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EARN CPD POINTS WITH ETN

ETN’s series of CPD features helps SQPs (Suitably Qualified Persons) earn the CPD (continuing professional development) points they need. The features have been accredited by AMTRA, and highlight some of the most important subject areas for SQPs specialising in equine and companion animal medicine.

AMTRA is required by the Veterinary Medicines Regulations to ensure its SQPs undertake CPD. All SQPs must earn a certain number of CPD points in a given period of time in order to retain their qualification. SQPs who read the following feature and submit correct answers to the questions below will receive two CPD points.



 

 

July 2018

Feeding veteran horses

By Anna Welch BVSc, BSc, MRCVS. Veterinary Nutrition Director, TopSpec

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There are many factors to consider when offering advice on feeding an older horse. Dietary requirements will vary e.g. according to the horse’s activity level, environmental conditions and any health concerns, so it is always helpful to obtain thorough information from the owner about their horse and his regime.

When is a horse a veteran?

A customer is likely to ask you the age at which their horse is classed as a ‘veteran’ and therefore, when you might recommend one of the senior or veteran products available.

The answer to this question will usually depend on individual circumstances. Whilst it may be reasonable to consider a horse as a veteran from eighteen years of age, it is often more appropriate to act upon the signs associated with aging, or whichever comes first.

Age-related health issues to consider

There are a number of factors that can affect the health of older horses and impact on feed intake, digestion, condition and ability to exercise. The following problems should be considered when reviewing the diet of a veteran horse:

(1) Reduced dental function:

From a feeding point of view this is the most significant and inevitable problem to affect older horses. Over time the grinding surface of the teeth will wear down and horses may suffer from fractured or missing teeth, diastema (gaps between the teeth) and periodontal disease. A six-monthly visit from a qualified Equine Dental Technician or vet is essential to correct uneven wear, misalignment and food packing between teeth. However, there is only so much that can be done to delay the effects of wear before hay replacers will become necessary.

(2) Musculoskeletal problems:

Mobility issues are frequently reported in veteran horses, usually from a culmination of wear and tear over the years, which can result in problems such as osteoarthritis. Reduced activity is often seen as a result and can lead to muscle wastage, poor circulation, weakening of bone and stiffness. Regular, gentle exercise and plenty of turnout can help to reduce stiffness. Dietary supplementation with the scientifically recommended level of glucosamine (10g per 500kg horse per day), as well as MSM, can also be beneficial.

(3) Hormonal disease:

Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (Cushing’s disease) is the most common hormonal disorder of veteran horses and ponies. Whilst PPID can affect younger horses, it is progressive and more frequently diagnosed in older horses. Insulin dysregulation is often associated with PPID and increases the risk of laminitis. Therefore, total diets should be low (<10 - 12%) in Non-Structural Carbohydrates (NSC) i.e. sugar and starch. Muscle breakdown (catabolism) can also develop as PPID progresses, so high quality protein is essential.

(4) Respiratory disease:

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From a lifetime of exposure to dust and spores, veteran horses can become prone to developing respiratory issues such as Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO). The key to management is reducing exposure to dust. This means that turnout should be maintained as much as possible and steamed or soaked hay, or haylage, used when necessary.

(5) Immune system compromise:

As horses get older the strength of their immune system tends to decline. PPID can also affect immune function. To provide nutritional support for the immune system, diets should contain optimum levels of certain micronutrients particularly antioxidants such as vitamin A, E and selenium. Mannan Oligosaccharides (MOS) have also been found to be beneficial, whilst vitamin C has a role to play in lung health.

Diet recommendations:

Forage

Forage is the foundation of any horse’s diet and veteran horses are no exception.

Fibre passes, undigested by the horse, onto the large intestine where it is fermented by the cellulolytic (fibre-digesting) bacteria. This microbial fermentation produces volatile fatty acids, which supply energy (calories) to the horse. This process also produces heat, which is an important consideration during winter, as older horses will find it harder to maintain their body temperature.

A constant supply of fibre is essential to maintain a healthy digestive system, with optimal gut motility and balanced hindgut microflora. As a horse’s dental function declines, it becomes increasingly important to provide fibre sources that are easily chewed.

During the spring and summer when grass is plentiful, a veteran horse living out can often manage well. Although, when incisor function is compromised grass will need to be sufficiently long for him to harvest it.

Winter is a time of year that can highlight compromised dental function. Loose droppings, fluid passed after formed droppings or small, firm droppings can reflect insufficient fibre supply to the normal bacteria in the hindgut. Long, unchewed fibres are often seen in the droppings, even before quidding (dropping semi-chewed food) is observed.

Haylage can be easier for a veteran to manage, because of its generally lower fibre content, particularly when compared to a mature, coarse hay. Straw-based chops should be avoided but soft, short chopped grass can be used as a hay/haylage replacer for a period of time.

However, fibre in a pre-ground form rapidly becomes essential. A mash that is high in fibre, soaked fibre cubes and alfalfa/grass cubes, plus, to a lesser extent, unmolassed sugar beet pulp are all suitable alternatives to long fibre. Although, providing a horse doesn’t suffer from choke or impaction colic, it can be a good idea to continue to allow access to some hay or haylage as chewing on longer fibres can be mentally satisfying.

Hard feeds

• For the healthy veteran in good condition:

Horses that are able to maintain their level of work, without any significant health concerns, may be able to continue on their previous diet providing it is fully-balanced. The addition of a supplement including glucosamine and MSM may be sensible at this stage. Alternatively, there are top specification feed balancers available that include the recommended level of glucosamine and provide a very economical solution.

• For the overweight veteran:

It is inevitable that workload will reduce for veteran horses, eventually leading to retirement. Energy expenditure will decrease, which can lead to unwanted weight gain for a healthy older horse.

Despite the fact than an elderly horse may be doing little or no work, it is important that he still receives essential vitamins, minerals and trace elements to balance his diet and support his general health. An ideal way to meet these requirements is by using a top specification ‘lite’ feed balancer or multi-supplement.

The best contain both general purpose and specialised supplements, which can include those for hooves, bone, muscle, blood, joints, the immune-system and the digestive tract. The use of one fully-balanced product, rather than multiple separate supplements, avoids unbalanced or over-supplementation.

• For the underweight veteran:

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As health issues start to develop, many veteran horses are likely to experience weight loss.

Hard feeds should be nutrient-dense and not exceed the horse’s maximum meal size e.g. 2kg (dry weight) for a horse with an ideal bodyweight of 500kg. A top specification, conditioning feed balancer will supply amino acids, vitamins, minerals and yeast products, which improve the utilisation of the rest of the diet. This reduces the need for additional hard feed, helping to keep feed sizes small.

Most top specification, conditioning feed balancers contain very high quality protein sources, which are rich in essential amino acids. Protein promotes muscle development and topline, which frequently wastes away in older horses.

To provide further calories, highly digestible fibre sources, or ‘super-fibres’ should be used. Ingredients like unmolassed sugar beet pulp and oatfeed are examples of these. To increase the calories further, oil can also be added.

In view of the fact that older horses are gradually able to eat less fibre, and therefore may suffer from disturbances in the hindgut microbial balance, cereal-based products that are high in sugar and starch should be avoided. Digestible Energy (DE) values, similar to those of conditioning mixes, can be achieved without the use of cereals.

Adding a low starch, conditioning blend to a top specification feed balancer, will provide a very successful solution for a veteran horse.

Summary

• The condition of a veteran horse should be monitored carefully.

• Hay replacers, which provide pre-ground fibre, will become necessary as dental function declines.

• Hard feeds should be kept low in sugar and starch and cereal-grain-free but provide high quality protein.

• A fully-balanced diet is essential, with supplementation for the immune system, respiratory tract, joints and digestive system.

TopSpec can be contacted, free of charge, on their BETA multiple award-winning-helpline tel 01845 565030




AMTRA CPD explained

• AMTRA (the Animal Medicines Training Regulatory Authority) is an independent body whose task it is to ensure that the marketing and distribution of animal medicines in the UK is undertaken in a responsible manner by AMTRA qualified persons.

• AMTRA maintains registers of qualified persons, including Suitably Qualified Persons (SQPs), authorises training centres for course provision, provides information and advice for registered persons, monitors and accredits continuing professional development (CPD) for SQPs and regulates professional conduct.

• SQPs are permitted under the Veterinary Medicines Regulations to prescribe and supply medicines classified as POM-VPS and NFA-VPS.

• For more about AMTRA and becoming an SQP www.amtra.org.uk

May 2018

Controlling weeds in horse paddocks

While horses relish grazing pastures filled with a mixture of plants, weeds such as ragwort, docks, nettles, buttercups and thistles are not to be encouraged, says Andy Bailey.

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Weeds need managing for many reasons. Some, like ragwort, are very poisonous to horses; other such as nettles will take over a paddock so there is no grass left to eat.

The Weeds Act 1959 requires that if an order is served on them, landowners have to control common ragwort, broad-leaved and curled docks and spear and creeping thistles.

The Ragwort Control Act 2003 strengthens this by placing onus on the occupier to take action where ragwort poisoning poses a serious risk to grazing animals.

Ragwort

Common ragwort should not be tolerated in horse pastures. The plant contains an alkaloid – a cumulative poison which, when grazed over a long period of time, affects an animal’s liver. As little as 20kg taken over the lifetime of a 500kg horse can be fatal.

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Horses will not usually eat ragwort while it is growing – but when it has been cut and has wilted it becomes much more attractive and palatable. Grass fields with growing ragwort should never be cut for hay.

Cutting ragwort just encourages new and vigorous regrowth and the dying plants pose a great danger to horses.

Digging out whole plants by hand - wearing gloves, when the soil is moist in spring, can get rid of an infestation. All pulled plants must be removed from the field.

Where there is too much ragwort to pull by hand, high levels of control can be gained by spraying with a modern, translocated herbicide. This must be done when the plants are still at their vegetative stage and actively growing. Do not wait until the plants are flowering, as this is too late to spray to achieve good control.

It is essential to ensure all the remains of all ragwort plants have completely decayed before reintroducing horses.

Docks

Docks like to grow in nutrient-rich soils and are often found in latrines – the areas where horses regularly urinate and defecate. They are deep rooted and spread easily as every mature plant can release up to 60,000 viable seeds each year.

Once established, docks can withstand a high amount of trampling, which is another reason why they are so commonly seen in horse fields. They are not poisonous to horses but are less digestible and palatable than grasses.

Never top docks as a means of control, as this does not affect the large taproot and the plant will regrow energetically after cutting.

The best way to get rid of docks is by spraying with a selective herbicide that will kill perennial broad-leaved weeds without harming any grass species present. These should be applied when the plants are dinner-plate sized and actively growing but not flowering.

Nettles

Nettles also like to grow in horse latrines, as they are phosphorous-loving. They can form large ‘nettle-beds’, which block out light to the ground and stop any other beneficial plants from growing.

Nettles can also be sprayed with a herbicide though a knapsack sprayer or weed wiper, as they often grow above the level of the surrounding vegetation, or boom sprayer off an All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) or tractor.

It is important to reseed any bare areas of ground left after the weeds have died and been removed, so that new weed seeds do not come in and germinate in their place.

Buttercups

Buttercups are poisonous but taste very bitter, so horses will not eat them unless there is nothing else growing. Unlike ragwort, they lose their toxicity as they wilt and dry, so they are not a problem in fields cut for hay.

Having buttercups growing is often a sign of wet soils and improving drainage can reduce their growth. Small patches can be dug out by hand. Larger areas can be sprayed using a herbicide early in the season. Once the buttercups have flowered it is too late to spray for optimum control.

feedgraph

Thistles

There are many different species of thistle, but the most common are creeping and spear thistles. Having thistles growing in a field is unsightly and when they are releasing seed, this can spread the problem to neighbouring fields.

They also reduce the amount of feed growing in the field because where thistles grow, grass cannot grow.

Topping thistles has minimal effect and they tend to regrow. Spot-treating small areas with a herbicide through a knapsack sprayer or spraying larger areas using a tractor mounted/self-propelled sprayer, are the best options. These must be applied early in the season, when the plants are in their vegetative stage with no flowering stems present.

Herbicides

There is a range of selective herbicides that will kill perennial broadleaved plants in a field, but not the grass species. If the sward includes desirable broad-leaved species, use an alternative method of control to spraying.

Modern, translocated products provide the longest lasting control, as they enter the plant and circulate around it – from the top of the leaves to the bottom of the roots, which kills the plant from within.

Some are formulated to tackle particular weeds like docks, while other broad-spectrum products work well on several different weeds.

Before a field is sprayed, the animals must be removed and kept out for however long the stock withdrawal period says on the product label.

This grazing interval, which can be as short as seven days for some products, is a legal requirement and anyone putting horses back into the field before the stated time is breaking the law.

To allow the products to work to their best potential, users should respect the advice given on the label, which may allow for a longer period without animals in the field so the herbicide can do a good job. These statements are advisory, but the stock exclusion is mandatory.

Where treated fields contained ragwort, make sure every last bit of wilted or dying material has completely decayed before the animals return.

The law now states that anyone who applies professional use pesticides must possess a valid pesticide certificate in order to comply with regulations.

Many paddock owners contract out their spraying to local certified farmers or contractors. For those who wish to carry on spraying themselves, for instance with a knapsack, they also need to complete a City and Guilds/National Proficiency Test Council (NPTC) course, such as PA1 (theory module) and PA6 (handheld lance or knapsack). The City and Guilds Level 2 Award for the Safe Use of Pesticides Replacing Grandfather Rights is another option for those born before 1964. It is a quicker and easier path, but is only available until the end of 2018.

There are more details at www.nptc.org.uk.






Andy Bailey is the principal biologist for Dow AgroSciences.

AMTRA CPD explained

• AMTRA (the Animal Medicines Training Regulatory Authority) is an independent body whose task it is to ensure that the marketing and distribution of animal medicines in the UK is undertaken in a responsible manner by AMTRA qualified persons.

• AMTRA maintains registers of qualified persons, including Suitably Qualified Persons (SQPs), authorises training centres for course provision, provides information and advice for registered persons, monitors and accredits continuing professional development (CPD) for SQPs and regulates professional conduct.

• SQPs are permitted under the Veterinary Medicines Regulations to prescribe and supply medicines classified as POM-VPS and NFA-VPS.

• For more about AMTRA and becoming an SQP www.amtra.org.uk

April 2018

Supplementing the performance equine diet

By Kate Hore RNutr(Animal), senior nutritionist at NAF.

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Competing to a high standard takes a lot out of equine athletes, so we must provide them with the nutritional tools for recovery.

As the competition season really gets underway, it’s important we can advise our customers on how to get the best from their horses, and ensure they recover quickly and efficiently ready for the next competition.

Supplementing for performance


The performance diet should stick as closely to the natural equine diet as possible. We increasingly understand the potentially detrimental effects of small, starchy bucket feeds, particularly with respect to issues such as Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome and excitability, both of which are very relevant to the performance horse.

Therefore we should be advising our customers to keep their horses on a high fibre, low concentrate diet. The challenges of the high forage diet for performance are firstly to ensure that all micronutrient requirements are met, and secondly that sufficient energy for performance is provided.

Grazing and forage alone may be micronutrient deficient, particularly when that forage is preserved, for example in hay or haylage. In the UK common grazing deficiencies include copper, zinc and selenium. Alternatively it may be that natural levels are lost during forage preservation. Vitamin E is a classic example of an essential nutrient for performance present in fresh pasture, but lost by processing.

We should also consider annual fluctuations, ie. nutrients such as magnesium may be low in the spring, while vitamin levels drop later in the season.

When we also consider the increased requirement for performance, we can see that supplementing is advised in order to ensure that all the elements required for fine tuning the equine diet are present. For example, if we consider vitamin E, the requirement doubles from 500 I.U. [international units] per day at rest, to 1000 I.U. per day for elite performance (500kg horse).

Supplementary multi-vitamins are available as powders, liquids or concentrated pellets, each of which have their benefits for horse owners. For busy competition yards, we often find a liquid product with a measured pump dispenser, is a quick and easy way to make sure everyone gets their quota accurately when feeding a yard of horses.

The forage diet alone may fail to provide sufficient energy for the demands of performance. However, we don’t need to go back to feeding starchy cereals.

Oil provides a concentrated source of energy which is readily metabolised by the horse. The energy from oil is free of starch, slow release, ideal for maintaining stamina right through a competition, and less likely to cause those explosive releases of energy sometimes associated with other sources.

The energy from oil is more concentrated than that from cereals, which is very useful for elite horses where poor appetite can be an issue. The high oil diet also provides significantly lower levels of waste heat, which is particularly important if competing in warm or humid conditions to avoid heat stress. For example, if you needed to supply an additional 10MJ of useable energy to your horse, the following shows how that would be metabolised dependent on source.

It’s recommended that plant based oils can be fed for performance up to a level of 1ml/kg BW [bodyweight]. It’s important to introduce the high oil diet gradually, building up over several weeks, to allow the horse’s metabolism to gradually adjust.

If feeding a high oil diet, the requirement for vitamin E, as an antioxidant, also increases, and it’s recommended to supplement at 1-1.5 I.U. of vitamin E per 1ml of additional oil fed.

Supplementing for recovery


Competing to a high standard takes a lot out of our equine athletes, and if we want to keep them sound and strong, and get them back to work quickly, it’s essential that we provide our horses with the nutritional tools for recovery.

Perhaps the most well-known of nutrients lost during exercise is the electrolyte group. These essential body ions are involved in many metabolic pathways including muscle and nerve function, maintaining the acid-base balance of all cell functions and are vital for healthy hydration in hard working horses.

The principle electrolytes for horses are sodium, potassium and chloride and, to a lesser extent, magnesium and calcium. The most important is sodium, as this is commonly deficient in the forage based diet, so it’s important that we allow free access to a salt lick (sodium chloride) on a daily basis.

Large amounts of electrolytes are lost through sweating. For example, a horse working hard may lose up to 25% of his total body chloride alone in just a couple of hours, so it’s essential that electrolytes are replaced in order to avoid both short and long term problems. Upgrading that salt lick to a broad spectrum electrolyte supplement for hard work and competition will ensure that these essential nutrients have been replaced.

Of course sweat doesn’t just lose electrolytes. We must ensure that the water which has also been lost is replenished concurrently, or you risk further dehydrating the horse rather than rehydrating. The best way to ensure adequate water is taken, is to either feed the electrolytes in a nice wet, sloppy feed, or train the horse to take them dissolved in water. For those travelling regularly, training the horse to take their electrolytes in water can help overcome any differences in water taste around the country – something horses can be surprisingly sensitive to.

One of the other effects of hard work on the system is that of oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs when the antioxidant defences within the system are overcome by a build-up of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) or free radicals.

There may be a number of reasons for the escalation but, specific to performance horses, ROS will build as a by-product of oxygen metabolism during exercise. The harder the athlete works, the more oxidative stress will build. In human athletes, the condition of ‘over-training’ is increasingly associated with oxidative stress. Over-training is also recognised by trainers, as a horse going ‘sour’ or ‘off-form’.

When considering antioxidants it’s advised to look beyond a straight vitamin E product, or similar. It’s understood that feeding a combination of antioxidants will be more effective than any one on its own as they often have slightly differing, and complementary, roles during the ROS scavenging process.

Look for natural antioxidants such as turmeric, rosehip and omicha berries, as they retain their complex of phytochemicals rather than being over-purified. For owners and managers of hard working horses, it’s recommended to feed a short course of concentrated antioxidants following intense exercise to facilitate a return to full training as soon as possible.

In conclusion, by ensuring that we’re advising our customers both how to prepare equine athletes for the season ahead, and how to counteract the stresses of competition, we can keep our horses sound and strong throughout the coming season.

About the author: Kate Hore is a Registered Animal Nutritionist and has been with NAF for more than 20 years, where she specialises in fine tuning equine diets through supplementary nutrition.






Large amounts of electrolytes are lost through sweating.

AMTRA CPD explained

• AMTRA (the Animal Medicines Training Regulatory Authority) is an independent body whose task it is to ensure that the marketing and distribution of animal medicines in the UK is undertaken in a responsible manner by AMTRA qualified persons.

• AMTRA maintains registers of qualified persons, including Suitably Qualified Persons (SQPs), authorises training centres for course provision, provides information and advice for registered persons, monitors and accredits continuing professional development (CPD) for SQPs and regulates professional conduct.

• SQPs are permitted under the Veterinary Medicines Regulations to prescribe and supply medicines classified as POM-VPS and NFA-VPS.

• For more about AMTRA and becoming an SQP www.amtra.org.uk

September 2017

Understanding carbohydrates

By Anna Welch BVSc, BSc, MRCVS. Veterinary Nutrition Director, TopSpec

Carbohydrates play an essential role in a horse’s diet. When providing horse owners with nutritional advice, it’s essential to have an understanding of the different types of carbohydrate and how they are utilised. Getting the balance right will promote good health and performance, as well as relaxed behaviour.

What are carbohydrates?

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Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for a horse. Glucose is the simplest form of carbohydrate and is a building block for many others.

Glucose is a monosaccharide which consists of just one sugar unit (fig. 1). Two units linked together are called a disaccharide. Sucrose (glucose + fructose) is an example of a disaccharide and is the most common sugar found in plants. Another disaccharide is lactose (glucose + galactose) which is important for nursing foals but cannot be digested in mature horses.

Oligosaccharides are made up of short chains of monosaccharide units. Mannan Oligosaccharides (MOS) are used in the diet of horses as an immune system stimulant and a prebiotic, promoting the normal cellulolytic (fibre-digesting) bacteria in the hindgut.

Polysaccharides are long chains of sugar units which can be found in the cell wall of plants as fibre (e.g. hemi-cellulose and cellulose), or as a form of stored energy called starch. The horse itself can also store energy as a polysaccharide known as glycogen.

Carbohydrates can be divided into two groups, simple and complex. These two groups are distinguished by a simple difference in structure which dictates whether or not they can be broken down by enzymes in the horse’s small intestine.

Simple carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates, or Non-Structural Carbohydrates (NSC), include sugar and starch.

The monosaccharide units in NSCs are bound by ß-linkages (fig. 2a). These can be broken down by enzymes, such as amylase, in the small intestine of the horse to produce glucose. However amylase is only produced in small quantities by the horse and therefore can only hydrolyse [break down by chemical reaction with water] a limited amount of starch at a time.

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Glucose is then absorbed into the bloodstream and transported to various tissues in the body, where it can either be used to provide energy immediately, or stored as glycogen or fat. Glycogen is stored in the muscles or liver, where it can be utilised as fuel at a later time as required.

If large quantities of starch are fed, excess undigested starch passes into the hindgut where it is digested by acid producing bacteria, including amylolytic [starch-digesting] bacteria. Consequently, numbers of amylolytic bacteria increase and the hindgut becomes more acidic, which can result in a number of problems for the horse.

Complex carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates, or structural carbohydrates, occur in the cell wall portion of the plant and are referred to as fibre. In contrast to simple carbohydrates, the sugar units are bound by ß-linkages (fig. 2b) which cannot be broken down by the enzymes in the horse’s small intestine.

Therefore, fibre passes to the large intestine where it is fermented by the cellulolytic (fibre-digesting) bacteria which can break the bond. This microbial fermentation produces volatile fatty acids, mainly acetate, propionate and butyrate, which can be used as energy sources.

Not all fibres passing into the hindgut are fermented equally (fig. 3). Of the fibre reaching the hindgut, pectin is believed to have the highest digestibility, followed by hemi-cellulose and then cellulose.

Lignin is not at all digestible and, although technically not a carbohydrate, it is closely related and an important promoter of gut motility. Lignin rich forage, such as straw, can be useful in limited quantities to prolong fibre consumption in good-doers on restricted forage intake.

Misconceptions associated with the use of carbohydrates

Low NSC diets are recommended for horses in many situations, such as those prone to gastric ulcers, diarrhoea, colic, laminitis, Insulin Dysregulation (ID), PPID (Cushing’s), tying-up, fizzy behaviour, Developmental Orthopaedic Disease (DOD) and stereotypical behaviour. However, it is a misconception by some that this means their diet should be ‘low-carbohydrate.’ Fibre is a carbohydrate and should form the basis of all horses’ diets, especially those with any of the issues above.

feedgraph

Sugar and starch is present, although the levels vary, in grass and hay/haylage, as well as in the raw materials used in hard feeds. Glucose is the primary energy source used by tissues in the body, especially within the central nervous system, including the brain. Blood glucose levels of the horse are maintained within tight parameters.

Therefore, NSCs should not, and cannot, be eliminated from the diet completely. If the diet provides insufficient amounts, other nutrients may be converted to glucose inefficiently to meet essential demand.

What does this mean for your customers’ horses?

A constant supply of fibre (complex carbohydrate) is essential to maintain a healthy digestive system, with optimal gut motility and balanced hindgut microflora. Most horses should be offered forage ad-lib and it is beneficial for as much of their calorie needs as possible to be met by their forage.

Grass early in its growth cycle (i.e. spring), tends to be lower in fibre (structural carbohydrates) and higher in sugar/starch (NSCs). Haylage cut at this time will also reflect these nutritional values. This type of forage is more appropriate for competition horses, poor-doers, and pregnant or lactating mares.

Conversely, as grass matures through the growing season, fibre (including cellulose and lignin) content rises and NSCs reduce. This makes the grass, and hay cut at this time, better suited to those needing a high fibre and low sugar and starch diet, such as over-excitable horses, good-doers or those with PPID (Cushing’s) or laminitis.

For a horse with low-energy requirements, ad-lib high-fibre forage, balanced using a top specification low-calorie feed balancer or multi-supplement, may be all that they require providing a salt lick is available 24/7.

A horse with higher calorie requirements may not be able to meet their needs with good-quality forage alone. A top specification conditioning feed balancer will enable the horse to utilise maximum nutrients from his forage whilst the addition of an appropriate blend, straights or compound feed can provide more concentrated energy sources.

Feeding a diet that is low in sugar and starch is beneficial to most horses. Therefore, before reaching for cereal-grains or cereal containing compounds, products containing highly digestible fibre sources (‘super-fibres’) should be used to supply additional calories. Examples of ‘super-fibres’ include sugar beet pulp and soya hulls. The addition of oil can also be useful to increase the Digestible Energy (DE) of the feed, without the need for high starch ingredients.

When higher starch diets are necessary, it is important to feed cereal-grains which are digested well in the horse’s small intestine. This means that provided excessive quantities are not fed, overflow of starch into the hindgut is less likely.

Pre-caecal digestibility as it is termed, is not only influenced by the cereal grain used but also whether they are fed raw, or have been processed or cooked.

Raw oats have the highest pre-caecal digestion rate (95%); all other cereal grains such as wheat, barley or maize need cooking before they are fed to a horse.

Summary

• Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for a horse.
• Complex, or structural, carbohydrates (fibre) should form the bulk of a horse’s diet whenever possible.
• The digestion of simple, or non-structural, carbohydrates (sugar and starch) in the horse’s small intestine is limited. Therefore intake should be controlled.
• The appropriate level of sugar and starch will vary according to individual requirements.






By Anna Welch BVSc, BSc, MRCVS. Veterinary Nutrition Director, TopSpec

AMTRA CPD explained

• AMTRA (the Animal Medicines Training Regulatory Authority) is an independent body whose task it is to ensure that the marketing and distribution of animal medicines in the UK is undertaken in a responsible manner by AMTRA qualified persons.

• AMTRA maintains registers of qualified persons, including Suitably Qualified Persons (SQPs), authorises training centres for course provision, provides information and advice for registered persons, monitors and accredits continuing professional development (CPD) for SQPs and regulates professional conduct.

• SQPs are permitted under the Veterinary Medicines Regulations to prescribe and supply medicines classified as POM-VPS and NFA-VPS.

• For more about AMTRA and becoming an SQP www.amtra.org.uk

July 2017

Feeding the senior horse or pony

By Clare Barfoot RNutr

The senior horse population across the developed world is increasing. This is primarily because of improved healthcare and nutrition but also because the reason we keep horses has changed, with the majority of horses and ponies now being pets rather than working animals.

This means that owners are much more committed to providing the best care they can in order to keep their older horses as fit and active as possible.

Age is not just a number


Age can be measured in three ways: Chronological age which is simply the horse’s age in years can give you some information but it can be misleading as some horses, just like people, age more or less successfully.

Physiological age uses markers of ageing and perhaps is the most accurate way to measure ageing, but this whole area is still being researched.

Another way to look at age is demographically; the age at which there is 25% survivorship within the overall population. For horses in the UK in 1999, this was 15 years old. However the cut-offs vary per country with a survey in Australia in 2010 finding 38% of the population was over 15 years old.

However you look at age, one thing is for sure, it’s highly individual with most owners using a combination of chronological age and physiological age to ‘judge’ if their individual horse is old and needs a change in feed and/or management.

The science of ageing – what we know about the horse


Digestion and gut function

Other species including rats and humans show gut and gut based immunity problems as a consequence of ageing. Although little work has been carried in horses, and there have been some conflicting findings, it’s generally thought that, under most practical feeding situations, healthy older horses that have good teeth and appropriate worm control don’t have any reduction in digestive efficiency compared with their younger counterparts.

However, work undertaken by Dougal et al in 2014 did show reduced diversity in bacterial species in the hindgut of aged horses. From a practical perspective, this could mean that older horses may be potentially more sensitive to dietary changes. Therefore it is very important that all grazing, forage and feed changes are carried out slowly to avoid digestive upset.

Body condition and muscle tone

Many horse owners will tell you that their older horse loses weight more easily and has lost muscle tone. However these observations may not be a direct effect of ageing.

A reduction in exercise has a larger effect on muscle tone than ageing per se. With regard to bodyweight changes, equine obesity unfortunately brings just the same challenges to the senior horse population as it does to the general horse population. Two recent surveys, one in the UK and one in the US, found that 10.5% and 28% respectively of the older horse population were found to be overweight, potentially increasing their risk of age-related disease.

Temperature control

Older horses do not cope as well in extremes of temperature compared with younger horses, in the same way that humans often become more sensitive to heat and cold as they age.

So, in colder months, consider rugs, shelters, stabling and during hotter months concentrate on keeping older horses cooler with clipping, hosing down and making sure they have appropriate shade.

Immune defence

Just like humans, horses do show signs of age-related declines in immune function which leaves them more susceptible to infections. This effect is exacerbated in overweight and obese horses and is another reason to keep them lean!

What to consider when feeding an older horse


Fundamentally, feeding a healthy older horse is like feeding any other; only when your customers start to notice age-related health issues should they consider adapting their management and feeding regime.

Below are some of the considerations they may have to take into account:

Dental issues

There is a saying that horses survive as long as their teeth and this is certainly true in the wild. In a domestic situation, dental issues are one of the main reasons for weight loss in older horses. It can be recognised through a lack in condition, digestive issues such as colic, choke, quidding, bad breath, lack of appetite, long fibres in the droppings or obvious pain and discomfort when eating and chewing.

If these signs are not picked up, some owners will increase the compound feed. But the fundamental issue that needs to be addressed is how to replace the long fibre forage portion of the diet appropriately.

Insulin dysregulation

Insulin dysregulation, which often encompasses insulin resistance, is associated with ageing and is often a core component of Cushing’s disease/ Pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID). It is also thought to be involved in laminitis and Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS), which are more prevalent in middle aged and senior horses.

On this basis, an appropriate low non-structural carbohydrate diet is beneficial in the management of all senior horses and ponies.

Joint disease

Pain from general joint disease can affect appetite as well as the horse’s desire to graze and eat from a haynet if there is any pain in his neck and/or fore limbs. Therefore pain management should be discussed with a vet to maintain good welfare.

Herd dynamics

As horses age, herd dynamics become increasingly important. Horses benefit in many ways by living in a herd environment, but as they get older they may be pushed down the pecking order by younger animals which means they may lose out when it comes to feed and water.

Look out for signs of bullying and feed horses separately if needed. Ideally provide a large water trough or more than one water supply in the field too.

Practical feeding advice


Older horses can be perhaps divided into four categories which are described below along with some practical feeding recommendations:

• Young at heart

These are horses or ponies that are in good body condition and are often still ‘in use’. They will not have any apparent age-related conditions and are maintaining bodyweight and health status on their ‘normal’ adult ration.

Feeding recommendations for your customers

Maintain them on their current ration assuming it is balanced for their needs. Continue to monitor condition using a body condition scoring system, maintain a good worming and vaccination programme and have their teeth checked regularly.

But more importantly look out for any gradual changes that may suggest age related conditions are developing. Many horses and ponies that are retired or in light work will maintain their bodyweight on good quality pasture and forage alone so won’t need any supplementary feed. If this is the case, a feed balancer is ideal to provide a balanced diet. Senior balancers often contain higher levels of protein, antioxidants and joint support so are ideal in this situation.

• Old and overweight

This is the ‘middle-aged spread’ character; he will be clinically normal but overweight or obese due to reduced physical activity, his type or because of over feeding.

Feeding recommendations for your customers

Weight loss is the priority here and a calorie restricted diet needs to be put in place asap! Depending on the horse or pony’s current management and diet, the key things to consider are a restriction in grazing, removing all supplementary energy giving feeds, switching to a lower calorie hay (although do not restrict intake to less than 15g per 1kg bodyweight (dry weight) without veterinary advice), and soaking it for at least three to six hours in tepid water.

A feed balancer designed to complement a calorie restricted diet is ideal in this situation as it will balance the diet without providing unwanted calories.

• Aged but with a tendency to lose weight

These are horses and ponies that are again clinically normal but struggle to maintain weight on their ‘normal’ adult ration particularly during the winter months.

Feeding recommendations for your customers

Firstly, a general health check to rule out anything underlying would be a good idea. After that, increase the calories in the diet; which feed you choose will depend on the horse’s current diet. Appropriate options may include a senior feed which is likely to provide more calories, protein, oil and phosphorus than their current ration.

Keeping the sugar and starch restricted will be of benefit, as it will help maintain insulin sensitivity and optimum gut health. Look for feeds that provide energy through highly digestible fibre sources (sugar beet, alfalfa and soya hulls) and oil.

• The golden oldie - the true geriatric

This is the old horse that does have some age-related conditions that require careful management.

Feeding recommendations for your customers

Firstly it’s important to make sure underlying health conditions are checked and monitored by your vet and then welfare can usually be greatly increased with appropriate dietary management.

Below are some tips to help manage two of the most common conditions we see in older horses:

Cushing’s disease (PPID)

This condition needs to be managed in a similar way to laminitis, namely restricting the level of non-structural carbohydrate (water soluble carbohydrate plus starch) in the overall diet to less than 12% in the dry matter. This will often mean a restriction in grazing and choosing an appropriate low NSC forage. Depending on the horse’s condition, choose a feed suitable for a laminitic and if weight gain is required, contact a nutritionist for advice.

Dental issues

Choose softer, easier to chew hays or consider using a chopped hay replacer. However if no long fibre can be managed, a complete soakable diet will have to be provided. There are a few on the market that can be soaked into a mash, or you can soak high fibre cubes alongside sugar beet, hay or alfalfa cubes. The most important consideration is that you will need to replace at least 15g per 1kg of your horse or pony’s bodyweight per day; this is 7.5kg (dry matter) per day for a 500kg horse. Ideally this needs to be fed in five meals per day, fed four hours apart.

Summary

Healthy, older horses with no age-related issues can be fed just the same as their younger counterparts as long as their diet is balanced for their needs and maintains them in an ideal body condition.

However, once you start to notice failing dentition, joint disease or age-related conditions such as PPID, the diet should be adapted to maintain wellbeing, body condition and to prolong quality of life.

Luckily, with so many different feeds on the market, there is an appropriate diet for every senior horse no matter what their individual needs. After all, they deserve it for all the years of fun they have given us!






“Older horses may be potentially more sensitive to dietary changes.”



About the author: Clare Barfoot RNutr is a Spillers nutritionist.

AMTRA CPD explained

• AMTRA (the Animal Medicines Training Regulatory Authority) is an independent body whose task it is to ensure that the marketing and distribution of animal medicines in the UK is undertaken in a responsible manner by AMTRA qualified persons.

• AMTRA maintains registers of qualified persons, including Suitably Qualified Persons (SQPs), authorises training centres for course provision, provides information and advice for registered persons, monitors and accredits continuing professional development (CPD) for SQPs and regulates professional conduct.

• SQPs are permitted under the Veterinary Medicines Regulations to prescribe and supply medicines classified as POM-VPS and NFA-VPS.

• For more about AMTRA and becoming an SQP www.amtra.org.uk

April 2017

Feeding performance veterans

By Kate Hore RNutr (Animal), senior nutritionist at NAF

feedgraph

If horses are kept fit and active, there’s no reason why their competitive life shouldn’t extend well into their 20s.


Older horses in the UK

Without doubt, the equine population in the Western world, including within the UK, is ageing.

One study in the US found that while horses over 20 years of age represented just 2% of admissions to a referral veterinary hospital in 1989, by 1999 this had risen to 12.5% and around 20% by 2003.

Similarly, surveys within the UK find about 30% of horses to be over 15 years old, with 11% being between 20 and 30 years, and 2% over 30 years of age.

The reason for this change is likely to be twofold. In part, more people keep horses purely as pets, and are happy to commit to keeping that horse or pony well into old age. And partly the improvement over the years in nutrition knowledge, routine use of efficient anthelmintics and improvements in equine dentistry have all contributed to horses living happily and healthily into their twenties and beyond.

However, that doesn’t mean we’re growing a population of equine retirees – far from it! As improvements in equine health continue, so we find that horses maintain fitness through their teens and well into their twenties.

A study in 2001 found that while 61% of owners of veteran horses did report that the intensity of the work might decrease, the majority of older horses were still in regular ridden work, and 21% were still actively competing at a median age of 18.

Advances in human health tell us that keeping fit and active throughout your life, and maintaining that activity into older age, helps us keep healthy into older age, and the same is likely to be true of horses. So what can we do from a feed and dietary point of view to help maintain our OAPs? That’s Old Age Performers, of course!

Feeding the veteran

It’s traditionally thought that older horses will suffer with reduced absorption and digestibility of the diet, and so struggle to maintain condition. Therefore their diet needs to be changed accordingly.

It’s now considered that thinking is somewhat out of date, dating back to horses born in the 1960s and 70s who had not had the advantage of modern diets and wormers throughout their lives. Now we find that ageing itself does not significantly affect digestive efficiency in horses until horses become decidedly geriatric, and not just older.

A recent study at CAFRE, Co. Antrim found that maintaining bodyweight (BW) and Body Condition Score (BCS) does not become an issue until an equine is in their late twenties (27 +). In fact, just as with younger horses, a high BCS should be avoided as it may exacerbate health concerns (see Keeping Sound, below).

The advice to owners of older horses, therefore, should be to certainly regularly review BCS and diet as the horse ages, but so long as the horse is maintaining condition and working well, then no radical changes are required. For those horses who do need a little help, ensure the diet stays fibre based but consider short chop fibres or cubed hays which are more easily digested, especially when soaked.

For performance veterans the addition of oil to a fibre diet provides an ideal form of energy. Easily metabolised by the horse and non-heating, oils - such as linseed or soya - are a useful energy source. Just remember if feeding at significant levels for energy, the high oil diet should be balanced with supplementary vitamin E.

Gut health

One area where it is worth considering supplementary support is in gut health. Gastrointestinal conditions, such as colic, are a major concern in older equines. A 2009 study in the UK found colic second only to musculoskeletal issues for reasons for mortality in older horses.

It is recommended to balance the diet with a concentrated balancer, providing live probiotic yeasts and prebiotics, to support a healthy microbiota (microbes including yeasts, fungi, bacteria) of the hind gut.

Concentrated balancers are formulated to include the essential micronutrients, such as vitamins, minerals and trace elements, to balance the fibre based diet.

Keeping sound

Musculoskeletal conditions, particularly lameness and osteoarthritis, are consistently found to be the biggest concern in older horses. In one study at a UK equine charity, the average age of euthanasia was 20, with 66% of those being due to osteoarthritis. So it represents a challenge for owners who wish to keep their older horses performing.

Of course, the joints of performance horses undergo stress as part of normal work, but that is not the whole issue. It is thought that horses, like humans, show evidence of ‘inflamm-ageing’, that is, a raised pro-inflammatory state within the system which comes from higher levels of those cytokines (cells of the immune system) involved in inflammation, including interleukins, interferons and TNF-α (Tumur Necrosis Factor).

As obesity also increases circulating pro-inflammatory cytokines, this is a principle reason why all horses - including older horses - should be kept ‘fit not fat.’

To maintain joint health in older horses, it is recommended to feed a good quality joint supplement. With the huge choice available it can be difficult to know which to advise. Ensure any joint supplement provides a significant level of glucosamine sulphate, which research shows is the most efficient form of glucosamine.

However, thanks to the research advancements in molecular biology, we know that joint stress is a very complex multifactorial condition. Multifactorial problems require multifactorial approaches – one size (glucosamine) cannot possibly fit all. Look for a supplement where glucosamine is combined with other key nutrients including MSM, chondroitin sulphate, HA and specific antioxidant groups, all of which have been shown to work synergistically with glucosamine when in the right combination.

For older horses, or simply older joints in particularly hard working horses, look for a supplement designed for that specific life stage. Supplements for older joints are likely to include the key joint support nutrients, but also omega 3 fatty acid which not only has a role in inflammation but also in heart and brain health.

To summarise

In conclusion, by keeping horses fit and active, monitoring any BCS changes and ensuring gut and joint health are supported, there is no reason why the competing life of performance horses can’t extend well into their twenties and beyond.






Adding oil to a fibre diet provides an ideal form of energy for performance veterans.

AMTRA CPD explained

• AMTRA (the Animal Medicines Training Regulatory Authority) is an independent body whose task it is to ensure that the marketing and distribution of animal medicines in the UK is undertaken in a responsible manner by AMTRA qualified persons.

• AMTRA maintains registers of qualified persons, including Suitably Qualified Persons (SQPs), authorises training centres for course provision, provides information and advice for registered persons, monitors and accredits continuing professional development (CPD) for SQPs and regulates professional conduct.

• SQPs are permitted under the Veterinary Medicines Regulations to prescribe and supply medicines classified as POM-VPS and NFA-VPS.

• For more about AMTRA and becoming an SQP www.amtra.org.uk

November 2016

Fibre for veterans

By Joanna Palmer BSc (Hons) equine nutritionist at Allen & Page

feedgraph

Horses need to ‘trickle feed‘ and should ideally have fibre in the form of grass, hay or haylage available at all times.


Aside from water, fibre is the most important component of every horse’s diet. And for the majority, their fibre needs are easily met through grazing and supplementary forages such as hay and haylage.

There is, however, a growing need for alternative sources of fibre, most notably for the increasing population of veteran horses and ponies who can have difficulty chewing long stem fibre, due to poor teeth.

Why is fibre important?

Horses have evolved to eat a diet that is predominately fibrous forage and in the wild they would graze for up to 18 hours a day. To mimic their need to ‘trickle feed‘, our domesticated horses should ideally have fibre in the form of grass, hay or haylage available at all times.

Fibre is not only essential for good digestive health, its digestion also provides a good source of calories and body heat as it is fermented in the gut. This means that the horse has to use fewer calories to keep warm and is more likely to maintain condition.

If a horse is not getting enough fibre in his diet, he will lose weight, almost in spite of how much high calorie 'bucket' feed he may also be given.

Fibre is made up of lignin, cellulose and hemicellulose. Lignin is indigestible but cellulose and hemicellulose are readily digested in the hind gut by microbial fermentation. The hind gut makes up 62% of the horse’s entire digestive system and is populated by billions of bacteria which break down fibre into volatile fatty acids (VFAs). These VFAs are an important source of slow release energy which are absorbed from the hind gut into the horse’s bloodstream and transported around the body.

Horses that do not eat enough fibre are more likely to develop serious problems, including colic and gastric ulcers. Horse’s saliva contains bicarbonate which is important for neutralising stomach acid; but saliva is only produced when the horse is actively chewing.

If a horse spends a reduced amount of time chewing he will produce less saliva and the acidity of his stomach contents will rise. This more acidic environment can result in damage to the stomach lining and increases the risk of gastric ulcers occurring.

A diet that is low in fibre can also cause horses to develop behavioural issues such as aggression, grumpiness and crib biting due to their inability to fulfil their natural feeding and chewing behaviours.

Hay replacers for veteran horses

Continued advances in veterinary medicine, together with an increase in our own understanding and management of our horses and ponies, have led to a significant increase in their lifespans, with many horses now healthy and active well into their twenties and thirties.

Unfortunately, even with the best possible care and regular attention from a qualified equine dental technician, there is little we can do to prevent the deterioration in dental condition that occurs naturally with age. Loose, worn or missing teeth and pain from sore gums will all affect a horse’s ability to chew efficiently.

Balls of partially chewed food form in the horse’s mouth and are then dropped on the floor. This is known as quidding and is a tell-tale sign that a horse is suffering from problems with their teeth and would benefit from a hay replacer.

The choice and availability of these hay replacers has grown significantly over the last few years and includes short-chopped chaffs, sugar beet, grass nuts, alfalfa pellets and specially prepared, soaking feeds which combine all the necessary ingredients and vitamins and minerals to provide a balanced diet.

It is important to be aware that products such as sugar beet and some of the grass and alfalfa chaffs are high in calories and so not suitable to be fed in large quantities to good doers already at ideal bodyweight. A hay replacer should provide similar nutrition to that of good quality hay. If necessary, additional higher energy fibre sources or a conditioning feed can then be added to the horse’s diet, to provide a calorie boost.

A hay replacer can be fed to replace all or part of the horse’s normal daily fibre intake, depending on their individual needs. As well as veteran horses and ponies, other equines that may benefit from a hay replacer include:

• Fussy feeders who simply do not eat sufficient fibre to meet their nutritional needs.
• A horse or pony that has sustained an injury or undergone an operation that affects their ability to chew - a soaked fibre feed that is easy to eat can be particularly beneficial during recovery.
• Horses and ponies who are prone to colic or recovering from abdominal surgery - again the provision of a soaked fibre feed ensures the horse receives the fibre they need for digestive health and the additional water content helps to keep the gut hydrated and able to function efficiently.
• Those with access to only poor quality grass, hay and haylage.

Feeding a soaked hay replacer

Many people enjoy the convenience and peace of mind of feeding a specially made fibre feed that is balanced with all the essential nutrition a horse requires. One of the most important qualities of a hay replacer is that it is easy to eat, particularly as the main reason for a horse needing an alternative fibre source is poor dental condition. An affected horse is more at risk of choke, simply because he is not able to chew properly.

For this reason a soaked fibre feed is popular with horses and their owners alike, not only for ease of eating and preparation, but with the added benefit of increasing water consumption. Veteran horses can be reluctant to drink enough water, particularly in the winter and by feeding a soaked hay replacer their water intake can be significantly increased.

As a soaked fibre feed takes considerably less effort and time to eat than the equivalent amount of hay, it is important to try to maximise the amount of time a horse spends eating to avoid long periods when no fibre is passing through the gut. A horse’s feeding time can be extended by:

• Dividing the horse’s daily feed into as many meals as possible.
• Feeding from a long trough or straight on the floor to spread the feed out and prevent the horse from taking large mouthfuls.
• Placing obstacles such as large, flat stones in the trough so the horse has to eat around them.
• Splitting each meal into several containers around the stable or field to encourage foraging behaviour.
• Mixing in a chaff if the horse is capable of chewing one.






Horse’s saliva contains bicarbonate which is important for neutralising stomach acid, but saliva is only produced when the horse is actively chewing.



A soaked fibre feed is popular with horses and their owners alike, not only for ease of eating and preparation, but with the added benefit of increasing water consumption.

AMTRA CPD explained

• AMTRA (the Animal Medicines Training Regulatory Authority) is an independent body whose task it is to ensure that the marketing and distribution of animal medicines in the UK is undertaken in a responsible manner by AMTRA qualified persons.

• AMTRA maintains registers of qualified persons, including Suitably Qualified Persons (SQPs), authorises training centres for course provision, provides information and advice for registered persons, monitors and accredits continuing professional development (CPD) for SQPs and regulates professional conduct.

• SQPs are permitted under the Veterinary Medicines Regulations to prescribe and supply medicines classified as POM-VPS and NFA-VPS.

• For more about AMTRA and becoming an SQP www.amtra.org.uk

October 2016

Supplementing the equine diet

By Kate Hore RNutr(Animal), senior nutritionist with NAF

feedgraph

Any bucket feeds should also be based on short chop fibre and split between multiple feed times to mimic grazing.


Horses and ponies evolved as trickle grazers which means, as most of us know, they love to eat all the time!

Around 16 to 18 hours grazing per day is normal for horses allowed free access to pasture. This habit of eating for hours isn’t greediness, but a natural adaptation which allows horses to effectively digest tough, fibrous plants, and extract their required energy, fibre and nutrients from that.

As horse owners, and advisors, this means that if we want to keep our horses and ponies happy and healthy we should be basing their diet predominantly on forage, ie. grazing, hay or haylage.

Natural diets, high in fibre and low in starch, have been shown to improve behaviour and reduce the risk of a number of common health issues such as Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS) and laminitis. Ideally, any bucket feeds should also be based on short chop fibre and split between multiple feed times to mimic grazing.

Balancing the diet

The only real issue with this natural diet is that it can be lacking in nutrients required for health and vitality, particularly the micronutrients – vitamins, minerals and trace elements. It’s a fair question to ask - why, if it’s so natural, is the forage diet not meeting our horses’ dietary requirements?

There are a number of reasons as to why this might be. Firstly, grazing for the modern horse lacks the variety of the shrubs, herbs, legumes and trees available to natural horses. Studies have shown wild horses graze a huge number of species, and will even select different herbs and grazing dependent on the time of year.

Conversely, modern grazing usually only contains one or two species of grass and, perhaps, a legume. So it’s important to put back some of the variety in the diet. Secondly, areas of soil deficiency for certain nutrients are common in the UK. This deficiency will be passed to the grazing and also to the forage harvested in that area. Therefore, again, it’s important to balance up those deficiencies. This is where supplements are advised.

Broad spectrum supplements contain the required vitamins, minerals and trace elements, and are available as powders, liquids or pellets; the choice of which is usually personal preference.

A good quality product will be designed to balance what is naturally provided in a high fibre diet, rather than, for example, providing 100% of RDI (Recommended Daily Intake) for all nutrients - which rather implies the horse shouldn’t eat anything else at all!

Remember, over-supplying just means the horse works harder to excrete excesses, or runs the risk of stores building within the system. So look for a balancing product to suit that horse, their age, work load and body condition score. For working equines, and where maintaining condition is important, supplements will usually include gut support. The harder the horse works, the harder the gut works – and keeping the gut happy and healthy is the secret to keeping the horse happy and healthy.

That gut support may be live probiotic yeast, such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae for the hind-gut microflora; prebiotic sugars, which support the role of the probiotics; natural antacids, such as calcium carbonate, or herbal gut support from plants including mint, ginger and psyllium.

Brewer’s Yeast is also commonly included and is an inactive form of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, meaning the yeast is killed off so doesn’t have a probiotic action, but it’s a useful source of B vitamins, and is considered to support gut health as a prebiotic.

Both probiotic yeast and brewer’s yeast commonly appear together in products, and can cause confusion when reading the label, so it’s worth understanding the difference.

The live probiotic will be listed as Saccharomyces cerevisiae in the Additives section of the label, and will have a ‘cfu’ (colony forming unit) figure telling you the inclusion rate of the yeast. Brewer’s yeast may be listed as ‘Saccharomyces cerevisiae (inactive)’ and will be under Composition, as it’s classed as a feed material rather than additive. This explains how ‘Saccharomyces cerevisiae’ may appear twice on a label from very different ingredients.

The final combination of gut support used in a product will depend both on the manufacturer, and the type of horse the product is designed for.

Feed balancers, which are concentrated, nutrient rich feeds typically fed at between 100g – 500g per day, are really just an extension of this. Balancers usually include gut support alongside vitamins and minerals for health and vitality, so are a form of broad spectrum supplement, generally fed as pellets.

Nutraceuticals

Once the diet is balanced, supplements can then be considered which go beyond simply diet balancing to target various areas of health specifically. The term ‘nutraceutical’ is a fairly new one, but simply means using nutrition as a therapy tool.

This is nothing new, herbal veterinary formulae can be found recorded in the pyramids of ancient Egypt. And increasingly, ‘old wives tales’ are being validated through scientific research.

We all know the power of plants, whether we think we do or not. For example, would you casually chew on some deadly nightshade, or let your horse graze ragwort? So if we know certain plants can be powerfully harmful, it’s not a big leap to understand that others can be powerfully beneficial.

The science of supplements is putting the right combination of those plants and natural ingredients together to support health. Nutraceutical supplements can cover all areas from a simple biotin and zinc blend for hooves, through technical combinations of glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) for joint health, to innovative herbal antioxidant complexes to flush out oxidative stress.

Legal classification

All supplements are legally classed as complementary feed and, as such, come under EU feed law, which prevents any medical claims being made.

While this is a good thing in preventing unsubstantiated claims, it does mean manufacturers are restricted in how they market their supplements, particularly for the targeted nutraceuticals. So if you’re unclear as to whether a supplement is appropriate for a particular horse or not, discuss it with the manufacturer who should be happy to advise.

In conclusion, supplements can basically be split into two groups – those designed to balance the diet, whether covering deficiencies or replacing what has been lost through work, and those designed to be used in a targeted way for specific health support.






Around 16 to 18 hours grazing per day is normal for horses allowed free access to pasture.



The harder the horse works, the harder the gut works.



Kate Hore is a Registered Animal Nutritionist. She has been with NAF for almost 20 years, where she specialises in fine-tuning equine diets through supplementary nutrition.

AMTRA CPD explained

• AMTRA (the Animal Medicines Training Regulatory Authority) is an independent body whose task it is to ensure that the marketing and distribution of animal medicines in the UK is undertaken in a responsible manner by AMTRA qualified persons.

• AMTRA maintains registers of qualified persons, including Suitably Qualified Persons (SQPs), authorises training centres for course provision, provides information and advice for registered persons, monitors and accredits continuing professional development (CPD) for SQPs and regulates professional conduct.

• SQPs are permitted under the Veterinary Medicines Regulations to prescribe and supply medicines classified as POM-VPS and NFA-VPS.

• For more about AMTRA and becoming an SQP www.amtra.org.uk

November 2015

What do horses eat?

Nutrition plays a significant role in equine health and welfare, so it’s difficult not to discuss feeding within any healthcare conversation. For SQPs, therefore, a working knowledge of nutrition means a better service to clients, says Ruth Bishop.

The dietary options on offer in any store are many and varied. No wonder the choice of product can sometimes be quite overwhelming for consumers.

The spectrum of feedstuffs is very wide, with intake ranging from many kilos per day to a few grammes. The major categories are as follows -

feedgraph


Of course there’s some blurring of the edges between categories as some products sit between two, for instance mixes containing high proportions of fibre.

Horses mainly eat forage, in the form of grass, hay or haylage; forages are what horses are designed to eat, and are essential for a healthy horse. Forage is capable of supplying the energy, fibre and protein needs of a horse, especially one at maintenance or light work – although essential micronutrients will in many cases need topping up.

At least 50% of the daily diet should be forage, but in most horses it is significantly greater than this – typically over 80% of the daily diet in many horses kept for leisure purposes.

Grass

Good pasture contains an even cover of palatable grasses, free from weeds, and provides a rich source of nutrients from energy and protein to vitamins, minerals and plant phytochemicals.

Horses thrive at grass - physically and mentally – but some do too well, gaining excess weight. A recent survey of predominately outdoor living horses found that over 30% were overweight.

The amount of nutrition that grass provides varies according to the time of year, the grazing management, the number of horses (or other animals) grazing the land and how long the horse is turned out for. Good grass is generally equivalent to a medium or high energy, high protein feed. It’s at its very richest in spring (and often again in the autumn), when the protein content can be above 20% and the energy content equivalent to that of a racing feed. Actively growing grass can be rich in sugar – as much as 3% of every mouthful, and this together with fructans, a storage form of plant sugar, has been implicated in the incidence of pasture-associated laminitis.

Poor grazing isn’t as rich, but a horse turned out for several hours a day can still easily receive more from its pasture than it will from most low energy feeds.

Hay

Hay is dried mature grass, normally in the form of either:

• Seed hay - usually perennial ryegrass varieties, timothy or specialist blends of them, grown and sown specially for hay. Seed hay tends to be quite coarse in nature with a relatively low energy and protein content; or

• Meadow hay - from pasture permanently kept as grass, usually comprised of a more varied mixture of grass species, and tends to be softer and finer with a higher nutritive value than seed hay.

As a general rule of thumb, small bales weigh about 20kg, with large bales weighing 250-350kg depending on size. A slice or section from a small bale typically weighs about 2kg / 4lbs.

The main concern with hay is its hygienic quality: moulds, spores and other dust particles that develop during harvest or storage can cause respiratory irritation and lead to the development of Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO) in horses.

Soaking and steaming Hay

Unless it’s been expertly dried in controlled conditions (there are suppliers who do this), UK hay is likely to contain some mould and dust. Soaking or steaming hay are popular ways of removing any dust, by either removing the particles, or effectively ‘sticking’ them to the grass stalks so that they are consumed rather than inhaled.

Soaking time

Research has shown that 30 minutes’ soaking is effective. Soaking hay also causes some loss of nutritional value as some soluble sugars and proteins are leached out into the water; more soaking equals less nutritional worth. Owners of laminitis-risk horses can take advantage of this to reduce unwanted sugar contents.


Haylage

Haylage is grass that is baled moist (typically 35-40% moisture) and then bagged or wrapped to keep the air out and moulds from forming. It’s popular with growers because it’s easier to make than hay, and with horse owners because of its low dust and spore content. Plastic packaging means it can be stored outside.

Disadvantages are that quality can be variable between different suppliers. Also portioning can be a challenge, since the bales don’t often break into easy slices. Moisture content can be variable between suppliers, ranging from 20-50%.

Small haylage bales weigh about 25kg, whereas large wrapped bales can be 180-250kg or greater.

Haylage tips for SQPs

• Up to 50% of haylage can be water, compared with 15% in hay, so it cannot be fed on a weight-for-weight basis with hay; advise feeding about 1½ times the weight of haylage as hay.

• The quality of the airtight seal is essential. Air ingress will allow mould growth in the bales. Small bales may split at the seal, large bales can be punctured by haylage stalks or from bird, rodent or mole damage.

• Quality is all important, so choose a supplier with a good reputation and ask for an analysis of their product.

• A good rule of thumb is to use a bale within four days of opening (less in summer) as moulds start to grow again immediately the bale is opened.

• Avoid feeding visibly mouldy haylage and “gritty” or soil contaminated material, as there could be a risk of listeriosis.


Forage analysis

Hay and haylage are often thought of as an inert and safe nutritional bases. However because they constitute such a large part of the diet their contribution is worth monitoring especially if the horse competes, is at risk of laminitis, has Cushings disease etc. Energy, protein and sugar contents can vary depending on the grass species, date of cutting and the weather during cutting and baling. Sugar contents can exceed 10% in some forages. Nutritional value can be quantified by a simple test, a service offered by many feed manufacturers.

Ad lib forage feeding

Many owners feed on a free access or ad libitum basis to ensure the horse always has forage available. Actual individual amounts consumed should be monitored though as offering ad lib doesn’t always mean an optimum intake especially where several horses share the forage, or if the quality is variable.

Chaffs and forage replacers

A number of chopped fibre products are marketed as forage replacers. Chops and chaffs that can be added to the hard feed to bulk it up or slow down the rate of eating. There is some evidence to show that horses take longer to eat short chop forages than they do hay or haylage.

There are also complete fibre feeds available fortified with protein, vitamins and minerals etc., designed as the full compound feed. These aim to fit more closely with the digestive physiology of the horse, and are particularly good for horses or ponies prone to laminitis and digestive issues such as gastric ulcers.

Compound feeds

Compounds are balanced blends of ingredients formulated to meet the requirements of horses when fed in conjunction with forage. A recent survey found 87% of owners feed some form of compound, the majority of which was commercially prepared.

The market for compound feed is highly fragmented with different products and product forms for every kind of horse or pony (see table below). Balancers are concentrated, nutrient-rich versions of compounds, and the balancer category has itself recently become more fragmented along similar lines to compound feeds.

Feed Description Typical
feed rate
Low
energy / High fibre
Cubes and mixes with a high fibre content designed for horses at maintenance, in light work, or for horses that work well off low energy feeds. 1-4 kg per day
Senior
feeds
Cubes and mixes with additional nutrients for older horses. Some come in low-and high-energy form; some
contain joint support ingredients.
1-4 kg per day
Feeds
for laminitics
Usually in fibre-mix or cube form, low energy, high fibre, low starch and sugar complete feeds.,Capable of replacing the total diet of at risk animals. 1-10 kg per day
Competition
feeds
Medium energy cubes and mixes with higher vitamin and mineral contents designed for the working and competing horse or pony. 2-6 kg per day
Conditioning
feeds
Higher energy and protein feeds designed to put on weight. Some are starch based, but more modern
versions are high in fibre and oil to ensure condition is achieved without increased excitability.
1-3kg per day
Stud
and breeding feeds
High energy, protein and mineral feeds designed for breeding stock. 2-6 kg per day
Racehorse
feeds
High energy cubes and mixes for horses in training or intense work.,Traditional products are starch based, but
modern variants use alternative energy sources such as oil and digestible fibre to support digestive health and aid performance.Some companies offer low energy lay off or rest and recuperation variants for horses on the easy list.
5-7 kg per day
Feed
Balancers
Concentrated
nutrient-rich pellets, supplying essential amino acids, vitamins and
minerals.,Commonly marketed to
complement high-forage diets, but also as top-ups to existing diets or when
cereals, eg. oats, form a large part of the diet.
250g– 1kg


Supplements

Supplements augment the nutrition provided by the main part of the diet. They come in a variety of forms; powders, herb blends, liquids, pastes, pellets, licks - and in a variety of packaging.

Under regulations governing animal feed, supplements are considered “complementary compound feeds” as are cubes, mixes and balancers. However in the horse owner’s eyes, they fulfil a different role, tailoring individual diets to meet specific needs.

Supplements are used regularly, with estimates of their use in 80% of equine diets.

There are two main categories of supplements:

- Broad-spectrum: providing a broad spectrum of major and trace minerals together with vitamins, these are designed for topping up micronutrient levels where little or no hard feed is fed. There’s some blurring of the edges here between balancers and broad spectrum supplements in terms of the nutrients they supply. Balancers tend to be in pelleted form whereas supplements can be in the form of a powder or a lick.

- Specific: providing an ingredient or mixture of ingredients designed to perform a specific function. These range from daily addition of salt and/or oil to the diet to more targeted support, eg. for joints or hooves.

The top five specific nutritional concerns of horse owners are hoof quality, joint quality, colic, care of the senior horse and laminitis. Behaviour also ranks highly especially related to supplement purchases. Different companies takes different approaches to each functional area, and the following table gives some examples of these.

Medicinal claims for supplements and feeds are not permitted. There is an exception for laminitis, but only in relation to a product’s (low) starch and sugar content. Claims linking laminitis and hoof health are not permitted.

Category Examples of typical product approaches
Behaviour - Nutrients and herbs associated with calming or modifying behaviour eg.magnesium
Probiotics – in case behaviour is caused by digestive discomfort
Joint support - Support to the cartilage via providing building blocks for cartilage formation
e.g. glucosamine, chondroitin sulphate, MSM, collagen
- Increased antioxidant support to combat free radicals in the joint
- Substances added to support joint comfort
Hoof - Nutrients to support hoof growth and development
- Biotin is research proven but other vitamins, amino acids and trace
elements can also be added.
Skin and coat - Oils, particularly sources of omega 3 fatty acids
- Nutrients and herbs that help coat and skin quality
Digestive support




About the author

Ruth Bishop is a director Ruth Bishop Consulting Ltd. She has 25 years’ research and development experience in animal nutrition both in consultancy and commercial roles in major food businesses including Dalgety and Mars. She is a former technical director of Mars Horsecare and works with feed industry trade associations.




AMTRA CPD explained

• AMTRA (the Animal Medicines Training Regulatory Authority) is an independent body whose task it is to ensure that the marketing and distribution of animal medicines in the UK is undertaken in a responsible manner by AMTRA qualified persons.

• AMTRA maintains registers of qualified persons, including Suitably Qualified Persons (SQPs), authorises training centres for course provision, provides information and advice for registered persons, monitors and accredits continuing professional development (CPD) for SQPs and regulates professional conduct.

• SQPs are permitted under the Veterinary Medicines Regulations to prescribe and supply medicines classified as POM-VPS and NFA-VPS.

• For more about AMTRA and becoming an SQP www.amtra.org.uk

 

 

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