Archive for Horse Health
This year, 2013, the International Equitation Science Conference will be held in the US! This international conference will take place July 17-20, 2013 at the University of Delaware’s campus, Calyton Conference Center, Newark, Delaware and the Practical Day (Saturday, July 20) taking place at the New Bolton Center, University of Pennsylvania, Kennet Square, Pennsylvania. Yes, these locations are in separate states, but they are only about 20 miles apart!
I had the opportunity to attend the 2011 Conference in The Netherlands and in 2010 in Uppsala, Sweden while I was studying in the UK. The 2011 conference was held in southern Netherlands at the prestigious and well known Academy Bartels in Hooge Mierde in conjuction with Global Dressage Form, while the 201o0 Sweden conference was held in Uppsala.
Horse welfare and human safety: the importance of learning, training and education was the main theme of the conference held in Sweden. Training and education of horses and riders, from a scienfic as well as from a practical persepective were discussed. At the 2011 Netherland conference, how equitation science has developed as a discipline and how new innovations in technology can be used to improve practice was the main theme. This year’s conference theme will be embracing science to enhance equine welfare and horse-human interactions. It should be an interesting conference and one that I am excited to attend.
The International Society for Equitation Science (ISES) is a not for profit organization that aims to facilitate research into the training of horses to enhance horse welfare and improve the horse rider relationship.
ISES runs international conferences that serve as platforms where latest research finds and their application in practice can be communicated and discussed. ISES also provides a pool of expertise for international bodies and aademic institutions that approach ISES with questions related to horse behaviour, training and welfare.
ISES was founded by individuals from various equine fields of knowledge in 2007. Since then, equitation science has developed rapidly, not least because of the growing worldwide interest in thsi area amount equestrian professionals and aademics alike. ISES now unites a multi disciplinary membership of academics, students and interested practitioners worldwide.
Ah…the winter is almost gone in some parts of the country, while in others we are still encountering snow. However, the time is quickly approaching when we will be taking our horses out of their stalls and will start riding once again. Many horses will pick up where they left off, but for others, they may be a bit off.
At any time your horse is not performing up to your standards, you should consider a physical reason before assuming it is a result of poor behaviour. A performance evaluation at the start of a season can deal with pre-existing and hew problems before they become a bigger issue.
Performance evaluations are more inclusive than the typical pre-purchase or pre-season soundness exam. In this evaluation, your vet will first consider how things have gone in the past and if anything has changed: for example, prior lameness, energy limitations, certain activities where you horse resists like going down hills or certain transitions, weight and haircoat issues, different issues away from the home environment, etc. Then, your vet will take into account what you want to do this current year: higher level of dressage, higher jumps, more shows, longer trail rides, new rider, etc. In a performance evaluation, there are typically five (5) components to this exam.
- Resting physical and chiropractic exam: Palpation and motioning of all joints plus palpation of all muscles and tendons are performed revealing stiff/sore spots, decrease or increase in joint mobility and subtle swellings. When chiropractic issues are noticed, it is often best to correct them immediately before proceeding to complete the soundness exam as this would eliminate the compensatory issues and make it easier to determine if there are any underlying problems that are needed to deal with.
- Soundness exam: An evaluation of all gaits on hard ground, soft ground, and under saddle is done as some issues only show up under certain circumstances. Soft tissues often worsen in soft footing whereas arthritis worsens on hard ground or only when ridden, back/pelvic issues show up as lack of impulsion when ridden. Flexion tests of all joints and hoof testing evaluation of all feet are also important to look for .
- Respiratory and cardiovascular evaluation: Heart and lungs should be evaluated at rest and after a fairly intense exercise to look for issues that will limit exercise tolerance.
- Abdominal evaluation: Teeth are an important aspect of the abdominal system and very sensitive to rein pressure regardless of bit or head set. The number one reason for stomach ulcers is the stress of training and showing. We need to keep ulcers in the large colon, parasite damage, intestinal malabsorption due to aging, disease or nutritional compromise, liver/spleen/kidney changes and fecal examination.
- Vision evaluation: Examination of the eyes should be performed with pupil dilation to allow a thorough look at the retina and optic nerve. Check for cataracts, uveitis, damaged retina, optic nerve damage or shrinking, corneal scarring can lead to spooking or low level pain that would affect any willingness to work.
Performance evaluations are customized to each owner and your horse’s needs with the goal to determine what is pre-existing, what can be corrected or improved and what can be prevented. This exam will be very different for different equestrian disciplines such as a rope horse, barrel horse, trail horse or dressage horse. Speak to your veterinarian about performance evaluations before starting the show season.
Stories suggest that Curcumin, a traditional Chinese medicine, was used as far back as 10,000 years ago to treat pain. While Marco Polo was in China in 1280 AD, he wrote in his journal: “There is a vegetable which contains all the properties of true saffron. It also has the color and small, yet it is not actually saffron.” Turmeric, as far back as 1280 AD, has been used as a saffron substitute. Curcumin is one of the major healthful ingredients in the turmeric spice.
Horse owners have been using curcumin to reduce inflammation and pain in their horses rather than using bute. Curcumin reduces any inflammation and pain by inhibiting the cyclooxygenase enzyme 2 (COX-2) while keeping COX-1 enzymatic function which is good news as the COX-1 enzyme protects your horse’s stomach lining. The COX-2 inhibition is a better choice for pain control than the more commonly known drugs as bute, Banamine or aspirin. By using curcumin supplementation, not only will you be offering a natural approach that can be effective, but far less costly as well.
An appropriate dosage for horses has not yet established, although it is suggested that one tablespoon per day works well as a maintenance dose. If diarrhea or changes in your horse’s appetite occur, discontinue use. Do not administer any NSAID drugs along with turmeric/curcumin containing compounds.
Curcumin, a staple ingredient in Indian cooking, has been used for centuries to treat a list of conditions including diarrhea, respiratory infections, dermatitis and even cancerous tumors. Now, this ingredient which is easy to obtain in bulk can be used to keep your horse comfortable and pain-free.
Last week I moved my horses from Washington State back home to British Columbia and yesterday, once again, the importance of good farrier work was reinforced with respect to odd feet. Until recently the clinical significance of horses with uneven feet has been unclear. Five or 10 years ago it was common practice to make two odd feet look the same, mostly for aesthetic reasons. Perceived veterinary wisdom has pointed to odd feet being more widespread in lame horses, but until now there has been little definitive published proof of such problems
A recent detailed study published in the Equine Veterinary Journal has helped to confirm the clinical concerns surrounding odd feet.
It is an impressive piece of research involving more than 23,000 sport horses and analysis of this new statistical data reveals what many had long suspected:
• The risk of early retirement was higher for jumping than it was for dressage, and was higher at elite level than at the bottom end of the scale.
• The trait of having uneven feet tended to shorten the competitive life of dressage horses. It was also a significant risk factor at the elite level of jumping, where horses with uneven feet had almost double the risk of early retirement.
• Good conformation of the lower limbs is crucial for a reasonably prolonged duration of competitive life. It was concluded that uneven feet have a detrimental effect on the duration of competitive life in the sport horse population (especially for top show jumpers).
Modern farriery now provides horses with conformational defects such as odd feet with a much better long-term prognosis, as appropriate foot trimming and shoeing can help prevent problems with foals and manage defects in mature horses
The current school of thought is that asymmetric feet should be treated as individual limbs because their conformation will be different, the tension of each deep digital flexor tendon and other structures will be different and, if X-rays were taken, structurally the two would not match up.
The key to managing odd feet is to keep each individual foot properly balanced, as odd-sized feet often have an effect on the conformation of the whole horse, not just the lower limbs.
Along with equine nutritionists, I have been going on about testing hay especially for digestible energy. Over the past few years, feed companies have been providing quite a bit of information on their labels. Since we know the grain value, is testing hay now actually important? Why not just throw your horse 2 flakes of hay during the evening…and call it a day!
It is common sense that the amount of energy your horse needs rises in direct proportion to what you expect him to do, how fast, how long and how hard do you want him to perform. At the lowest end of the spectrum are the horses that are idle, pasture pals, while the opposite end of the scale are racehorses. Your horse more than likely falls somewhere in between.
Please be aware that work isn’t the only element that can raise your horse’s energy requirements above the maintenance level. Environmental conditions, his physical fitness, your horse’s personality, breed type and temperament, and metabolic types are just some of the factors that can play a role in energy requirement. Pregnancy and a horse’s size can also have something to do with energy requirements! So we need to be aware of many factors when we do our horse’s energy calculations.
Also note that not all the energy contained in the horse’s feed is fully accessible to your horse, Digestible Energy (DE) is what describes the usable portion of total energy, or Gross Energy (GE), so it is very important when you do test your hay to have the testing done for horses. Do not think that testing is just numbers and by sending it to a cattle lab is good enough! It is very important to know that DE is the portion of energy which is not lost in the horse’s feces. Please note that DE, however, does not take into account energy lost in urine and energy lost as heat in the actual digestion and absorption of food.
A second way of calculating the energy contents of feed is to use the familiar Calorie count - the amount of heat generated by burning to raise the temperature of a kilogram of water by one degree Celsius. A third way is using total digestible nutrients or TDN. This is generally expressed in either weight or percentages. TDN is the sum of a feed’s digestible carbohydrates, protein and fats multiplied by 2.25 (fats provide about 2.25 times more energy than carbohydrates or proteins). One kg TDN is equal to about 4.4 Mcal (when dealing with large animals including horses, nutritionists generally ugse Megacalorie (Mcal which is 1,000 kilocalories). Note: If you use TDB as your formula you MUST have the TDB value for horses not cattle. Cattle are much more efficient, digestion speaking, than horses so the calculations for energy available from forages (hay) are generally 5 – 15% higher. If you formulate your ration using the cattle TDN, you more than likely will be providing too little feed!
Horses that are nursing, growing, or doing heavy work have relatively high energy requirements. The list below contains the equations for calculating the energy requirements (DE) for different classes of horses:
Weanling: DE (Mcal/day) = 1.4 + (.0136 x BW) + (4.54 x ADG)
- Yearling: DE (Mcal/day) = 1.4 + (.0136 x BW) + (7.27 x ADG)
- 2 Yr. Old: DE (Mcal/day) = 1.4 + (.0136 x BW) + (9.1 x ADG)
- Maintenance: DE (Mcal/day) = 1.4 + (.0136 x BW)
- Early Pregnancy: DE (Mcal/day) = Maintenance DE
- Late Pregnancy: DE (Mcal/day) = Maintenance DE x 1.2
- Early lactation: DE (Mcal/day) = (Maintenance DE) + (.04 x BW x 0.36)
- Late lactation: DE (Mcal/day) = (Maintenance DE) + (.03 x BW x 0.36)
- Light work: DE (Mcal/day) = (Maintenance DE) x 1.25
- Moderate work: DE (Mcal/day) = (Maintenance DE) x 1.50
- Heavy work: DE (Mcal/day) = (Maintenance DE) x 2
BW = body weight in pounds.
ADG = the average daily gain (ADG) in pounds per day (weanlings = 1.75 lbs; yearling = 1.25 lbs; 2 year olds = 0.50 lbs).
Early Pregnancy is the first 8 months of pregnacy while the late pregnancy is the last 3 months of pregnancy.
Early lactation is the first 3 months of lactation and late lactation is the second 3 months of lactation.
As a general rule, your horse if given the opportunity, will choose to eat enough feed to meet their energy needs. That’s why this writer believes this is one reason to offer your horse hay 24/7! However, as an example a light-working horse, DE should be 20.5 Mcal/day. From the hay analysis, hay may have .76 to .94 Mcal/pounds or higher of DE. You can understand why having your hay analyzed is a great idea as it is the only way to determine the actual nutrient content of the hay. Once this is established you will be sure your horse is consuming an adequate diet and you’ll be able to adjust his hay requirements appropriately.
By: Larissa Cox
We all know that it is very important to provide our horses with the best quality forage available as this is their primary source of nutrition. Forage quality refers to a forage’s potential to meet the nutritional needs of a particular animal. For example, a hay that meets all the nutritional needs of a lactating dairy cow, would not meet the nutritional needs of a pleasure horse. Make sure to keep the needs of your horse in mind when evaluating forage quality.
The stage of maturity at harvest plays a major role in determining the quality of a hay. Early in the growing season, forage plants move into their vegetative stage, which is characterized by leafy growth containing high concentrations of starches, sugars, proteins and minerals. As the growing season progresses, plants enter the reproductive stages which is characterized by elongated stems and developing seed heads. The dry matter in these plants has a lower proportion of nutrients and higher plant fiber. The greater the fiber content of hay, the less digestible it is. Ideally, the best hays would contain a high proportion of leaves and few deed heads or stems.
The quality of hay also depends on how the hay was harvested, handled and stored. To preserve the nutrient value, hay should cure in dry, sunny weather as quickly as possible. Once it is at the proper moisture content (15-18%), it should be taken from the field and stored properly. Hay not harvested and stored under ideal conditions may lose nutrients or get moldy.
Weeds in the hay have a very poor feed value while some are even toxic to horses. Remember that high quality hay comes from healthy forage stands with few or no weeds. Foreign objects such as trash, rocks may pose a threat to horse health, so high quality hay must be free of any foreign material.
Forage species also play a very important role in hay quality. For example, Timothy grass matures later in the growing season allowing it to be harvested at the right stage of maturity. Second or third hay cuttings have little stem or seed head development making these of a higher quality hay product.
When buying your hay, you can get a general sense of quality just by looking at it. A high quality hay will have a high proportion of leaves in the bale, with few or no coarse stems or seed heads. Higher quality hay will contain little or no dust or mold. Bright green color and a sweet, fresh odor is a good characteristic of higher hay quality. If the hay you are looking at is brown or has a bleached appearance, this generally denotes a lower quality. And remember, that they hay you buy should be free of foreign objects such as trash, sticks tree leaves, and weeds). Also lookout for any poisonous plant species in the bale.
While a visual appraisal will help you with the identification of poorer quality hay, it won’t help you at all in assessing its feed value. This needs to be done at a lab. When purchasing hay, most reputable dealers will have feed analyses available or will be willing to submit a sample for hay analysis. Remember, however, that when requesting hay analysis, you request for equine testing. A typical equine hay analysis would include moisture, dry matter, digestible energy, crude protein, acid detergent fiber, neutral detergent fiber, Ethanol Soluble Carbohydrates (ESC), Water Soluble Carbohydrates (WSC), starch, non fiber carbohydrates (NFC), calcium and phosphorus.
Proper sampling is necessary to provide an accurate representation of your hay. When in doubt, contact your equine nutritionist for help.
Now that Insulin Resistance has become the “talk of the day,” the equine market has exploded with low carb feeds and supplements to fix or cure this condition. Don’t believe it! Firstly, understand that Insulin Resistance (IR) is not a disease, but a “metabolic type”. The main goal for the IR Horse is no laminitis and to keep bloodwork as close to normal as possible, if not completely normal. This is done by a lifestyle change, one that horse owners must be committed to and also know that there is no magic bullet cure.
Unfortunately, feed companies have conditioned us to think of our horses’ nutrition only in terms of what is inside the feed bag. What is missing in the horse owner’s education is the knowledge that hay, which is not just fiber, is the single largest source of nutrients in the horse’s diet and that the main goal is to feed a slow, sustained release of these nutrients ALL DAY LONG with absolutely no periods of fasting. This may be easier said than done, especially if your horse is boarded. Eating hay is essential in the prevention of laminitis.
The importance of hay: Hay provides the fiber to steady Glucose levels. Hay also provides an excellent activity for your horse (as they eat 70 – 80% of the day). Hay decreases stress which in turn can steady hormones. Hay stimulates gut tone and motility. If your horse has fasted several hours and then is fed, he can get an Insulin surge beyond the normal which can be harmful…remember, we want the slow, constant, low level of hay moving through his system all day long.
As a side note on Fiber, also a Carbohydrate, requires the bacteria of the large intestine to break it down. The sugar/starch Carbohydrates go into the bloodstream at the small intestine where as the Fiber rolls past the small intestine and goes down the tract to the large intestine. There are two types of Fiber, soluble fiber which requires bacteria break it down with the nutrients absorbed, and insoluble fiber. Fiber is very important as it creates a sensation of fullness as it is not digested at the small intestine level, so your horse eats less due to not being as hungry. As mentioned above, it assists in slow, steady delivery of Glucose to the small intestine due to its bulk which slows the release out of stomach of sugars. This soluble fiber can account for 50% of the energy needs of your horse. Hay and beet pulp have excellent amounts of fiber with hay at about 30% and beet pulp about 20%.
Testing Terms: NSC (non-structural carbohydrates) has been used by feed companies to categorize low carbohydrate feeds of about 10-15% NSC. When you test your hay or fresh grass today, you will not see NSC listed any more due to recent changes in the way sugars are categorized. The new category for sugar content of hay/fresh grass is called ESC (ethanol soluble carbohydrate, also called Simple Sugars), referring to sugars and a partial amount of fructans. Know that NSC is not ESC and that past sugar tests cannot compare to current tests.
What Hay Do I Feed? Timothy Grass Hay is a very good choice, and generally easy to acquire. When tested, you want 8-12% protein, low end of normal range of ESC (4.7-10.9%), and low end of normal range of starch (1.5-4%). As an example, if the hay test shows 15% ESC and 6% starch, do not buy it as it’s a probable laminitis trigger. If the test shows 5.7% ESC and 1.8% starch, it’s okay to buy it and there is no need to soak.
Contrary to popular believe Alfalfa Hay is a very good choice. Alfalfa actually has lower ESC, starch, and sugar than Timothy Hay. If someone tells you Alfalfa is a problem in Insulin Resistant horses, they do not have the facts. ESC is generally 4.2-8.2% and starch is around 0.8-3.2%. If your horse is sensitive to Alfalfa and gets runny stools, mix 50:50 Timothy/Alfalfa.
Another solid hay choice is Orchard Grass Hay which is very similar to Timothy Grass Hay.
Bermuda or “Coastal” Hay has double the starch of Orchard or Timothy, so you would need to soak these hays before feeding to your horses. The starch averages 6% (range 3.1-9.0). So if possible, Timothy, Orchard, Timothy/Alfalfa, Orchard/Alfalfa are far better choices.
Totally avoid Wheat hay, Oat hay, Barley hay as these are all very bad with very high starch levels.
Many horse owners with IR horses stop feeding grain to their horses. This is completely wrong as an all-hay diet could lead to problems due to vitamin, micro nutrient deficiency. If you have been told that the best way to avoid laminitis in your insulin-resistant horse is to feed it only hay and keep it on a dirt lot, you have been given incorrect information. The goal is some grass, some hay, some grain and some snacks. You want a low ESC pellet feed with a high amount of protein which will provide the vitamins and micro nutrients for your horse. These feeds are very concentrated, so you will only need to feed a small amount to your horse each day. Normal horses can get up to 1% of body weight in grain a day for maintenance: 10 pounds of grain in a 1,000 pound horse. With a low ESC concentrated feed, that same horse gets only 1 pound a day. Please note that not all low ESC/low carb pellet feeds on the market today are good for an Insulin Resistant horse because some may also have a high fat quantity. You want a low carbohydrate (low ESC), high protein (24 – 32%), and low fat diet. High protein means more muscle and the muscles are the biggest users of insulin which helps lower blood glucose. High protein also helps increase magnesium absorption which is very important as it helps lower insulin. High protein diets lower glucose uptake in the intestine which in turn decreases insulin surges.
Equine Insulin Resistance puts your horse on the edge of a cliff and any form of stress can push them off that edge into laminitis. By being proactive and incorporating grass intake management, hay testing and regulating feeding of grain and snacks, you guide them away from the edge into a healthy lifestyle.
Be careful feeding fat to an IR horse! In a 2002 study by the University of Kentucky’s Department of Veterinary Science showed that an infusion of fat actually induced Insulin Resistance in horses in less than 2 hours time. This can lead to a laminitis trigger. High fat diets can cause a crisis. High Insulin levels already are promoting fat which in turn releases toxins to further cause more and more Insulin. This cycle is not helped by promoting more fat with a high fat diet, so be sure to check your feed bag labels! Please note: Some fats, such as Omega 3 Fatty Acids can actually have benefits for IR horses when fed therapeutically in the diet. Please consult your equine nutritionist before starting a therapeutic feeding regime with integrated fats for your horse.
Also no Rice Bran. In an 1994 Rice Science Study, rice bran is approximately 16% fat. This is going to promote fat on your horse, add weight, and cause problems. Rice bran is also high in starch, approximately 5 to 7 times more than timothy/orchard hay or beet pulp. More importantly, rice bran has an ESC level of about 25.
Giving snacks to your horse as a treat or just because is important, so we need to know what are the safe snacks. Some excellent choices are roasted peanuts in the shell, Soy Pulp, Strawberries, Cherries without the pits, Pumpkin seeds, Sugar-free candy for diabetics, Beet Pulp with no molasses added, and Alfalfa pellets. Alfalfa pellets have an added bonus of helping to prevent stomach ulcers due to its buffering ability. Another good snack selection is celery which has a very low glycemic index of 1 and only 1% carbs with very high fiber.
Both oral glucosamine and injectable (N-acetyl glucosamine) from compounding pharmacies should be AVOIDED for the IR horse. Many studies are showing that glucosamine can induce peripheral insuline resistance (Diabetes Journal 1996) (J. Clinical Investigations 1995), and results in the reduction of the blood flow rate as well as the uptake of glucose (Diabetes Journal 2000) (Mayo Clinic 2007) (Harvard Medical School 2007). As a word of caution when feeding joint supplements to your horses, look at the label and if it has “Flex”, “Joint”, “Gluco” or “Glyco B” avoid these products. It’s strange that many products out there to treat laminitis contain glucosamine. Use only Chondroitin and MSM. Adequan contains no Glucosamine, so it’s fine to use.
So, remember the goal is to control carbohydrate metabolism by having your horse eating the right foods in the proper amounts to help your horse live a good, happy life!
For information on the nutritional needs of your horse, contact Aequus-therapy.com.
Time in the sun…we all enjoy it! We love basking in the rays of the sun, soaking up the warmth and the nutrition it provides. An average person can soak up their daily Vitamin D portion by sitting in the sun between 30 – 90 minutes. But, how long does our furry friend need to be in the sun to soak up the sun’s nutrition? It may be longer than you think!
Did you know that your horse’s coat alone creates a perfect barrier to Vitamin D absorption and that it typically takes between 5 – 8 hours of ultra violet light exposure for horses to produce enough Vitamin D. It may take even longer than that as we try to protect our horses against flies by applying fly spray and covering them up with fly sheets; bathing our horses to keep their coats clean and shinny and conditioning the coat to maintain moisture; and, by putting on sheets and blankets to protect them from the harmful ultra violet rays of the sun. All this kindness results in less Vitamin D being produced in our horses.
The simplicity of sunshine to Vitamin D conversion rests in the horse’s skin oils which contain 7-dehydrocholesterol. When exposed to sunshine, this compound is converted into Cholecalciferol which is then again converted into the actual form of Vitamin D (25-hydroxy-cholecalciferol or D3). D3 is produced in the horse’s kidney and the message sent is to ensure that there is the correct levels of calcium critical to the proper fuction of the horse’s joints, muscles and bones. The process is that ingested Calcium is first increased by the intestine and then, bones will be signalled to give up the calcium with the final message sent to the kidneys to reduce the calcium loss through urine.
Vitamin D deficiency is far more common than you may think. Horses that are kept indoors are of high risk of this deficiency. Bathing your horse frequently inhibits your horse’s ability to produce Vitamin D because of body oil being washed away so. The upper third of the USA and Canada, as we are at higher latitudes, have reduced sunlight during the winter months which in turn reduces Vitamin D production. In boarding facilities, turn out is limited and in some cases non-existent. Also, please keep in mind that Vitamin D does not survive in hay, so don’t think that your horse is getting any Vitamin D in eating hay.
Vitamin D deficiency shows as reduced appetite, slowed growth, bone demineralization and poor muscle contraction. Horses do best when they receive at least 6.6 IU of Vitamin D per kg of body weight, as an example, a 1100 pound horse (500 kg) will need at least 5 – 8 hours of sunlight exposure or 3300 IU of Vitamin D per day.
Can we over supplement with Vitamin D. The answer is yes with the toxicity signs being very similar to the deficiency signs, just to confuse things. The established upper Vitamin D limit is 44 IU/kg of body weight, or 22,000 IU for an 1100 pound horse. If you are concerned about your supplemental program, check all your supplements and fees to make sure that you are feeding a safe amount of Vitmain D. However, also keep in mind that excessive sunlight exposure cannot lead to an excessive Vitamin D production. So, you can feel comfortable keeping your horse outside as much as possible without any physical or chemical barriers to soak in the sun!
For many years now, horse owners have been soaking hay to manage horses diagnosed with laminitis, Polysaccaride Storage Myopathy (PSSM), hyperkalemic periodic paralysis (HYPP) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), but is soaking hay really beneficial?
Soaking hay in water has been known to be a common strategy used to manage the nutritional requirements of some diseased horses. Currently, the hay soaking recommendations are to soak hay for 30 minutes in warm water, or 60 minutes in cold water, for the removal of carbohydrates (Watts,2003). However, how efficient is hay soaking and are additional essential nutrients lost during this soaking process?
University of Minnesota researchers actually conducted several tests to determine the impact of water temperature and hay soaking duration on the actual removal of non structural carbohydrates (NSC), crude protein (CP), minerals and dry matter (DM) from alfalfa and orchard grass hays. In this test, four hay types were soaked by submerging individual flakes for 15, 30 and 60 minutes in 25 liters of cold (72F) and warm (102F) water and for 12 hours in cold water and this was compared to a control non-soaked sample. Water temperatures were determined by using the cold or hot only faucets which would be typical of your standard barn.
Researchers have suggested that diets for horses affected with laminitis (Frank, 2009) should be less than 12 - 10% of NSC value. Reynolds et al (1997) also established that a diet of less than 1% K is necessary for horses diagnosed with HYPP and Moore-Colyer (1996) discovered that soaking hay for 30 minutes reduced respiratory problems for horses diagnosed with COPD or heaves. It was determined that alfalfa hays were tested to be below the 10 and 12% NSC threshold for those horses diagnosed with PSSM and laminitis, so soaking these hays wouldn’t be necessary. However, orchard grass hays were well above these thresholds and after soaking for 15 to 30 minutes, the NSC values were reduced to or below the 10 to 12% recommended value. It is very interesting to note that soaking hay for longer durations did not further reduce the NSC content of the hay.
During the soaking process Calcium (CA) is not as prone to leaching as compared to other minerals while Magnesium (Mg) and phosphorus (P) levels were reduced in all hay types as a result of soaking, with longer soaking times, leading to a greater reduction in these elements. Because Ca is not as water soluble as P, high Ca:P ratios were observed in soaked hays for longer times especially those after 12 hours. Ideally the Ca:P ratio should range between 1:1 and 3:1 (up to 6:1)in horse diets (NRC, 2007) but it was observed that there was a significant deficiency in P.
In conclusion, it has been noted that hay should not be soaked for greater period than 1 hour as soaking hay for any longer durations resulted in severely reduced NSC content, high Ca:P ratios, shortage of P in the diet and significant losses in DM. It was highly recommended that owners should rely on forage analysis as their first method of finding appropriate hay for horses, especially when feeding horses diagnosed with a disease and once values have been determined to take preventative measures. It has been recommended that hay soaking for short durations of 15 – 30 minutes is an acceptable hay management method, but should only be used if suitable hay is not available.
How many times have you looked out into the field and watched as horses groom and scratch each other, often amazed at how vigorously they scratch each other. Not only is this a social event but regular grooming is not only for pleasure but more importantly for relaxation. But can you use these same techniques to change your grooming style to create these same health benefits for your horse?
Connective tissue in your horse is either thin and flat such as the fascia between the skin and muscles, or thick and dense like tendons and ligaments. Fascia should glide freely across tissues, muscles, and tendons and the healthier it is as it attaches into the bone or other fascia, the better it can function. With this in mined, cross fiber grooming is a positive change to your regular grooming technique.
When grooming your horse, try to groom him so that he can bend and stretch as you groom. Instead of using a curry comb in the traditional circular motion, try cross fiber massage as it can help break up adhesions and while stimulating circulation, lymphatic drainage and acupuncture points to relax your horse both physically and mentally.
When grooming, use short back and forth strokes about 6 inches in length. Groom lightly at first and feel if the skin is loose over the muscles. Then use the curry to massage deeper into the muscle while watching for signs of relaxation such as licking, chewing, yawning, sighing and bending around. If your horse reacts by flinching as you groom a certain area, don’t ignore that area, but rather groom lighter for a about a minute or so and watch for a positive response, then increase the pressure.
Take your time and observe your horse during your grooming sessions. As the grooming sessions become deeper, use your body to groom and not only your arm and shoulder. This change to your grooming technique can translate into huge benefits for your horse’s posture, performance and health while you turn your pre-ride grooming into a significant conversation with your horse.