Equestrian Health

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Read About Vitamin and Mineral Requirements for Horses

Horse Health Supplements
Vitamin Requirements For Your Horse

Vitamins are vital to maintaining good health, so a good understanding of what vitamins actually do for the body is very important. Below you will find a listing of some of the major vitamins, their function and effect on the body. Included are recommended supplements for particular vitamins. Please Note: Your veterinarian should always be consulted regarding the diet and vitamin/mineral/nutrient intake of your horse.

Fat-soluble, antioxidant vitamin. Important for proper eye function, healthy skin and hooves. Needed to maintain healthy epithelial tissue in the respiratory, digestive and reproductive tracts. Regulates bone development in young growing horses.

DEFICIENCY: In horses, Vitamin A deficiency can cause night blindness, prolonged shedding, progressive weakness, sensitivity to light, excessive tearing, dry hair coat, anorexia, diarrhea, decreased growth, impaired mineral deposition, impaired intestinal absorption and susceptibility to infections of the respiratory and reproductive tracts.

TOXICITY: Too much Vitamin A in horses has been known to cause bone fragility, abnormal growth of bone tissue and sloughing off of epithelial tissue.

A group of water soluble vitamins which are necessary for the metabolism of nutrients (fats, carbohydrates and proteins). Excess levels of water soluble vitamins are usually excreted in urine.

Thiamin is required for the metabolism of carbohydrates and helps with the proper function of the nervous system.

DEFICIENCY: Thiamin deficiency in horses can cause abnormal slowing of the heart rate (bradycardia), muscular incoordination (ataxia), localized muscular contractions which are visible under the skin, periodic hypothermia of the extremities, skipped heartbeats and loss of appetite and weight.

Riboflavin is essential for energy metabolism and nervous system function. Contained in leafy, green hay and good pasture forage.

DEFICIENCY: Deficiency has not been found in horses. Symptoms of deficiency in other species include rough hair coat, atrophy (wasting away) of the outer skin and hair follicles, dermatitis (skin inflammation), conjunctivitis (inflammation of the tissue covering the eyeball) with discharge, abnormal light sensitivity and excessive tearing.

Vitamin B-12’s most important functions are to assist in the production of red blood cells and in the utilization of proteins, fats and carbohydrates in feed. B-12 helps convert propionic acid, a primary volatile fatty acid produced via synthesis in the gut. Many horsemen believe that B-12 builds hemoglobin in red blood cells, which increases the oxygen transport capacity of the blood, thus making supplementation useful for racehorses.

DEFICIENCY: Vitamin B-12 is the only B vitamin which is not produced by plants. B-12 deficiencies have not been reported in horses, however, it is generally accepted that horses that are stressed, anemic, have severe parasitic conditions or are in generally poor health may benefit from supplementation. Horses who ingest poor quality forages may also benefit. Symptoms of deficiency in other species include anemia, poor appetite, weight loss, irritability, poor growth, impaired reproductive performance, rough hair coat, hindquarter incoordination and unsteady gait. Neurological problems have also been associated with B-12 deficiency.

Niacin is a term for 2 compounds with equal nutritional value: nicotinic acid and nicotinamide. Niacin is essential to respiration on a cellular level and also to metabolism. It is believed niacin is synthesized by bacteria in the hindgut. The amino acid tryptophan must be present for synthesis of niacin to occur.

Pantothenic acid is a part of several important coenzymes, and plays a part in protein, fat and carbohydrate utilization. In most cases, the horse’s body can synthesize adequate amounts.

Folacin is a group of related substances of which folic acid is the most useful form in good nutrition. Folacin is necessary for the formation of red blood cells and cell metabolism. It also acts as a coenzyme for several enzymes involved in metabolism.

DEFICIENCY: Folic acid deficiency has not been identified in the equine, but a type of anemia due to folic acid deficiency has been found in other species. Active stabled horses, particularly racehorses can benefit from folic acid supplements.

Biotin plays an important role as a coenzyme in the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Biotin supplementation has been show in studies to improve a poor quality hoof by strengthening the hoof wall.

DEFICIENCY: Extremely rare, never documented in the equine. Considerable amounts are synthesized by intestinal microflora, but if mold is present in the horse’s feed it can inhibit the body’s ability to utilize biotin.

Pyroxidine is a vital part of the enzyme system and very important to the metabolism of proteins, fats and carbohydrates. It is also vital to the normal function of the nervous and immune systems. The essential amino acid tryptophan also depends on pyroxidine for its utilization. Adequate amounts of riboflavin and niacin are required in the diet for pyroxidine to be used nutritionally.

Water-soluble, antioxidant. Essential to the formation of collagen (an essential component of cartilage), lysine, an essential amino acid and proline, a non-essential amino acid. It is also believed to interact with iron and many B-complex vitamins. Vitamin C is synthesized in the liver and other body cells. Studies suggest supplementation reduces epistaxis (bleeding from the nose), increases sperm quality and improves breeding performance.

DEFICIENCY: Deficiency of Vitamin C has not been reported in horses, however, supplements may be useful during hot weather and periods of stress, growth and high performance.

Fat soluble vitamin. Promotes the proper absorption, transportation and metabolism of calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D is critical to proper growth. It is fat soluble, so some amounts are stored in the liver and fatty tissues. The 2 major sources of Vitamin D are sunlight and sun cured hay. Supplements are usually required by stabled horses with limited or no time outdoors.

DEFICIENCY: In experimental conditions, Vitamin D deficiency caused reduced growth rate, bone weakness, failure of normal bone calcification, increased bone demineralization, lameness and loss of appetite. Vitamin D deprivation also caused large amounts of calcium to be excreted in the feces.

TOXICITY: Excess Vitamin D causes improper transport of calcium, thus causing calcium deposits in soft tissues. Results in loss of proper joint function, calcification (hardening) of soft tissues and abnormal enlargement of the skull and jaw. Consult your vet before feeding. Ingestion of Wild Jasmine, a noxious weed, produces similar symptoms to Vitamin D toxicity.

Fat soluble, antioxidant. Essential for growth, proper muscle development and function, oxygen transport and red blood cell stability. Believed important to the proper function equine immune system. Acts as a vasodilator: a compound which opens up blood vessels so that blood flows more freely through tissues. Also a cellular level antioxidant which prevents formation of toxic oxide compounds in the tissues during periods of intense exercise. Closely related to selenium.

DEFICIENCY: Vitamin E deficiency in horses causes swelling of the joints, muscle degeneration and ataxia (loss of coordination). Also linked to a form of wobblers syndrome, a disease which affects the spinal cord and column.

Mineral Requirements For Horses

Equine mineral needs are among the major concerns of most horse owners, regardless of the type or size of horse involvement. Many articles appear in the popular Press regarding potential mineral benefits for enhanced performance, prevention or curing disease and remedying a host of common production problems. An aura of mysticism has historically surrounded minerals, due to the complex mineral interactions occurring with various body processes and the lack of accurate, controlled research on the horse’s mineral needs.

This report is intended to provide the reader with a summary of the known mineral needs of horses and the mineral composition of selected hays and grains. The report briefly identifies the estimated mineral requirements of horses based on recommendations from the National Research Council’s Nutrient Requirements of Horses (NRC, 1989).

Estimated Requirements for Different Classes of Horses
Table 1 lists the estimated mineral requirements for various horse classes based on NRC recommendations. The NRC is the scientific body responsible for evaluating research findings and making recommendations for horse nutrient requirements. These recommended mineral concentrations are based on typical diet consumption levels. Mineral concentrations are expressed as a percent (%) of total diet or parts per million (ppm)on a dry matter basis. Parts per million is equivalent to milligrams of mineral per kilogram of diet (mg/kg).

Calcium and Phosphorus
Calcium (Ca) and phosphorus (P) will be discussed together because of the close metabiolic interaction of these minerals. Although active in many body processes, the primary requirement for Ca and P is related to bone development. As such, rations developed for growing horses must have well-defined Ca and P levels. The dietary need is related to growth rate, so current requirement recommendations must be related to daily energy consumption. Weanlings require a relatively large concentration of Ca and P, as compared to other growing horses, due to their rapid bone development. The requirements for both minerals increase in late gestation for fetal development and in lactation to replace losses in milk. The metabolic interaction of Ca and P has long been recognized. Bone structure of horses will be weakened by consuming rations containing more P than Ca. Therefore, it is recommended that rations never contain Ca to P ratios below one. Optimally, it is recommended that rations contain 1.5 to 2 times more Ca than P.

In addition to its role in energy metabolism, magnesium (Mg) is an important skeletal component. Compared with Ca and P, the requirement for Mg is relatively small. During gestation and lactation, horses require slightly higher Mg intake and have denser rations similar to Ca and P. Because large amounts of Mg can be lost through sweat, diets fed to working horses must contain a slightly larger concentration of the mineral. Compared to Ca and P, research evaluating Mg deficiency or toxicity is limited. However, problems related to Mg deficiency and grass tetany in cattle are of less concern in horses. Maximum acceptable concentrations are based on research with other species because specific information has not been reported for horses.

Potassium (K) is heavily involved with maintaining proper cellular pH and osmotic environment. Requirements for K are comparable to Ca and P. Like Mg, increased concentrations are recommended for mares in production and working horses.

Sodium (Na) and K have similar functions. Like many minerals, the horse’s body regulates Na levels by controlling urinary loss. Because of the high Na loss in sweat, rations fed to working horses must contain a larger Na concentration.

Iron (Fe) is classified as a trace mineral because it, like several other minerals, is needed in small amounts. Although Fe is classified as a trace mineral, it is of major concern in working horses, due to its close association with hemoglobin in the blood oxygen carrying system. As a result, it commonly is oversupplemented. Deficiencies are not a practical problem, although iron toxicities have been reported to cause death.

Zinc (Zn) has recently received much research because of its reported relationship in developmental leg disorders. Several studies have been conducted in the last five years to better define the need of Zn for growing horses. Recommended Zn concentrations are the same for all horse classes. Although horses are generally tolerant of Zn excesses, there are reports of developmental leg disorders in horses fed large amounts of the mineral, possibly due to the interaction of Zn and copper.

Copper (Cu) is another of the trace minerals with many functions in the horse, a major one being cartilage development in growing horses. Deficiencies are associated with developmental bone disorders in growing horses. Maximal tolerable levels have been estimated to be 800 mg/kg diet.

Like Cu and Zn, manganese (Mn) is mostly associated with cartilage development in growing horses. Daily requirements are comparable to Zn requirements, although little direct horse research has been reported for this mineral.

The NRC does not currently list a requirement for molybdenum (Mo). Mo intakes of 1 to 9 ppm have been reported to interfere with Cu utilization in ruminants. Research has shown that horses are tolerant of larger Mo levels, so excesses appear to pose little problem in horses.

The horse’s sulfur(S) requirements have not been adequately evaluated such that recommendations can be made. Rations containing high quality protein sources are thought to provide sufficient S in the form of the S-containing amino acids. Sulfur functions in several different ways in the horse’s body; one important one is the development of supportive connective tissue. Although ruminants reportediy have developed Cu deficiencies when fed rations high in S, this has not been reported in horses.

Chloride (CI) has body functions overlapping Na and K. Though CI requirements have not been established, it is generally accepted that the CI needs are met when feeding enough salt (NaCI) to meet the Na requirements.

Selenium (Se) is another mineral that has received popular press attention. Placental irregularities, foal developmental disorders and muscle tetany have been suggested to be related to Se defldencies or excesses. Several U.S areas contain deficient or toxic amounts of Se in the soil, and problems with Se have been studied for many years in all classes of livestock. Maximum tolerable levels are estimated to be 20 times the requirement.

The Equestrian Health Coach offers guidance and support to riders of all levels who want to gain more energy, improve their diet and lifestyle, and ultimately perform their best in the ring!  – Kimball Willson, Founder and Health Coach

I use an individualized and multi-faceted approach to achieve results that are truly a lifelong improvement to your health.  My approach helps you gain more energy and improve your diet and lifestyle in a way that is flexible, fun and rewarding.

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