MED­I­CAL FRONT

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• Can for­age fuel ath­letic

per­for­mance? • A col­or­ful sur­vival strat­egy • Leap for­ward in eye

treat­ment technology • In­fec­tion risk low for arthroscopy • No suc­cess for EPM vac­cine

A new study chal­lenges the be­lief that equine ath­letes in train­ing re­quire a diet high in con­cen­trates (grains or pel­leted feed) to meet their nu­tri­tional needs.

Con­cen­trate-based feed­ing pro­grams pro­vide re­li­able en­ergy to hard-work­ing horses, but they also carry cer­tain health risks---such as colic, ty­ing up and lamini­tis---and are as­so­ci­ated with “hot” be­hav­ior and stereo­typ­ies0 such as crib­bing and weav­ing.

To in­ves­ti­gate the fea­si­bil­ity of main­tain­ing an equine ath­lete on a diet free of con­cen­trates, re­searchers at the Swedish Univer­sity of Agri­cul­tural Sciences fol­lowed 16 2-yearold Stan­dard­bred horses as they en­tered train­ing in prepa­ra­tion for har­ness rac­ing. The horses were fed a free-choice for­age diet along with a min­eral sup­ple­ment. The diet com­bined hay­lage, a small amount of al­falfa pel­lets to in­crease pro­tein lev­els when nec­es­sary, and pas­ture graz­ing when it was avail­able.

The re­searchers di­vided the horses into two train­ing groups---one fol­lowed a con­ven­tional train­ing pro­to­col and the other was put on a less in­tense sched­ule. The goal for both groups, how­ever, was to start com­pet­ing in races as 3-yearolds. Through­out the study, re­searchers an­a­lyzed the nu­tri­ent value of the diet and mon­i­tored the horses for feed in­take, growth, body con­di­tion and mus­cle glyco­gen con­tent.

“Mus­cle glyco­gen is the car­bo­hy­drate en­ergy stor­age in mus­cle tis­sue,” ex­plains Sara Ring­mark, PhD. “Low mus­cle glyco­gen con­tent may im­pair per­for­mance ca­pac­ity and in­duce fa­tigue at an ear­lier stage.”

The data showed that the for­age-based diet met the rec­om­mended en­ergy, crude pro­tein and vi­ta­mins and min­eral lev­els for work­ing horses. In ad­di­tion, horses in both train­ing-in­ten­sity groups main­tained nor­mal body con­di­tion, growth rates and mus­cle glyco­gen stor­age func­tion. None of the horses de­vel­oped nu­tri­tion-re­lated health prob­lems when man­aged un­der nor­mal con­di­tions. And al­though rac­ing per­for­mance wasn’t part of this study, the re­searchers note that all of the horses qual­i­fied for rac­ing by the end of the twoyear study pe­riod.

Ring­mark says the no­tion that equine ath­letes re­quire con­cen­trates may be rooted in the fact that, at one point in his­tory, that was true: “I think it’s such a com­mon as­sump­tion be­cause for­age for horses used to be of poor nu­tri­ent value. Back in the day, when it was not pos­si­ble to har­vest and store for­age with a high nu­tri­ent qual­ity and horses were work­ing hard

To feed a for­age-only diet re­quires an ad­just­ment in daily feed­ing rou­tines as well as mod­i­fi­ca­tions for in­di­vid­u­als. Lean horses, for ex­am­ple, may need free ac­cess to for­age 24 hours a day.

on the farm or in the for­est, con­cen­trates were ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary to ful­fill a horse’s en­ergy re­quire­ment.”

In mod­ern times, how­ever, im­proved pro­duc­tion and stor­age meth­ods have re­sulted in for­age that is high enough in nu­tri­tional value to meet the needs of a horse in fairly in­ten­sive train­ing. That said, switch­ing to such a diet re­quires dili­gence.

“To feed a for­age-only diet to an equine ath­lete you might need to ad­just your daily feed­ing rou­tines a bit and, as with con­cen­trates, in­di­vid­ual ad­just­ments might be nec­es­sary,” says Ring­mark. “Lean horses may need free ac­cess to for­age 24 hours day. We also found that it was im­por­tant to have enough feed­ing spa­ces in the pad­dock for all horses to con­sume enough.”

Ring­mark adds that to en­sure for­age is high enough qual­ity for equine ath­letes, “You may need to have a good di­a­logue with your feed pro­ducer about an ear­lier har­vest, which is nec­es­sary to pro­duce the high-en­ergy for­ages re­quired.”

Ref­er­ence: “Ef­fects of train­ing dis­tance on feed in­take, growth, body con­di­tion and mus­cle glyco­gen con­tent in young Stan­dard­bred horses fed a for­age-only diet,” An­i­mal, Oc­to­ber 2017

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