PDF Nutrition of the exercising horse

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Calcium and phosphorus balance is important for proper skeletal maturation, and the correct ratio can easily be thrown off by a diet that is too high in either mineral. Though an imbalance may not lead directly to splint problems, suitable nutrition will give young horses the best chance to stay sound and develop a strong mature skeleton. Begin exercise or conditioning programs with short periods of easy work, building very gradually toward longer and more intense work sessions.

Back off at any indication of strain or soreness. Avoid working the young horse on very hard footing, uneven surfaces like frozen mud, and areas with rocky or extremely soft ground. An awkward step can throw the horse off balance and increase the strain on joints and ligaments. Limit the amount of work that requires the horse to move on a circle.

This includes both longeing and riding. Circling repeatedly twists the front legs as they are loaded, putting strain on the knee structure which is partially supported by the splint bones.

Causes of Obesity

The foal needs balanced mineral ratios for proper cartilage formation. When feeding broodmares, make sure they have enough calories, protein, and are receiving a balanced number of vitamins and minerals. If you need guidance on feeding your broodmare, see our blog, The Horses with the Highest Nutritional Demands, at www. Another factor in joint health is the body condition score of your horse. Obesity can exacerbate Arthritis, both in humans and horses. If your horse is obese according to the body condition scoring system, then decide on your plan of action.

First, think about utilizing a grazing muzzle and limiting time out on lush pasture. Second, decide if your horse needs grain. If your grass and hay are not sufficient in nutrients, then offer a Ration Balancer instead of a regular grain. And finally…make sure you are not feeding too much!


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Tying up can be caused by a Vitamin E deficiency, low electrolyte balance, low selenium, and an unbalanced calcium to phosphorus ratio. While most incidences of Tying up are not caused by nutrition, proper feeding practices can certainly help prevent or not exacerbate the condition. Some cases where a horse would need a vitamin supplement include when feeding a high-grain diet, or low-quality hay, if a horse is under stress traveling, showing, racing, etc.

Most of the vitamins are found in green, leafy forages. Vitamin D is obtained from sunlight, so only horses that are stalled for 24 hours a day need a supplement with vitamin D. Vitamin E is found in fresh green forages, however, the amount decreases with plant maturity and is destroyed during long term storage. Horses that are under heavy exercise or under increased levels of stress also may benefit from vitamin E supplementation.

How to Feed Horses Based on Exercise Type

Vitamin K and B-complex are produced by the gut microbes. Vitamin C is found in fresh vegetables and fruits, and produced naturally by the liver.

Nutrition of the exercising horse

Severely stressed horses, however, may benefit from B-complex and vitamin C supplements during the period of stress. Minerals are required for maintenance of body structure, fluid balance in cells electrolytes , nerve conduction, and muscle contraction. Only small amounts of the macro-minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium, and sulfur are needed daily.

Calcium and phosphorus are needed in a specific ratio ideally , but never less than Alfalfa alone can exceed a Ca:P ratio of Young horses may need added calcium, phosphorus, copper, and zinc during the first year or two of life. Forages are classified as legumes or grasses. The nutrients in the forage vary greatly with maturity of the grasses, fertilization, management, and environmental conditions. In order to determine the nutrient content in forage it is best to take samples and get them analyzed by a forage testing lab contact your local County Extension Office for testing information or see the fact sheet, FS, Analysis of Feeds and Forages for Horses.

Legumes are usually higher in protein, calcium, and energy than grasses. They have more leaves than grasses and require optimal growth conditions warm weather and good soil to produce the best nutrients. Some legumes include clover and alfalfa. Some commonly used grasses include orchard grass, timothy, bluegrass, and fescue. Hay is forage that has been harvested, dried, and baled before feeding to horses.

Legume hay can contain 2 to 3 times more protein and calcium than grass hay. However, it is usually more costly. Common grass hays include timothy, brome and orchard grass. They have fine stems, seed heads and longer leaves than legumes. They are most nutritious when cut earlier in their growth stage. Maturity at harvest is key to quality.

Usage Factors That Affect a Horse’s Nutrient and Energy Requirements

Appearance can be a good indicator of the amount of nutrients in the hay, however, color should not be used as sole indicator. Moldy or dusty hay should not be fed to horses. For more information see Table 1. Sweet smelling, like newly cut grass. Grass hays before seed heads mature and alfalfa cut early in bloom.

Equine Nutrition Advice | Horse Nutritional Advice From Gain Feeds

Free from weeds, poisonous plants, trash, or foreign objects. Too much moisture causes mold. Brown, yellow or weathered in color.


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Gray or black indicates mold. Dusty and moldy hay is unacceptable.

Nutritional Requirements of Horses

Cut late in maturity. Mature seed heads with grass hay or alfalfa cut late in bloom. High weed content, poisonous plants, or animal carcasses in hay bales. Oats are the most popular grain for horses.