Nutritional Series Kicks Off in Lexington, Ky.

In the first of a new series of nutritional talks sponsored by Buckeye Nutrition, 30 veterinarians from Lexington, Ky., and surrounding areas attended a dinner and a presentation on Feb. 11. Kent Thompson, PhD, Buckeye Nutrition's Director of Equine Nutrition, discussed properly feeding the athletic horse. Thompson has also been an assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Science at the University of Kentucky's Gluck Equine Research Center, manager of equine nutrition and research for Purina Mills, and an assistant professor of Midway College in Kentucky.

"We held the event to build a better working relationship between veterinarians, Buckeye Nutrition, and the general public," said district sales manager Lyndsey White, who organized the dinner. "We also wanted to increase client education."

Thompson kicked off his talk saying, "I'm a real believer in fat for horses. Most horses can benefit from fat. Any age and lifestyle can benefit."

To meet the needs of an athletic horse, the horse's nutritional program must increase nutrient storage in the body, enhance muscle and bone strength, strengthen cardiovascular capacity, and enhance overall health.

Thompson discussed various components needed for the performance horse diet--energy, protein, vitamins, minerals, and water. Nutrient needs will differ by discipline, he said. For instance, the needs of a trail horse will be very different than those of a racehorse.

To fuel the machine, the horse needs to be fed 30,000 calories or more per day. Calories can be found in different sources. These include fiber, which is broken down by microbes in the hindgut; soluble carbohydrates, such as those found in grain, which are absorbed in the small intestine; and fat, which is digested in the small intestine. As you go from light work (trail riding, pleasure riding) to moderate work (cutting, jumping, roping) to intense work (racing, polo, endurance), energy needs go up dramatically.

Thompson said fat can allow an owner to provide twice the number of calories with less problems than those same calories supplied as grains. Fat acts as a metabolic regulator, is important in growth and for use in exercise, and can benefit obese horses which are insulin resistant. Sources of fat include vegetable oils and animal fat. Corn and soybean oil are more palatable than flaxseed, rice bran oil, and coconut oil. Animal fat is an inconsistent, lower-quality feed ingredient, which can throw a horse off his feed, according to Thompson.

Scientific studies over the past few decades have shown fat to be safe and beneficial. One study found that long-term feeding of fat did not influence blood parameters and none of the horses in the study experienced adverse effects. It has been shown that feeding some horses fat can reduce excitability. In some instances, this better behavior has improved performance.

Fat intake has been shown to improve muscle glycogen levels, which peak at 12% fat in the diet. High fat intake will delay lactate accumulation and delay onset of fatigue. It will also reduce the reliance of carbohydrates for energy, again delaying fatigue. Heat production is lowered with a high-fat (i.e., 10%) diet, allowing the horse to stay cooler during competition and exercise.

The horse needs approximately 1,400 grams of protein per day for muscle building. Thompson emphasized that quality of protein, and its amino acids, is important. When looking for a feed, lysine and threonine should be included for growth, lactation, and muscle development.

Higher protein might lower muscle glycogen content and increase heat production, thus increasing fatigue by increasing acidity in the muscle. In addition, the horse will consume more water and produce more ammonia. Thompson cautioned against feeding more than 1,700 grams per day. He recommended a grain mix of at least 13% crude protein be fed.

Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, and E. The performance horse's diet should include 25,000 International Units (IU) per day of vitamin A and 3,000 IU per day of vitamin E. Water-soluble vitamins, such as C and the B vitamins, are usually met internally by the horse, although the stressed horse will need more. Supplementing vitamin B-complex can be helpful for the horse under stress.

Minerals are used in muscle contraction and nerve impulses. Electrolytes, such as sodium chloride, potassium, and magnesium, are lost through sweat. Thompson cited that one liter of sweat contains 130-160 grams of sodium and 165-175 grams of chloride. A horse is capable of losing 10-20 liters of sweat per day under heavy exercise. Thompson cautioned against over-supplementation of electrolytes since any extra amounts are wasted in urine.

Water is lost in urine, respiration, and feces. Exercise can increase water needs by 20-300%. The resting horse will consume 20-30 liters of water per day, while the exercising horse will consume 24-90 liters while exercising.

After the presentation, veterinarians asked questions of Thompson and White about the materials presented and products offered by Buckeye. White said that Buckeye Nutrition plans to sponsor more educational seminars in the future. For more information, contact Nicole Hall at 800/537-8136, ext. 148. Founded in 1910, Buckeye Nutrition offers feed for horses, dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, poultry, livestock, and exotic animals. Buckeye Nutrition is based in Dalton, Ohio, and dealers can be found in 31 states and 33 countries.


About the Author

Sarah Evers Conrad

Sarah Evers Conrad has a bachelor’s of arts in journalism and equine science from Western Kentucky University. As a lifelong horse lover and equestrian, Conrad started her career at The Horse: Your Guide to Equine Health Care magazine. She has also worked for the United States Equestrian Federation as the managing editor of Equestrian magazine and director of e-communications and served as content manager/travel writer for a Caribbean travel agency. When she isn’t freelancing, Conrad spends her free time enjoying her family, reading, practicing photography, traveling, crocheting, and being around animals in her Lexington, Kentucky, home.

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