Horse Articles

  • 100 Miles in One Day in 100 Degree Temperatures

    Considered to be a “grueling mountain marathon for horses”, the Western States Trail Ride, or The Tevis Cup, is one of the most challenging 100-mile rides in the world.  The Ride started on July 20th at 5:15 a. m. at Robie Park near Lake Tahoe with the first place finisher arriving in Auburn, California at 10:12 pm, by way of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.   160 riders took off with the goal of trying to reach Auburn within 24 hours, but by late Saturday night, 68 riders had already been pulled from the ride.

    But that didn’t stop local riders Beverly Gray of Kamas and Sue Hedgecock from Park City and their horses from finishing in the Top 10 at the 2013 Tevis Cup last weekend.  The duo successfully completed approximately 17,000 feet of climbs and 21,000 feet of descents in temperatures soaring above 100 degrees.  The high temperatures were considered a factor in the 47% completion rate; only 75 of 160 horses completed within the allowed 24 hours and vetted out completely sound.
    And less than five hours after the event ended, veterinarians evaluated the top ten equine finishers to select the winner of the Haggin Cup, which recognizes the horse found to be “in the most superior physical condition.”  The veterinarians presented this year's award to LZP Julios Last Chance, a 12-year-old gray Arabian gelding ridden by Park City’s own Suzanne Hedgecock; the pair completed the ride at 12:11 a.m. on July 21.

    Rusty Toth and Take A Break, an 8-year-old chestnut Arabian gelding, crossed the finish line first late on July 20 to win the 58th running of the Tevis Cup.

    “It was a fantastic race. My worry was the heat, 112+ in the canyons, said Bev Gray.  “Jolly Sickle did exceptional!”  Congratulations to Sue and Julio being awarded the Haggin Cup.  The Haggin Cup is a unique and special experience.  To be a part of the evaluation is a gift that I will cherish for my lifetime and have an equine companion that can offer me the gift of the experience.  I am humbled daily!!!!

    Rank Rider Rider # Checkpoint Time
    1 Toth, Rusty 4 Finish Line - IN 10:12PM
    2 Waitte, Jennifer 90 Finish Line - IN 10:29PM
    3 Smith, Jenni 89 Finish Line - IN 10:29PM
    4 Schork, Christoph 88 Finish Line - IN 10:46PM
    5 Myers, Kevin 3 Finish Line - IN 10:58PM
    6 Donley, Karen 35 Finish Line - IN 11:21PM
    7 Schuerman, Mark 115 Finish Line - IN 11:50PM
    8 Hedgecock, Suzanne 87 Finish Line - IN 12:11AM
    9 Gray, Beverly 170 Finish Line - IN 12:27AM
    10 Barnett, Ann Marie 64 Finish Line - IN 12:45AM

    Founded on a bet in 1955 by one of Auburn's prominent citizens, Wendell T. Robie, modern-day endurance riding began with what now is called the "TEVIS CUP." He is quoted as saying “A lump in my throat and on bended knee in gratitude to my equine with wings!!!!!

    Today there are hundreds of endurance riding events throughout the nation and in many countries overseas that are based upon the methods and standards originally established by this event.
    More on the Tevis Cup at www.teviscup.org

  • Horses and Invasive Plants THE WESTERN USA STUDY

    Written By Dr. Stith T. Gower Professor of Forest Ecosystem Ecology, Department of Forest & Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

    A study in the eastern USA showed that while horse hay and manure may contain a small number of seeds of invasive plants, the seeds do not successfully germinate on trails. In this study—funded by the American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC), Envirohorse, the Tanklage Foundation and the Dean Witter Foundation—a similar study was conducted in nine locations in the western USA. The western study is needed to better understand if horses introduce weeds in ecosystems that dramatically differ from ecosystems in the eastern USA.

    No one likes weeds

    Weeds, also referred to as invasive, alien, or noxious plants, adversely affect the ecological and economic sustainability of native and managed ecosystems. Almost 500 invasive plants are now established in natural ecosystems in the USA. Invasive plants can displace rare plants in most any ecosystem, totally transform natural ecosystems (e.g., yellow star thistle in California grasslands), dramatically increase fire frequency, thereby threatening personal property and livestock (e.g., European cheatgrass in the shrub-steppe ecosystems in Utah and Idaho), and use precious ground water in arid ecosystems (e.g., salt cedar in southwest desert ecosystems).

    Invasive plants compete with crop species in agriculture, pasture, and rangelands ecosystems and decrease yields and crop value. In the U.S. alone, the total cost of invasive plants in agriculture approaches $27 billion annually. Decreased productivity of forage crops totals an additional $1 billion annually. Moreover, some invasive plants are toxic to livestock and wild ungulates (e.g., leafy spurge and cattle). Many of the invasive plants were introduced for food, fiber, soil stabilization, or ornamental purposes.

    However, the spread of invasive plants has dramatically increased in recent decades because of greater local to global transportation of people and commodities and disturbances (fire, road construction, etc.). Therefore, there is an urgent need to identify how invasive plants are introduced into ecosystems and thwart their spread.

    Horses have been accused of spreading invasive plants through hay and manure. However, few studies have attempted to rigorously quantify whether these accusations are true. Campbell and Gibson (2001) reported 23 invasive plant species germinated and grew from horse manure samples in a greenhouse study, but only one invasive plant species became established in the trail plots in Illinois. Gower (2008) also noted that while non-native plants germinated and grew from hay and manure samples placed in the ideal conditions of pots, no non-native plants established on the horse trails at five sites in the eastern USA.

    The western horse-weed study

    This study was intended to replicate the eastern USA study to determine if horses can introduce weeds in western USA ecosystems, which differ in climate, native vegetation, and invasive plant species. Specific objectives of this study were:
    1.        Assess the importance of different mechanisms by which horses may introduce non-native plant species.
    2.        Determine if invasive species introduced by horses germinate and colonize horse trails.
    The study was conducted at nine locations that include a broad range of natural ecosystems (Figure 1):
    •         Cuyama Oaks XP, New Cuyama, CA (NCO)
    •         Shine & Shine Only III, San Jose, CA (SSO)
    •         Whiskeytown Chaser, Redding, CA (WTC)
    •         Wild West Pioneer, Nevada City, CA (WWP)
    •         Redwood Ride II, Orick, CA (RR2)
    •         Ft. Stanton II Pioneer, Ft. Stanton, NM (FSP)
    •         Shamrock Pioneer, Wheatland, WY (SRP)
    •         Ft. Howes, Ashland, MT (FTH)
    •         Owyhee Fandango, Oreana, ID (OWF)

    Twenty rider/horse teams were randomly selected at each ride. The owner of each horse provided information on his/her home location so the travel time could be approximated. Information was also obtained on the horse’s access to pasture versus dry paddock, and hay source. A representative sample(s) of hay, or hay substitute, were collected from each owner, each sample was thoroughly mixed, and the sample(s) was/were sub-sampled and placed in two labeled bags. I collected multiple hay samples from each source (i.e., alfalfa, timothy, oat hay, etc.) if riders brought several types of hay for their horses.

    A manure sample (one to two piles depending on size) was collected from the horse trailer or in the temporary paddock where the horse resided, thoroughly mixed, divided into two sub-samples, and placed into two labeled bags. Hoof scrapings were collected from all four feet of the horse (except when horses had pads and no debris was present), combined, thoroughly mixed, and divided into two sub-samples. One sub-sample of each material was placed in a labeled bag and transported back to Madison, Wisconsin, for the germination study. The second sub-sample of each material from each horse was placed on the trail within 24 hours of sample collection.

    Horses were also examined for seeds attached to their coat, mane or tail; however, no seeds were found on any of the horses at any of the nine rides.

    The hay, manure, and hoof debris sub-samples for the germination study were transported back to Madison, Wisconsin, and added to 15-liter plastic potting buckets filled with commercial potting soil. A second set of pots was only filled with commercial potting soils (no sample) and was randomly assigned as a control to each pot containing a sample. The paired pots were randomized and placed in a common garden that had similar environmental conditions. The pots were placed outside and watered twice per week with a complete Hogland’s nutrient solution to ensure the germinating plants had adequate water and nutrients. Plants were grown to the end of the growing season and each germinated plant was identified by species and classified as native or non-native using the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services state list (http://plants.usda.gov/java/noxiousdriver).

    The second sub-sample of hay, manure, and hoof debris was placed in a 50 cm diameter plot located every meter along a transect at three random locations along a trail designated for horses. A control plot (no sample) was paired with each sample plot. The start and end point of each transect was marked with a large plastic stake driven flush to the ground so the transect could be re-located. Each plot was surveyed in 2009 and each germinated plant was identified by species and status (native or non-native).

    Are there weed seeds in horse hay and manure?

    Three (15%) rider/horse teams at NCO and OWP rides, and one (5%) rider/horse teams at SSO and RR2 used certified weed-free hay, for an overall average of 4.4% for the 180 sampled horses at the nine rides (Figure 2).
    No non-native plants grew in the pots containing manure and hoof scraping samples from the nine rides. Non-native plants grown in pots containing hay samples ranged from 0% for three sites (RR2, SSO, and NCO) to a maximum of 5% (SRP) for all 180 samples (Figure 3). The pot study demonstrated that hay is the primary source of non-native seeds, but averaged 1.4% of total plants germinated in pots for the nine study sites.

    Common non-native plants inventoried in the pot study were yellow starthistle (Centaurea solstitialis L.), Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense (L.) Scop.), and musk thistle (Carduus nutans L.). Yellow starthistle originated from the Old World and probably arrived in California in the mid-1800s as a contaminant in alfalfa seed. Canada thistle is native to southeast Europe and Asia, and was likely introduced to the United States in the 1700s as a contaminant of crop seed. Musk thistle is a biennial plant that was introduced, by accident, from Europe in the 1800s. The seeds of all three species are animal- and wind-dispersed.

    Although seeds of non-native invasive plant were present in hay samples, and germinated in the pots, the results from the trail plots were striking different. No non-native plants occurred in any plots on the trail that contained hay, manure, or hoof debris samples (data not shown). In other words, 0% of the three types of samples from 20 horses sampled at the nine sites, or 540 total samples, produced viable non-native plants on the trail. Two plots containing hay samples and one plot containing manure sample at FTH contained timothy (Phleum pretense) seedlings.

    The results from this study corroborate the results of Campbell and Gibson (2001) who also found successful germination and establishment of invasive plants was significantly lower in the trail plots (one species) than greenhouse study (23 species). Gower (2008) also noted that while non-native plants germinate and grew in the ideal conditions of pots, no non-native plants established on the horse trails at five sites in the eastern USA. This study and other studies also observed that the presence of non-native species is greater immediately adjacent to the horse trail, but the presence of non-native plant species along the trail does not differ between horse trails and trails where horses are prohibited (Campbell and Gibson 2001).
    Collectively these studies provide compelling evidence that horses are not an important source for the introduction of non-native plants.

    Why horses are seen as villains

    New roads and trails disturb the soil and provide exposed mineral soil that is required for most weed seeds to become established. Ironically, trails used very infrequently appear to be more susceptible to colonization by weeds than frequently used trails because the frequent traffic from hikers, horses, etc., damages the sensitive weed seedlings. In addition, any material (soil, rocks, sand, etc.) used to build trails may contain weed seeds. Finally, roads and trails increase the amount of light reaching the ground and as a result multiple strata of vegetation (e.g., grasses and forbs, shrubs, understory trees, overstory trees) exist at the edge of the trails.

    Birds, an important source of spreading plant seeds, frequent these openings and multi-layered vegetation along the trail, and in the process excrete seeds in their feces. One study in the U.K. reported that birds prefer weed seeds over grain seed and berries.

    Collectively, all these processes make it appear that horses are introducing weeds on the trails when, in fact, there are a myriad of processes responsible for observed vegetation composition along trails. For the reasons stated above, it is equally important that horse riders stay on marked trails and do not create new trails that may provide exposed mineral soil for weed seeds to become established.

    Another source of confusion is weed classification systems. I adopted the USDA National Resource Conservation Service classification system because it provided a consistent database across all six states and it allowed me to compare the results of this study to the eastern USA study (Gower 2008). There are a myriad of textbooks on weedy and invasive plants that each use their own logic to classify a plant as a weed. Important commercial plant species used as forage for livestock and soil erosion control have been classified as weeds in horse-weed studies.

    Interestingly, plants such as lespedeza, that Campbell and Gibson classified as exotic (following Mohlenbrock 1986), are not on the USDA NRCS noxious weed list for Illinois. Almost 60% of the individual plants classified as a weed in a pack horse study in Colorado were Kentucky bluegrass. The lack of consistent definitions and standard state or federal list creates unnecessary confusion in the scientific literature, which adversely affects management and policy decisions.

    What can we do?

    Trail riders must become stronger educational advocates for trails.
    It is extremely important for trail riders help educate the public. The results of this study will be published in peer-reviewed scientific journals to provide credibility to the research. However, my 20-plus years of research has made one thing very clear: land managers do not have time to read scientific journals. Short, concise summaries in trade magazines, state natural resource magazines, etc., are excellent venues for this vital information. Every member should acquire copies of relevant articles and hand-deliver, e-mail or snail mail them to their local and state equine advocacy group(s), and state, federal and private trails coordinators/managers.

    If we wish to maintain or improve trail use policy it is essential that we provide land managers and politicians with the necessary information to make sound ecological decisions. Here in Wisconsin, snowmobilers have access to gorgeous trails that I can only dream about riding. Why? Perhaps their well-organized and financially-supported advocacy user groups explain their success. I can only presume they work closely with private and state land managers to ensure access to trials.

    Trail management is key

    All of the horse-weed studies have shown that establishment of weeds on trails is almost nonexistent. However, a small fraction of hay and manure does contain weed seeds. Investing in waste manure and hay management facilities at trail heads would be a proactive management activity that would further decrease the small chance of weeds becoming established in horse camps and trail heads. Organizing annual work days to mechanically remove weeds would prevent any weeds in these high-use areas from reproducing and spreading, and build valuable relationship between trail riders and land managers. I even wonder if the trail master course should add weed control/eradication curriculum.

    Conclusions

    The 0% germination and establishment rate of weeds from hay, manure and hoof debris plots on the horse trails at the nine study sites illustrates the difficult physical and environmental conditions that seedlings experience during the critical germination and establishment phase.
    Select relevant articles

    Campbell, J.E., and D.J. Gibson. 2001. The effect of seeds of exotic species transported vie horse dung on vegetation along trail corridors. Plant Ecology 157:23-35.
    Gower, ST. 2008. Are horses responsible for introducing non-native plants along forest trails in the eastern United States? Forest Ecology & Management 256:997-1003.

    This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of Endurance News, official publication of the American Endurance Ride Conference, www.aerc.org, 866-271-2372.
    To request the figures that accompany this article, please write to endurancenews@foothill.net.

  • How to Teach a New Rider the Basics of Riding

    Written By Randi Thompson, founder of the Horse and Rider Awareness Educational Programs

    We all love sharing the joy of horses with those around us. But, what should you be do, when guests arrive, who may never have ridden a horse before, but would like to try?    In this article, we will explore how to introduce new riders to the fundamental concept of having fun safely, as they learn how to control a horse.

    Preparing for the Ride.
    Start by choosing a safe horse that you know. A new rider needs a horse that is safe in any situation and one that will allow them to make a lot of mistakes. We call this horse an “Equine Saint.”   Absolutely avoid horses new to training, those that move quickly, tend to be nervous, spooky or very sensitive to what a rider is doing.

    Introducing the Rider to the Horse
    By the time you get your new rider close to the horse they will be jumping out of their boots with excitement.  It is your job to protect them, as they do not know the risks associated with horses.  Keep the rider close to you, and out of harm’s way, as you saddle and bridle the horse.

    Now You are Ready to Show the Rider How to Mount and Dismount
    • Start by showing the rider how you mount and dismount that so they can see what they will be doing.  A mounting block will make everything easier.
    •  Begin by putting your hand on the pommel or saddle horn.   Tell the rider that this will help them get into the saddle easier.
    • Next, you step into the iron/stirrup.  Tell them it is important to press their leg against the saddle so that they can balance better.  Let the see how you can use your other hand on the back or middle of the saddle to also help them mount.
    • Show the rider how to gently swing their right leg over the back of the saddle without kicking the horse’s rump.
    • Finally, you will show them how to gently sink into the saddle and find their other stirrup/iron.

    When you dismount, repeat the process in reverse. For older riders, show them the “step down dismount” where they get off the horse without stepping into the stirrup/iron. Show them how to push away from the saddle and how to land on the ground with both knees bent.

    It’s Time to Put the Rider on the Horse
    • First, make sure you have control of the horse.
    • Let your rider know that you are going to keep your hand on their legs or body to help them balance as they get on and off the horse.   Show them how you are going to place a hand on the top of their leg to give them the support they may need.
    • Slowly guide them through the steps you showed them. If you feel that your rider is afraid at any level, slow down the mounting to as many steps as you can until they feel confident.

    When it is time for the dismount, put your hand on the rider’s leg to help stabilize them as they get off.  Most of them will not have the control of their body that you do and need that help.   If it is a very young rider you will simply lift them off the horse.  Practice mounting and dismounting the rider several times to make sure they are comfortable. This may seem boring to you, but they are having fun!

    Showing Your Rider How to Stop, Start and Steer the Horse.
    Now you are ready to show your rider how to stop the horse, start the horse, and turn it in both directions at the walk. By now they are even more excited and will not be thinking clearly.  With this in mind it is up to you to make sure that the rider practices how to control your horse.  They need to show you that they can control the horse.  First with the horse on a leadline, and later, if they have control, without it.

    Stopping.  Putting the brakes on.
    Stopping a horse is very important.  This lets the rider know that they have control.  With new riders, we show them how to use the reins to stop the horse.   Make sure you have a leadline on the horse so that you have control before you begin.  During this time you can let them know that they can balance their body any time they need to be resting their hands on the horse’s neck while they are riding.  This will help prevent them from pulling on the reins to balance.
    • Tell your rider that you are going to practice how to stop the horse first at the halt, than at the walk.
    • Show the rider how you stop the horse by shortening the length of the reins at the horse’s neck until the horse stops.
    • Next, show them how to do it with their hands.
    •  Then, show them how to let the reins go looser so they understand the difference between stopping a horse with the reins and releasing the reins to initiate movement.  Have them shorten and lengthen the reins several times.  Have fun with this and praise them when they begin to understand what you are asking them to do.
    • Once the rider is able to adjust their reins, you are ready to ask them to stop the horse from the walk.   To do this you will position yourself near the horse’s shoulder, where you can easily reach the rider at any time, and lead the horse forward.
    • Ask the rider to show you how they can stop the horse by shortening the reins until it stops.  It might take them a few attempts before they are able to really do it, so take your time and make sure that they can really do it on their own.  To do this, make it a game of sorts, ask the rider to count the horse’s steps and walk 5 steps and stop.  Give the rider lots of praise as they do this.  Think of this as a way to teach them with a game.  Next, walk 10 steps and stop.  Practice halting at least 10 times.

    Start your engines!
    Now we are ready to show the rider how to get the horse to move forward.  Once again, you will be leading the horse near the rider.
    • Explain that a horse moves from their leg much like a bike does when we use the pedals.  Show the rider how much leg is needed to get the horse to move by putting your hand on their leg and pressing or tapping the horse’s side until the horse responds.  Take your time and make sure the rider knows that the horse is moving forward because of them.
    • Combine the Start with the Stops and practice both together 10 times.

    Which way do you want to go?  Steering.
    Place cones or any type of safe objects on the ground in a pattern that will require that the rider turn in both directions.
    • Tell the rider that riding a horse is a like riding a bike. Instead of using the bike handles to turn the front wheel, they will be using the reins to point the horse’s nose in the direction they want to go.  Practice this first at the halt.
    • Find an object for them to look at and ask them to point the horse’s nose at it.  Show them how to bring the horse’s nose over by putting your hand on their hand.  Once they can turn the horses head, you are ready to ask them to do this at the walk. Again, you will want to be walking near the horses shoulder with the horse on a lead line.
    • Check that the rider can go in both directions while starting and stopping. As their steering improves you can choose other points of focus and ask them to ride the horse to that spot and stop them.

    Bringing it all together.
    Test the riders control by asking them to stop, start and steer the horse on their own while you step further away, maybe only 6 feet at first, while still keeping control of the horse with the loose lead line.  Check to see if the horse is really listening to them or following you.  When you are sure the rider is in control, and not before, you can remove the lead line and repeat the process.  Stay close to the horse until you are certain that control has been established, and finally, step away
    Some people also think it is fun for a new rider to trot or canter. Usually it is because they are getting bored.  The new rider is not.  This is where most accidents happen. These gaits are not comfortable to new riders and they will also not be able to control the horse.
    By following these steps, you will be able to share your love of horses with new riders, while keeping them safe.  Have fun!

    Now you can experience Randi's simple, yet amazing Horse and Rider Awareness techniques that have been tested and proven to work on 1000s of riding instructors, horse trainers, students and horses.  Go to Horse and Rider Awareness.

    Randi Thompson © 2013 Horse and Rider Awareness

  • Equine Research: Protein

    Written By Dr. Kristina Hiney

    This month I will begin a new series which tries to summarize some of the new information which has been gathered in equine nutrition.  I will be grouping similar topics together and trying to summarize how this information might be relevant to you and your horse.  We will discuss if this new information means you should change what you have been doing, or you can feel reassured that you are right on track!  And remember not all information may be relevant for your horse.  There is no need to feed your mature gelding who is trail ridden on the weekend like an endurance horse preparing for a 100 mile ride!

    This month we will focus on some new information on protein nutrition in the horse.  Certainly this is the time of year when many of us are busy procuring our hay supplies for the upcoming year.  Often we want the very best for our horses, and typically look for high quality alfalfa hays.  But is that necessary, especially in a year where the weather does not cooperate and hay selection may be more limited?  In a study using mature idle geldings, the digestibility and usefulness of protein from a variety of hays was tested.   Horses were fed diets of either  mixed grass hay alone, the mixed hay with increasing amounts of oats, or alfalfa hay that was either early bloom, mid bloom or late bloom.  As the maturity of alfalfa hay increases, typically its protein content decreases.   Therefore, many horsemen prefer earlier bloom alfalfa.  But is this necessary? In this particular study the horses were also fed at just 1.6% of their body weight as fed, which is typically a little lower than most people feed.  Thus these horses might have been fed at a lower rate than the average horseman would feed.    As expected, the protein intake of the horses increased as they were fed the alfalfa hay, with increased protein intake the earlier the stage of maturity. The digestibility of the protein in the diet also increased when fed straight alfalfa compared with the mixed hay, and digestibility was greater with less mature alfalfa.  That does reconfirm our knowledge that forages of later maturity are indeed less digestible.  However, the nitrogen retention between the groups of horses was not different.  Nitrogen retention refers to how much nitrogen remains in the horse’s body.  So if the horse’s nitrogen intake (which is reflective of protein intake) was higher, but the nitrogen did not remain in the horse’s body, where did it go?  The extra nitrogen was actually excreted in the urine.  You may remember from our earlier series on protein nutrition that excess protein consumed cannot be stored in the horse’s body. Instead, the nitrogen is removed from the amino acid, and the remainder of it can be used for energy or stored as fat.  Overall, for mature idle horses, there is no need to feed these higher “octane” hays, as it all that extra protein just ended up back on the ground!  There was no value to the horse in these high protein hays.

    However, what if you are not feeding a mature, idle horse, but instead are feeding mares and foals?  Their protein requirements are undoubtedly quite higher.  But it is not just protein quantity we must consider, but also the amino acid profile of the diet.  You may remember from previous articles that equine nutritionists have only described the requirements for lysine in the horse.  This is in stark contrast to other species in which the complete amino acid requirements have been well defined for  both growth and lactation. In other species, lysine is also known to be the first limiting amino acid, followed by threonine and methionine.   It is presumed that this may be true in horses as well.   In a study looking at pregnant mares, their subsequent foals and the mare’s themselves during lactation, researchers posed the question if plasma amino acid concentrations would differ after eating.   Theoretically, plasma amino acids which increase the least after eating immediately following a fast indicates the limiting amino acids.  In the weanlings, the amino acids which increased the least were methionine and lysine, for lactating mares it was methionine and for pregnant mares on this particular diet the amino acid which increased the least was leucine, one of the branched chain amino acids.  This study supports the idea that methionine may be the second limiting amino acid for nursing mares and weanlings, but leucine may also need to be considered.  However, this study did not provide information on how much of these amino acids may actually be needed in the diet, but stresses the need for additional studies.

    The final study we will look at did try and examine the question of methionine needs in growing horses.   In a study which looked at the growth rate and plasma metabolites of weanling horses fed differing amounts of methionine, growth rate did not change with addition of methionine. However, weanlings were only fed the diet for 56 d which way not have been long enough to observe differences.    Addition of methionine did result in a decrease in plasma urea nitrogen.  But what exactly does that mean?   Remember that any extra amino acids must be catabolized and the amine group is removed as urea. The urea is synthesized in the liver, but excreted by the kidney.  Urea circulates though the blood prior to its removal.  An increase in plasma urea N indicates an increase in amino acid catabolism, which takes place if protein synthesis is limited by the availability of amino acids.  If we assume that an increase in methionine in the diet allowed more protein synthesis to occur, this would result in more N retention, and less amino acid catabolism.  In this study, the authors did not observe a linear decrease in plasma urea nitrogen as  methionine was increased beyond 0 .2% of the concentrate. In this example, the weanlings were fed at a rate of 1.25% of their body weight in concentrate, or about 8.4 g of methionine.  You may have noticed that many feed companies now include the levels of methionine in their product.  Using this study as an indicator of methionine requirements, at least for weanling horses would indicate that methionine should at least be at the level of .2% of the concentrate if fed in comparable amounts. If less concentrate is fed, than the concentration of methionine should be higher.

    To summarize what we can take from these three studies, we have reaffirmed that mature idle horses don’t really need high protein hays. While their protein may be more digestible, those amino acids remain largely wasted.  For horses with higher protein needs, it may be time for us to turn our attention to more than just protein quantity, but quality as well.  Hopefully soon we will have better knowledge on exact amino acid requirements, but at least we are now somewhat closer to knowing about methionine!

  • B Vitamins

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    This month we will conclude our discussion of vitamins with the B vitamins. There are many vitamins that are traditionally referred to as the B vitamins, including thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxal phosphate, panthothenic acid and cobalamin.  You may even associate them with their “numbers” so to speak: B1, B2 etc. These are all water soluble vitamins which can be synthesized by the microbial population of the hindgut of the horse.  In many circumstances this microbial synthesis of vitamins is adequate to support normal physiological functions in the horse.  However, under some conditions, supplementation of these vitamins becomes necessary. Unfortunately relatively little is actually known about the true requirements of the horse for many of these vitamins.  We will primarily focus on the vitamins which have the most information available; thiamin, niacin, riboflavin and biotin.


    We will begin our discussion of the significant B vitamins with thiamin, one of the most commonly supplemented B vitamins.  Thiamin is a vitamin which is required in many reactions which support energy metabolism, or the production of ATP.  Deficiencies of thiamin in the horse can result in muscle fasciculation, ataxia and most frequently in appetence.   However, true thiamin deficiencies in horses are very infrequent.  Nevertheless,   it is often supplemented when horses go off feed to restore their appetite.  There is some evidence that the exercising horse may require more thiamin, which is presumably related to their higher rate of metabolism.  Dietary sources of thiamin are typically found in the concentrate portion of a horse’s diet.  Cereal grains, their by-products, and  brewer’s yeast are especially high in thiamin.   Overall, maintenance horses are currently recommend to consume 3 mg thiamin/kg of DM consumed while exercising horses should consume 5 mg of thiamin/kg of DM.  If we use a standard 500 kg horse as an example, and assume it is consuming 2% of its body weight in dry matter (or 10 kg of feed), this horse should consume between 30-50 mg of thiamin per day.

    Riboflavin, historically referred to a B2, is another vitamin which is required in energy producing pathways, especially in the electron transport chain.  Riboflavin also functions in lipid metabolism and as an anti-oxidant.  Riboflavin, like thiamin, is synthesized in the hindgut of the horse through microbial fermentation.  Interestingly, no documented cases of riboflavin deficiencies have been reported in the equine.  Legumes are relatively high in riboflavin, so horses consuming alfalfas or clovers should have little difficulty in meeting their riboflavin requirements.   Even horses consuming grass sources of forages easily meet their riboflavin requirement.  The current recommendation of horses is to consume 2 mg of riboflavin per kg of DM, but even grasses contain 7-10 mg of riboflavin/kg of DM. Therefore there appears to be little reason to supplement horses with riboflavin.

    Niacin, traditionally referred to as B3, participates heavily in oxidation/reduction reactions in the body which are vital to energy metabolism. Niacin can not only be produced in the hindgut, but it can further be synthesized by the horse through the conversion of tryptophan to niacin within the liver.  Like riboflavin, niacin deficiency has also not been described in the horse.  Currently, there is not even a recommended dietary intake for horses for niacin.

    Biotin is a water soluble vitamin which is a co-factor in many carboxylation reactions (addition of carbon to a compound).  These are important reactions in gluconeogenesis (the synthesis of glucose by the body) and fatty acid synthesis.  Of traditional horse feeds, alfalfa supplies the highest concentration.   Once again, the microbial microflora are also quite capable of synthesizing biotin. While no distinct deficiencies of biotin have been reported, low quality hooves are often associated with low biotin.  Supplementation of biotin in the range of 15-20 mg day has been reported to improve hoof wall integrity, structure and strength.  However, when supplementing biotin, horse owners must realize that significant effects do take quite some time to be realized.  The shortest time period of supplementation which achieved positive effects on hoof growth and hardness was 5 months, with some studies reporting a need to supplement for over a year.

    Finally, there are certainly many other vitamins that may be of interest to the horse owner, such as folate, lipoic acid, cobalamin etc.  We do know that synthesis of cobalamin, or B12 does require the mineral cobalt to be incorporated.  However, horses appear to be quite capable of doing so and do not appear to need any supplementation.  In fact, horses can graze cobalt deficient pastures with no ill effect where ruminants would die from deficiency diseases.  Currently there is a paucity of information available to guide the horse owner in best practices concerning many of these other vitamins. Perhaps someday we will know more about these important vitamins and can make better recommendations for dietary values to enhance the health status of the horse.  Until then, just be thankful your horse has its gut bugs, he couldn’t do it without them!

  • How OHS and OG would be best replacement product for Platinum Performance

    We are often asked by consumers how our products compare to Platinum Performance and rather Omega Horseshine or Omega Grande would be the best replacement product. please find an overview of Omega Horseshine®, Omega GRANDE®, and Platinum Performance – along with our Bottom Line Recommendation.

    Detailed Description of Omega Horseshine®:

    Omega Horseshine contains the best premium, stabilized ground flax base enhanced with a small percentage of a blend of biotin, yeast (probiotic), oats (antioxidant), vitamins, and chelated minerals. Omega Horseshine is to be considered a powerful Omega-3 supplement (approx 28,000 mg Omega-3 per 1 cup serving!). It is not to be considered a vitamin, mineral, or biotin supplement by any means. The small amount of ingredients (other than stabilized flax) in the formula actually works to promote best absorption of nutrition when the flax is being metabolized. When proper nutrition is present for the horse's body, the horse is better able to assimilate and utilize the Omega-3 essential fatty acid oil in the flax seed much more efficiently. The naturally occurring shorter chained Omega-3s in flax --Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) -- can more effectively be converted by the body into the longer chained Omega-3s -- Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) -- when the proper nutritional support is present. The Omega Horseshine formula helps assure that the proper nutritional support is present. Thus, the horse has the full spectrum of Omega-3s available for optimum health. Omega-3 is a very powerful anti-inflammatory and can help alleviate joint pain, allowing more freedom of movement. Omega Horseshine can also be used as an alternative for psyllium to prevent sand colic. It is readily accepted by horses and is easy to serve.

    The outer coating, or membrane, of every one of the billions of cells in the horse's body is unusually rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, Omega-3 essential fatty acids are the main structural fat that makes up this membrane and plays such a vital role in how cells function. Omega-3 essential fatty acids are the first fats utilized by the body. Since they are the first fats utilized – they do not get stored as body fat. When the cell's membrane is healthy and working at its optimal level, it can let in all the good nutrition for the cell, as well as eliminate all the toxins which will be carried out of the cell and removed by the bowels. It is really quite simple: Healthy cells = Healthy body!

    Omega Horseshine contains 30% crude fat and has a 39% Carbohydrate level with a Non Structural Carbohydrate (NSC) level of 4.4% (Starch .6% and Sugar 3.8%). It is one of the safest and most natural ways to supplement the healthy Omega-3 fat in animals -- which provides side "benefits" of beautiful bloom, soft smooth skin, strong solid hoof growth, prevention of inflammatory problems from bug bites/allergies, relief from arthritic pain, and sufficient Omega-3 for pregnant mares.

    Ingredients: Stabilized Ground Flax Seed, Yeast Culture (Diamond V Yeast), Ground Oats, Calcium Carbonate, Zinc Sulfate, Sodium Selenite, Copper Sulfate, Folic Acid, Niacinamide, Manganese Sulfate, Calcium Pantothenate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B-6), Biotin, Vitamin B-12 Supplement, Riboflavin and Thiamine.

    Detailed Description of Omega GRANDE®:
    Omega GRANDE – the COMPLETE equine supplement -- is formulated to provide the recommended daily essential vitamins and minerals (custom-formulated and blended mix) required for performance horses with the added benefits of stabilized, super anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fatty acids from ground flaxseed (approx 27,396 mg Omega-3 per 1-1/2 cup serving!), stabilized rice bran & ground grain sorghum seed (two super powerful plant-based antioxidants high in Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) to help build a strong immune system), Diamond V® Yeast (effective probiotic as an aid for digestion), biotin, and a custom-formulated vitamin/mineral mix.
    Omega GRANDE is intended to be supplemented to working horses being fed grass hay. Omega GRANDE does not contain any corn or wheat. When the body has proper functional nutrition, in the right balance -- the level of cell membrane integrity improves -- thus improving the level of optimal health. Omega GRANDE eliminates the need for extra supplementation and can also be used as an alternative for psyllium to prevent sand colic. Omega GRANDE is readily accepted by horses and is easy to serve. Omega GRANDE does not contain any processed grain by-products, molasses or sugar.
    Ingredients:  Stabilized Ground Flaxseed, Stabilized Rice Bran, Ground Grain Sorghum, Diamond V Yeast, Calcium Carbonate, Vitamin E Supplement, Iron Polysaccharide Complex, Zinc Sulfate, Copper Polysaccharide Complex, Biotin, Sodium Selenite, Niacin Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin Supplement, Vitamin A Supplement, Vitamin D-3 Supplement, Calcium Iodate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B-6)
    Guaranteed Analysis:
    Crude Protein, % Min 16.0
    Arginine, % Min. 0.884
    Leucine, % Min. 0.772
    Isoleucine, % Min. 0.559
    Valine, % Min. 0.622
    Lysine, % Min. 0.423
    Phenylalanine, % Min. 0.490
    Threonine, % Min. 0.411
    Histidine, % Min. 0.234
    Methionine, % Min. 0.211
    Tryptophan, % Min. 0.155
    Crude Fat, % Min. 22.0
    Crude Fiber, % Max. 13.0
    Calcium, % Min. 1.8
    Calcium, % Max. 2.0
    Phosphorus, % Min. 1.0
    Magnesium, % Min. 0.43
    Potassium, % Min. 0.62
    Copper, ppm Min. 274.0
    Selenium, ppm Min. 4.2
    Zinc, ppm Min. 1,480.0
    Manganese, ppm, Min. 61.0
    Vitamin A, IU/lb. Min. 33,500
    Vitamin E, IU/lb. Min. 1,500
    Vitamin D, IU/lb. Min. 4,600
    Omega-3 Fatty Acids, % Min. 8.0
    Omega-6 Fatty Acids, % Min. 3.6
    Omega-9 Fatty Acids, % Min. 4.1
    Omega Essential Fatty Acid Content - Per 3 scoop serving (228 g):
    27,396 mg of Omega-3
    12,390 mg of Omega-6
    14,015 mg of Omega-9
    Selenium, Biotin and Kcal Content - Per 3 scoop serving (228 g):
    0.95 mg of Selenium
    5.0 mg of Biotin
    1053.0 Kcal
    The correct daily serving size is 3 scoops (1-1/2 cups) for a 1000-1200 lb. horse. Omega GRANDE is COMPLETE and is the only supplement your horse will need with either chopped up grass or hay. It is readily accepted by horses and is easy to serve. All the benefits of the stabilized ground flax and MORE! Omega GRANDE will provide the proper balance for your horses.
    Omega GRANDE is in a powdered form (we choose not to pelletize our products as there is a definite benefit for your horse in minimally-processed feeds that are closest to “whole foods”). The 15 lb bag is a 30 day supply for one horse.
    Please take a moment to scan over these multiple benefits horses would experience when supplementing with Omega GRANDE.
    Improve hoof strength and growth:
    Since poor hoof growth may be a sign of Omega-3 deficiency, and Omega GRANDE provides the highest levels of Omega-3 -- it is an excellent choice for helping create healthy strong thick-walled hoof growth without cracks. There is also 5.0 gr of Biotin per serving. Based on our customers' comments on the results they've seen -- they were able to cut way back on or discontinue any additional hoof supplements when supplementing with Omega GRANDE.
    Beautiful shiny coat and healthy skin:
    Problems with poor hair condition or dull dry coat/skin may be attributed to an Omega-3 deficiency in the horse's body. The stabilized ground flax used in Omega GRANDE is very high in Omega-3 essential fatty acids (flax is the richest source of Omega-3 in the plant world). This makes it ideal because it is heavily tipped in favor of the Omega-3s your horse's diet may be missing. Also the custom-blended mix of required daily vitamins and minerals helps assure that your horse is getting the correct balance for all-over body health -- from the inside out. One of the first visible signs when supplementing with Omega GRANDE will be a soft shiny coat.
    Alleviate inflammation associated with joint pain:
    The membrane, or outer coating, of every one of the billions of cells in the body are unusually rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. In fact Omega-3 fatty acids are the structural fat that makes up this membrane and play a vital role in how cells function. To understand how Omega GRANDE® (as a rich source of stabilized Omega-3 essential fatty acids and immune building plant and vitamin based antioxidants) helps improve a horse's quality of life, let’s take a look at how cells behave when they are aging and/or damaged by trauma such as injury, surgery, over-training, allergic reactions, stress, or disease. When a cell is irritated or damaged, or when it begins to age, its membranes break down. As a result, compounds contained within the cell walls are released into the cell matrix. Some of these substances, such as histamine, give rise to inflammation and associated pain.

    Inflammation is a horse's natural response to injury. Inflammation is characterized by redness, swelling, heat and moderate to intense discomfort. When a joint becomes inflamed, your horse may experience any or all of these symptoms. If this occurs in joint areas it can prevent the joint from moving properly, leading to stiffness and loss of function. Researchers have found that the “diseases of aging” or "damage by trauma" in horses have similar underlying factors: a decrease in cell stability leading to membrane damage and subsequent release of compounds that promote damage, spasm and inflammation.

    The Omega-3 essential fatty acids and antioxidants in Omega GRANDE® work by stabilizing the membranes of the cells, promoting healing of existing damage and helping to prevent further damage. On a practical level, this means quality of life is improved, and you will see your horse experiencing freedom from pain. Many customers are able to cut way back on or discontinue glucosamine supplements altogether.
    Prevent muscle tying up:
    Omega GRANDE's base of stabilized ground flax seed helps maintain proper fluid and electrolyte balance in the small intestine that will lessen the incidence of tieing up and muscle cramping. The proper mineral and vitamin nutrition (in Omega GRANDE's custom blend) is important to help minimize oxidative stress and promote proper muscle function.
    Digestive stability:
    Studies have shown that Diamond V Yeast enhances digestibility and hindgut fermentation. The ground flaxseed in the Omega GRANDE also acts as a digestive aid.
    Effective alternative for psyllium to prevent sand colic:
    The stabilized ground flax in Omega GRANDE contains a high mucilage gum content (soluble fiber) that swells and takes on a gel-like consistency when it enters the digestive system -- trapping and suspending sand, carrying it out -- helping prevent impaction and sand colic. (Mucilage gum is a type of polysaccharide that becomes viscous when mixed with water or other fluids.) There is no need for adding psyllium when supplementing with any of our flax-based Omega Fields' products.
    There is a neat demonstration that can be performed that illustrates how effective the ground flax in Omega GRANDE is as a sand colic preventative. Mix Omega GRANDE with water and allow it to gel. Do the same thing with any product containing ground psyllium husks. The amount of "stickability" of each is very visible when you put a dipping or stirring stick into both the resulting mixtures. When you remove the stick you will be able to see how the material clings. When you remove the stick from the Omega GRANDE mixture, you will note the thicker "slime" or "goo" that coats the stick. This is the same slimy mucilage that forms when Omega GRANDE is fed to your horse and it is what suspends the sand, and carries it out of the horse's gut. When you remove the stick from the ground psyllium product mixture, you will note that the stick tends to "pop" free and there is less sticky "slime" or "goo".
    Detailed Description of Platinum Performance:

    According to their website, Platinum Performance is a comprehensive foundation formula for all horses.

    Note: We believe that Platinum Performance cannot be considered a mineral supplement beyond what is already present in the (some “high carb”!) ingredients. Major mineral levels are very low. Traces are also very low and in ratios that won't help a bit with most hays and may make common problems worse. The flax is a benefit, of course -- but you are getting that in Omega Horseshine (and it is stabilized -- and there is more of it per serving!).

    Ingredients: Flax Seed, Flax Oil, Rice Bran, Lactose Free Whey Protein Concentrate, Sunflower Seed, Soy Flour, Cane Molasses, Performance Minerals™ , Osteon™ (Natural Zeolite), Calcium Carbonate, Bio-Sponge® , dl-Alpha-Tocopheryl Acetate, d-Alpha-Tocopheryl Acetate, Mixed Tocopherols, Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), Glucosamine Sulfate, Chromium Yeast, Selenium Yeast, L-Carnitine Tartrate, Zinc Gluconate, Magnesium Citrate, Manganese Citrate, Copper Gluconate, Cobalt Chelate, L-Lysine, L-Glutamine, Vitamin A, Vitamin D3, Iodine Chelate, dl-Methionine, Choline Bitartrate, Niacin, Calcium Pantothenate, Riboflavin, Biotin, Aloe Vera Concentrate, Vitamin B12, Thiamine Mononitrate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Folic Acid.

    Note: Sugar (molasses) is added to Platinum Performance's formula; however, there are no added sweeteners in the Omega Horseshine and Omega GRANDE more natural formulas! Horses do not need added sugar to their diet!
    Omega Fields’ Bottom Line Recommendation:
    Either Omega Horseshine or Omega GRANDE  would be a wonderful and relevant replacement for Platinum Performance. It really depends on what consumers are looking for in a supplement. Please know that both products are dry and easily top-dressed over feed, very palatable, and would contribute great focus and mind for horses. Also, neither of the products would make horses “hot”! If a consumer is looking for a basic Omega-3 supplement, we would recommend Omega Horseshine. If you are looking for an Omega-3, Antioxidant, Complete Vitamin/Mineral, Probiotic supplement, we would recommend Omega GRANDE. As mentioned – it really depends on what their looking for in a supplement.

  • Ouch, My Stomach Hurts

    Written By Walt Friedrich

    Horses are grazers. We all know that. They would spend 24 hours out of every day, doing just that if they could. It’s quite natural, and the wild ones actually do that because their lifestyles allow it. Domestics – not so much.

    Oh, they would if they could, but only the lucky ones get to spend much time on pasture. A large percentage of domestics are routinely stalled overnight as well as part of the day, effectively removing them from graze for more than half of their lives!

    And that’s unfortunate for a number of reasons. Here’s a big one: ulcers.

    See, their Creator had a beautiful plan in mind when She designed them. Let them nibble all the time, always have something in their stomachs, always ready for anything climate and weather throws their way. Because of that constant eating-machine design, She caused digestive stomach acid to be secreted constantly, always available to deal with food. And because the horse was constantly grazing, She made saliva quite potent and copious, helping to mediate all that stomach acid. She even coated the bottom half of the stomach with a mucous lining to protect it from that acid.

    It’s a brilliant design; constant stomach acid available to handle constant intake of grass, and plenty saliva to help control that powerful acid. It’s so slick that as long as the horse lives as She intended – wild – there was little need for anything more.

    Ah, but then came domestication, and everything changed – that is, for those we put to work for us. Those endless miles of wild-growing grass are no longer available to them. Instead of grazing 24/7, they get to eat hay, not steadily, but rather in one or two large “feedings” per day, along with a pound or two of grain – and maybe some pasture grass grazing in between, if they’re lucky.

    So, what does that altered eating cycle do to their stomachs? Well, since it’s empty much of the time but the acid keeps coming, they get to feeling like you and I do, when we get an acid stomach – but they have to live with it, on  a regular basis. They don’t have Prilosec or even Tums to help with that burning. But it doesn’t stop there – that acid that’s continuously pumped into the stomach whose upper half has no protective “armor plating”, freely attacks that surface, eventually eating holes into it, creating a nasty situation that results in – gasp – ulcers! And not just in the stomach – that stomach acid passes down into the digestive tract, where it can cause even more ulcers to form.

    It’s been said that there are just two kinds of domestic horses – those with ulcers and those who haven’t developed them yet. And these sweet, magnificent beasts can’t even tell us, in a way that most of us understand, that it hurts. They do give us the signals, but few of us seem to recognize them for what they are, and the horse just goes through life with stomach pain.

    Here are some of the signals:
    Poor performance
    Attitude changes
    Poor coat
    Poor body condition
    Tucked-up appearance
    Poor appetite
    Colic

    And more: a normally calm horse might…
    Kick inside the trailer
    Pin ears when being mounted for riding
    Flinch, bite or kick when girth tightened
    Act up in general

    Thus far, we’ve described the most common cause of ulcer development – constantly allowing our horse’s stomach to cycle between empty and full. Now let’s examine another cause, one that is actually a complication of cause number one and is particularly frustrating – excessive administration of NSAIDS, especially Bute.

    Bute is the most effective and most common high potency analgesic we give to our horses. It’s almost as common in treating horses as aspirin is to you and me. And it certainly is effective – but the horse pays a price, and sometimes a very heavy one, because Bute is a double-barreled remedy. Its chemical composition causes it to suppress two important enzymes. Enzyme One is responsible for the secretion of the stomach coating that protects its lower half from the destructive effect of its own stomach acid. Enzyme Two is responsible for allowing pain to be felt anywhere in the body.

    To explain, let’s consider a hypothetical: our horse is laminitic. We want to eliminate the pain, and so we dose him with Bute. Bute suppresses Enzyme Two, reducing or eliminating the pain – a good thing. But Bute also suppresses Enzyme One, preventing the protective stomach layer from forming – a bad thing. Now our horse is more comfortable with his pain reduced, but he’s vulnerable to the development of stomach ulcers because the stomach wall is unprotected. An occasional one mg dose of Bute is unlikely to result in an ulcer. But one mg twice a day for an extended period – common practice for treatment of laminitis and founder, for example – greatly increases the potential for those dreaded ulcers to develop, and we’ve got us a Hobson’s Choice.

    However, there is help. A large number of pharmaceuticals are available to counteract the effects of an ulcer, even to prevent its development in the first place. These include GastroGard, UlcerGard, Ranitidine, Sucralfate, Ulc-Rid, Succeed, Nutrient Buffer, among others. These preparations are effective to varying degrees, and the one thing they have in common is that they are expensive.

    Fortunately, a lower-cost, highly effective, non-pharmaceutical option is also available: lecithin. Lecithin replaces that stomach-protecting layer, lost when Bute suppresses Enzyme One. Lecithin is chemically very similar to that layer, which means that by replacing what Bute destroys, it counters Bute’s negative effect. Studies have confirmed that not only does lecithin reduce stomach injury, in some cases it even eliminates existing ulceration. What’s particularly impressive, it provides this protection without modifying the effectiveness of Bute as a pain killer. And adding icing to the cake, lecithin is readily available and comparatively inexpensive!

    We’re getting a little complicated, so let’s take a moment and recap the major points:

    Stomach acid: for ourselves, we think of it only when it’s backing up into our esophagus and causing heartburn. But it is absolutely vital. It initiates digestion of ingested food. For the horse, it is also his defense against all those microbes that accompany every bite of grass. But it can burn holes in his unprotected stomach.

    Protective stomach coating: a secreted substance known as a phospholipid. It protects the stomach wall from its own digestive acid.

    Bute (et al): an analgesic, especially important to horses, with a side-effect that results in the loss of the stomach-protective coating, leaving the horse vulnerable to developing ulcers.

    Commercially available ulcer medication, mostly pharmaceutical: treats and sometimes cures and prevents ulcers; expensive.

    Lecithin: a naturally occurring substance abundantly found in animal and plant cell membranes. As with pharmaceutical products, lecithin can prevent development of ulcers, even eliminate them. Relatively inexpensive.

    Just what is lecithin and where do we get it? Lecithin is also a phospholipid, very similar to the natural stomach protective coating, capable of supporting or replacing it. Soy beans are the primary source for commercially prepared lecithin. It is extracted from soybean oil during processing, and undergoes further processing to make it easily edible and palatable.

    Lecithin granules are available on-line. Search around, you’ll find it as low as about $5 per pound. If you dose your horse with one cup per day, he’ll be getting about five ounces of lecithin granules; thus one pound will last about three days, costing about $1.65 per day. The compounded anti-ulcer medications mentioned earlier range between $5 and $50 per day.

    Domestication has resulted in a fundamental change in the horse’s natural eating habits to the extent that he is much more subject to the development of gastric and intestinal ulcers. But we can counter that very negative result in two major ways. Where feasible, we can structure his daily routine to ensure he’ll have something in his stomach almost constantly. Where we can’t make that change, we can provide him regularly with effective medications to help his system fight off the development of an ulcer, and do so at  reasonable cost. Either way, we’ll be making a happier, healthier horse – and that’s a nice benefit to us, as well.

  • Vitamin C

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    Previously, we have discussed two important fat soluble vitamins which serve an important anti-oxidant function in the horse, vitamin A and E.  We will continue to discuss anti-oxidants as we transition to the water soluble vitamins essential to the health and well-being of the horse.  As humans, we are probably very familiar with vitamin C or ascorbic acid/ascorbate, as it is a commonly supplemented vitamin.  After all, who hasn’t reached for an orange in order to get their share of this important vitamin (Despite the fact there are many more nutrionally dense sources of vitamin C!)?  People often turn to vitamin C during times of stress or illness, especially the common cold, to try and fight off pathogens.  But what does vitamin C do in the horse, and should you be supplementing it?

    Typically, most individuals are familiar with vitamin C’s role as an anti-oxidant, but it also serves as a co-factor for a host of enzymes.  Specifically, vitamin C is necessary for the formation of collagen, which appears throughout the body in connective tissue of tendons, ligaments, blood vessels etc.  Vitamin C also is necessary for the synthesis of carnitine (the molecule which allows fatty acids to be transferred into the mitochondria for oxidation) as well as tyrosine and other neurotransmitters.  Vitamin C supplementation, along with other anti-oxidants, has actually been shown to improve cognitive disfunction in aging dogs.

    Vitamin C is synthesized in horses, but not in man, guinea pigs or a variety of other species.  Therefore in humans, vitamin C is a dietary necessity, but it is not required  in the diet of the average horse.  The horse is capable of converting glucose through a variety of enzymatic reactions into ascorbic acid. This synthesis is adequate in most scenarios.  So when might vitamin C be beneficial to the horse?   Presumably when there is a need for greater amounts of anti-oxidants in the body.
    We have discussed the role of anti-oxidants before.  The body uses oxygen as the final electron acceptor in the electron transport chain during the capture of energy in the form of ATP.  Normally this process produces a harmless, and even useful byproduct – water.  However, a small proportion of these reactions does not go according to plan, but instead creates a harmful molecules known as reactive oxygen species or ROS.  In actuality, the formation of free radicals is a normal part of metabolism and serves as cell signaling systems.  In fact, the creation of free radicals stimulates the adaptive response seen with athletic training.  Therefore, we should not aim to eliminate their presence entirely.  However, in excess, these free radicals can do immense damage to the body as they damage DNA, cell membranes etc.  Reactive oxygen species have been implicated in carcinogenesis, aging, cognitive function etc.  Ascorbate aids in the anti-oxidant cascade by regenerating the reduced form of vitamin E and other anti-oxidants.

    Horses which are intensely exercised will naturally produce a greater number of reactive oxygen species due to the increased rate of metabolism.  It is not uncommon for those individuals involved in more strenuous equine sports (endurance rides, three day eventing etc.) to routinely supplement their horses with anti-oxidants.  In studies which have examined the use of vitamin C in horses, there appears to be a difference in response relative to the intensity of the work being performed.  In polo ponies, plasma ascorbic acid was higher in ponies which were considered to be more intensely working than the lighter worked ponies, despite both groups receiving supplemental vitamin C.  Similarly, endurance horses supplemented with vitamin C had a higher plasma ascorbic acid level at the beginning of the race compared to the control horses, but the difference between plasma vitamin C levels  between the two groups grew smaller throughout the race.   The unsupplemented horses actually increased their plasma ascorbic acid levels throughout the race, presumably through the mobilization of body stores.  This differed in previous studies which showed a decrease in plasma ascorbic acid in more intensely worked horses.  This drop in ascorbic acid has also been reported in heavily raced sled dogs. Thus it may be the level of exercise which is important. Certainly this makes sense as the level of effort increases, the metabolic rate must increase and the greater percentage of ROS will be produced.   Although lacking in concrete data, it appears that additional vitamin C may be beneficial for heavily exercised horses.

    Exercise is not the only form of stress which horses may experience.  Plasma vitamin C levels have been seen to be lower in horses following surgeries, traumatic wounds, strangles and episodes of exercised induced pulmonary hemorrhage.  Horses with recurrent airway obstruction also have had lower plasma ascorbic acid levels, and supplementation appears to be helpful in creating better exercise tolerance and reduced airway inflammation.  Supplementation of vitamin C also appears to help aged horses enhance their immune system and improves their response to vaccinations.  Horses do appear to tolerate large doses of vitamin C quite well, horses received 20 g /d of ascorbic acid for 8 months with no measureable negative response.  However, it has been shown that horses decrease their own natural synthesis of vitamin C when supplemented.  Therefore, when the supplement is removed, horses will have a lower plasma concentration of vitamin C compared to normal.  Therefore, prolonged supplementation may be ill advised.  Overall, like all vitamins previously discussed, supplementation of vitamin C should not be done without careful consideration of whether or not the horse would truly benefit from supplementation.

  • Vitamin K

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    This month we will wrap up our discussion of the fat soluble vitamins with a vitamin that is not discussed all that often in regards to horses, vitamin K.  Vitamin K is actually a family of fat soluble vitamins from both plant and animal origins. Vitamin K in the diet occurs in the form of phylloquinone,  which is found in plants.  Phylloquinone can be converted to menaquinone via intestinal bacteria, or by other tissues within the animal.  Menaquinone is the active form of the vitamin for animals.  Most people recognize vitamin K’s role in blood clotting, but it is also a part of bone metabolism, vascular health, and even brain metabolism.

    Vitamin K acts to cause the carboxylation of glutamate (an amino acid) in proteins.  This carboxylation reaction allows proteins to bind to Ca.  This is a key part of the cascade of events which occur during blood clotting.  Vitamin K deficiency is typically seen as a decreased ability to clot blood, or internal hemorrhaging.  Vitamin K is also important for the action of osteocalcin, which is a hormone needed for bone metabolism.  It is thought that supplementing vitamin K may help with osteoporosis in the elderly. Luckily in horses, deficiencies of vitamin K from consuming a nutritionally inadequate diet have not been reported.  The amount of phylloquinones present in green forages combined with the menaquinone production in the body leave little reason for supplementation.  If supplementation is desired, both phylloquinones and menaquinones have wide safety margins.  However, menadione has been linked with toxicity issues when given at manufacturer’s recommendations.  Typically vitamin K would only need to be administered to horse’s if they are on a therapeutic regimen of warfarin, an anti-clotting drug.

    However, it is possible for horses to become vitamin K deficient by consuming substances which interfere with vitamin K.  Dicoumarol is a substance which is an antagonist of vitamin K, and blocks the blood clotting cascade.   Coumarin is the original chemical which is converted to dicoumarol by fungi. Clovers naturally contain a high content of coumarin, which in and of itself has no ability to affect coagulation. It is only through the action of fungi which transforms coumarin to dicourmarol.  Thus, moldy sweet clover hays are to be avoided.  Unfortunately the mold may not always be visually detectable.  Luckily, this syndrome, often referred to as sweet clover poisoning, rarely occurs on pasture.  It is important when creating clover hay that adequate drying time is achieved, which decreases the likelihood of molding.  However, this is often difficult when drying clovers due to their coarser stem.  Crimping may help decrease drying time and help to avoid molding.  Large round bales, especially the outer layer of hay, tend to be much higher in mold content.  Overall, sweet clover poisoning is seen much more commonly in cattle than it is in horses, but is not unheard of.  Unfortunately, as dicoumarol poisoning results in internal bleeding, it is often hard to detect in animal which has been exposed.  Stiffness of gait may be an indicator due to bleeding within the muscle.  Unfortunately it is often death that results in diagnosis.  As it is almost impossible to determine visually if sweet clover hay contains dicoumarol it is often recommended to be avoided.  If not, sweet clover hay can be fed intermittently with a high quality alfalfa which is high in vitamin K.   Feeding sweet clover hay for a period of no more than 7-10 days is recommended. No animals which may soon undergo surgery or parturition should be given sweet clover hay for the period of four weeks prior.  Overall, it may just be easier to forego sweet clover hay altogether.

    Next month we will begin discussion of the many water soluble vitamins, their functions, and requirements by the horse.

  • Vitamin E

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    We have already discussed two of the fat soluble vitamins in a horse’s diet. This month we continue with a closer look at vitamin E, a vitamin which is commonly supplemented to horses for a variety of reasons.  It is often used for aging horses, horses which have muscle disorders and horses which undergo strenuous exercise.  But how do you know if your own horse needs more vitamin E in its diet?

    First, let’s explore the role of vitamin E in your horse’s body.  Vitamin E occurs in a variety of forms (both tocopherols and tocotrienols).  Of these, there are then four subgroups, α, γ, β and δ. While γ is the most common in the natural diet, the alpha form is the most potent in activity, the most supplemented and the subject of most studies.   In their natural diet, horses receive the most vitamin E as γ tocopherol from growing forages or harvested forage that was cut at an immature state.  As the plant ages, vitamin E decreases in content.  Vitamin E concentration also decays over time in harvested forages, as much as 50% over one month.  Therefore, older hays which have been stored for some time will have little activity.  If you also feed non-processed concentrates  to your horse (such as oats, barley, corn etc.) they will also be low in vitamin E. However, most commercial equine feeds will be supplemented vitamin E, usually as α tocopherol acetate.   It can be provided as either natural α tocopherol or synthetic, with natural forms having 36% more biological activity than synthetic.  The natural form has been shown to increase plasma α tocopherol concenrations greater than its synthetic counterpart but both are effective supplements.

    (This is the structure of alpha tocopherol.)

    Despite its form, vitamin E’s function is most frequently thought of as an anti-oxidant.  Vitamin E can work to eliminate free radicals which are formed through the incomplete oxidation of oxygen or other molecules.  During normal metabolism some amount of free radicals are always formed.  However, stress, work, aging, poor nutrition etc can increase the amount of free radicals in the body.  These are essentially molecules which are missing an electron, making  them highly reactive.   This is an unstable condition and the free radical can remove electrons from other cell components, such as lipids, cell membranes etc.  Vitamin E, along with other anti-oxidants donates an electron to the free radical, thus stabilizing it and preventing further damage.  One oxidized, vitamin E itself must be reduced back to its active form.  This is usually accomplished through the action of other anti-oxidants in the body such as ascorbic acid or glutathione peroxidase.  As the cells of the immune system have a high amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids which are quite susceptible to damage by free radicals, vitamin E plays a vital role in the optimization of the immune system.  Furthermore, vitamin E plays a role in reproduction, gene transcription and platelet aggregation.

    (Traditional concentrates such as just corn and oats may be relatively low in vitamin E content.)

    Currently, vitamin E is recommended to be fed to maintenance horses and breeding horses at 1 IU/kg of body weight (not sure if your horse is a maintenance horse, see Energy Requirements).  Growing horses  and lactating mares are suggested to need more vitamin E in their diet, at double the rate of maintenance horses or 2 IU/kg body weight.  Vitamin E intake for the working horse may need to be a bit higher.  While the current recommendation for working horses is 1.8 IU/kg body weight for moderate work and 2 IU per kg body weight for heavy work, many research studies have provided Vitamin E at higher levels.  Supplementation rates from 150-250 IU/kg DM, 300 IU /kg DM or even as high as 11.1 IU kg/body weight (in a simulated endurance race) have been found to be necessary to maintain blood and muscle concentration of vitamin E in more rigorously exercised horses.  To make these values seem more familiar, if we assume we are feeding a 500 kg horse 2% of its body weight, than the range of vitamin E would be between 1500 – 5500 IU of vitamin E per day in these studies.

    Therefore, Vitamin E is often part of the suggested management protocols for horses which are heavily exercising or may have muscle disorders. In fact, in a study looking at endurance horses and supplementation of Vitamin E, the authors were unable to create a control group as no riders were willing to not supplement their horses!  However,i t has been difficult to prove the effectiveness of supplementation for the enhancement of the horse’s health.  In exercised horses receiving 300 IU/kg DM of vitamin E compared to 80 IU/kg DM, or no supplementation of vitamin E, the higher rate of supplementation did increase the muscle concentration of vitamin E.  However, it did not affect the indicators of oxidative stress in the muscle following a submaximal exercise test.  Perhaps a difference would have been observed with a more aggressive exercise regimen.  More recently, horses supplemented at a rate of 3000 IU per day of vitamin E compared to 80 IU/kg DM, underwent a training protocol.  The anti-oxidant capacity of all the horses increased following training, which is a natural adaptation to exercise.  There were no differences in reduced or oxidized glutathione peroxidase at rest, or total glutathione peroxidase.  However after a standard exercise test, the horses receiving 3000 IU vitamin E did have more reduced gluthathione peroxidase, suggesting a greater anti-oxidant capacity. Horses exercised to fatigue following 8 weeks of supplementation of 3000 IU of vitamin E had less muscle oxidation as measured by myofibril carbonylation( a measure of protein oxidation).

    (Heavily exercised horses may need more vitamin E in their diet than maintenance horses or lightly worked horses.)
    Determining if your horse has a vitamin E deficiency may not be as straight forward as taking a blood sample.  It has been shown that the concentration of vitamin E in the horse’s blood  varies irrespective of diet.  In one study, the variation within an individual horse in a 72 hr period would have shown the same horse as more than adequate in vitamin E, to marginal as well as deficient.  Therefore, it may be more important to look at your feeding regimen and the feedstuffs your horse consumes to determine whether or not they may have a deficiency.  The diet your horse is on may also affect his vitamin E needs.  Vitamin E is protective against the peroxidation of lipids in the body, especially the polyunsaturated fatty acids.  Horses which consume diets higher in PUFAs, which is certainly recommended in many cases, may increase the need for anti-oxidants in the body to prevent lipid perodixation.  Thankfully, many sources of PUFAs may be higher in vitamin E content.

    If your horse is older, they may also be a candidate for vitamin E supplementation.  As horses’ age, their body systems may not function at the same level seen in their younger years.  As in people, the immune system of our aged horses may begin to fail.  When horses over 20 years of age were vaccinated for influenza, they were unable to mount the same immune response as their younger counterparts.  Therefore, older horses may be prime candidates for supplements which are known to complement the immune system.  In older horses fed vitamin E at 15 IU/kg of body weight, the bacterial killing ability of specific immune cells was increased, along with an increase in some, but not all, of the specific types of immunoglobins (or antibody).  However, in this study, the horses were previously on a marginally deficient amount of vitamin E. Therefore, it is not known whether it was the correction of the deficiency or the over supplementation that yielded positive effects.
    Horses are fairly tolerant of relatively high amounts of vitamin E in the diet.  The upper range of vitamin E intake has been set at 1,000 IU/kg of DM. To think of this in more common terms, we will do a brief example using an 1100 lb horse that consumes 2% of its body weight.  Thus this horse would typically consume 22 lbs of feed per day.  We will convert this to kg to look at our total amount of vitamin E the horse should ever safely consume.  22 lbs of feed is equivalent to 10 kg of feed. Thus, the upper range of safe intake of vitamin E is 10,000 IU per day for a 500 kg horse.

    However, vitamin E should not be used without caution.  In human medicine supplementation of vitamin E has not always yielded positive results, and if fact can actually enhance the disease state.  In humans undergoing heavy exercise, vitamin E supplementation actually decreased some of the positive adaptations to exercise.  In addition, heavy supplementation has been actually linked to mortality. As always, supplementation is never the answer for a properly balanced diet.   Overzealous  supplementation may actually work against your horse’s health!  But if your horse is older, more heavily worked or has added poly-unsaturated fatty acids in its diet, you might want to examine your diet for its Vitamin E content.

    Next month we will finish our discussion of the fat soluble vitamins with vitamin K.

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