For many horses, this is the season for traveling to horse shows and events. Considering periodic outbreaks of equine herpes virus (EHV-1) and other infectious diseases, it is critical that your horse be in top physical health before embarking to an unfamiliar area. The foundation of that health is a strong immune system. Added antioxidants and supportive nutrients can have a positive impact on your horse’s ability to resist an infection.
Boost supplementation of the following nutrients per day for at least two weeks before you leave and throughout the travels or event; wean your horse off of them for two weeks following your return:
• Vitamins E and C: 5 IUs of vitamin E and 5 mg of vitamin C per pound (0.45 kg) of body weight
• Selenium: 3 to 5 mg of selenium
• Vitamin A: 30 to 60 IUs per pound (.45 kg) of body weight
• Omega 3 fatty acids: 1/4 cup chia seeds or ½ cup ground flaxseeds per 400 lbs (180 kg) of body weight
• Protein: 14-16% of the diet, and of high quality protein by feeding a variety of protein sources
• Magnesium: 5,000 mg of magnesium per 500 lbs (227 kg) of body weight
• B vitamins: Provide a potent B complex preparation.
Be sure to check how much of these nutrients your horse may already be getting from commercial feeds and supplements, and calculate to add only enough to boost quantities as noted above.
Remember that stress suppresses immune function. An empty stomach is incredibly stressful — both mentally uncomfortable and physically painful. Protect your horse by allowing him to graze on hay (and pasture, if available) at all times, throughout the day and night. And never let him perform without some forage in his digestive tract.
Attention to increased nutritional needs will go a long way toward keeping your horse healthy during the time away from his familiar surroundings and routine.
Add a Serving of Caution to the Tender Spring Grass
Spring is almost upon us in most of the country, so it’s time to revisit that critical topic: spring grazing.
Transitioning a horse from hay to pasture must be handled with care; this point is non-negotiable. For every horse, a gradual change from hay to grass is required to allow the digestive system to adapt, but for the insulin-resistant horse, grazing time and duration can make the difference between soundness and a disabling condition like laminitis. This time of year can be a test of patience for horse—and owner. The horse may be pawing at the gate to get to the first taste of tender spring grass, yet the owner must pay close attention to making the transition safe and healthful.
As the leaves form from the first spring sprouts, the overall sugar and starch content increases, making it especially tempting. Regardless of the growth stage, quantities should be monitored because horses crave fresh grass and will eat volumes of it, making their overall NSC consumption really high dangerously high for horses who are overweight, cushingoid, or who have experienced insulin-related laminitis.
Temperature and sunlight play a major role in the amount of NSC accumulation. To be safe, here are the rules:
• When the night temperature is below 40 degrees F, the grass is too high in NSC.
• Once it gets above 40 degrees F at night, the lowest NSC level is before the sun rises.
• The NSC level is highest in late afternoon, after a sunny day.
There is no exact “best time” to turn out your horses on pasture. Generally speaking in moderate climates, it’s safest before dawn, until approximately 10:00 am, and then again at night, starting at around 11:00 pm. Start slowly, offering hay when horses are not on fresh grass.
Finally, test your pasture! Yes, testing is not only for hay. It will take the guesswork out of knowing which times are best.
Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D. is an independent equine nutritionist with a wide U.S. and international following. Her research-based approach optimizes equine health by aligning physiology and instincts with correct feeding and nutrition practices.
Find a world of useful information for the horseperson at www.GettyEquineNutrition.com: Sign up for Dr. Getty’s informative, free e-newsletter, Forage for Thought; browse her library of reference articles; search her nutrition forum; and purchase recordings of her educational teleseminars. Reach Dr. Getty directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is available for private consultations and speaking engagements.
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This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 9, Issue 4