make himself appear more formidable, and even stamp his forefeet with great force; he’ll swish his tail, may turn his butt and stand with weight off of one hind leg so he can deliver a ritual kick – all signs to another horse that a big fight may be moments away if he doesn’t back off, and he uses it with us as well.

    A much more common body language example of aggression is that of one horse moving another. We may notice it when it’s obvious – when accompanied by a nip on the rump, for example – but usually it’s so subtle that we rarely notice the body language that actually moves the “movee”. However, she reads it immediately, as do all other horses in the immediate area. The control of spacing between individuals in a herd is an important use of aggression body language, and it has many shadings. For example, at one extreme, when food is scarce each horse needs more space in order to find enough forage, and “back off” signs are the tools used to gain and retain it. At the other extreme, aggression is used continuously, in normal, non-stressed conditions – for example, the “intimate zone” between horses, up close and tight, is entered only by family and close friends, while others are warned off.

    These are common examples of the body language of aggression -- one of our horse’s two basic communication devices. Of course, herd members don’t spend their time in overtly aggressive behavior, and even when they use it, it is rarely violent. Although aggression body language is fundamental in a horse’s lifestyle, fortunately dominant horses – bullies -- are relatively rare. It’s probably why herd members usually get along together so well.

    His second basic communication device is cooperation. Cooperation is the most important characteristic of herd behavior – without it there would be no herd – and body language is the tool that makes it work. Cooperation between herd members implies mutual trust. Without trust a horse will see every new thing as a threat from which he must escape. Consider a grazing herd; each member knows the whereabouts and actions of every other member present, and through trust and body language, he knows that all is safe and content.

    The body language of cooperation is often the antithesis of the body language of aggression; eyes are soft and ears are up, the head is down, grazing, amid a group of herdmates. Horses will lay on the ground for a brief nap in the presence of others; a “sentinel” horse will remain standing and watchful. These are body language messages of trust and acceptance. Two friends will groom each other, obviously in each other’s intimate zone. The foal will work its mouth in the presence of older, mature horses, an action sometimes called “snapping”, which is far from a threat, but rather a message that says, “I’m young, small and weak, and I mean you no harm. Be nice to me.”

    We tend to think of body language as a system of clearly understood signals, and it is, but there is so much more to it than many of us realize. Because of the subtle nature of many body language signals, they occur without our being consciously aware of them. Yet we do pick up many of these tiny clues without realizing it – and so does your horse. You catch his eye moving to look at you while he’s facing off to the side, and you know that he’s paying attention; that’s body language. He sees and interprets a twitch of your eyebrow. Many a trick circus horse has been trained to “count” by tapping a forefoot just by reacting to eyebrow twitches.

    While both horses and people communicate with their own species using body language, it might be assumed that there is a vast gulf between these two disciplines, but this is not the case. We think of ourselves as primarily verbal communicators, but there is surprising research that indicates that we communicate face-to-face verbally only one-third of the time – fully two-thirds of our intercommunication is via body language! Because of the similarities in body language used by horses and ourselves, how interesting it would be if, with some concentrated effort, we were able to bridge that gap somewhat and develop much greater mutual cooperation, understanding and empathy.

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