Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Equine Nutrition Interview, Part 1

Our friends at O3 Animal Health, makers of Equine Omega Complete, have generously offered the services of their equine nutrition consultant, Meredith Kahn, for this equine nutrition interview.

Meredith Kahn is highly qualified to offer guidance on equine nutrition, having received her B.Sc. in biology from the University of San Francisco followed by a master's degree in animal science from Texas A&M working under Dr. Josie Coverdale. She completed her thesis project on the investigation of inflammation and cartilage turnover in Quarter Horses of varying ages.

SRR: We all know that quality hay should form the basis of any good equine diet. Is there anything in particular that we should look out for in choosing a type of hay to feed a hunter or a jumper?

MK: With forage selection, it is important to look at your horse’s specific needs. When choosing hay for your hunter jumper there are some key things to take into consideration. Maturity is a direct reflection of quality. Immature, nutrient dense forage contains decreased amounts of structural carbohydrates: cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. As forage matures, the amount of fiber increases to structurally support the plant. Lignin is an organic substance that comprises cell walls and gives rigidity to plants. It also directly interferes with the digestion of cellulose and hemicellulose. Therefore, as concentrations increase with maturity, overall digestibility of the forage decreases. More mature forages are also likely to have decreased energy and protein levels. The average horse can thrive on a forage of mid-maturity, however, easy keepers do well on more mature forages, while hard keepers require a more nutrient dense, immature forage.

When baled at a similar level of maturity, legumes typically produce forages of higher quality that are more palatable and digestible than grasses. In addition, legumes will generally have higher energy, protein and mineral levels. While legumes are a great option for working horses, it is important to consider the level of maturity, as immature legumes can often exceed your horse’s nutrient requirements. A more mature legume is therefore favored over a less mature one.
There is no one hay in particular that we should be feeding our hunter jumpers. Choosing a hay to offer is really based on the individual horse. Are they an easy keeper or a hard keeper? How old are they? Where are they located? Do they have access to fresh pasture? Forage is the basis to any equine diet. As such, by selecting a hay of specific maturity and plant species, you will fulfill your horse’s individual nutrient requirements, allowing them to grow and develop into the best athlete possible.

SRR: How much grain does the average hunter or jumper really need each day?

MK: High-quality forage intake is the foundation of any equine diet. When considering the diet of exercising horses, energy is our primary concern. The truth is that forage alone cannot typically meet the energy demands of a working horse. As the workload increases, the concentrate to roughage ratio increases, although, removing roughage completely from the diet is not an option. The minimum roughage intake is around 0.75 to 1% body weight on a dry matter basis. The average hunter jumper is considered to be working at the level of “moderate work” according to the 2007 NRC. These horses primarily make use of aerobic metabolism with spurts of anaerobic metabolism and should be receiving a diet composed of 60% concentrate and 40% forage. For example, a 1,200 lb. horse that has a daily dry matter intake of 2% body weight (BW) will eat about 24 lbs. of feed per day. For a moderately working horse this is 14.4 lbs. of concentrate daily (60% of the diet/1.2% BW) and 9.6 lbs. of forage (40% of the diet/0.8% BW). Keep in mind that grain at this percentage should be split into at least two meals per day to avoid and digestive complications.

SRR: What is the ideal body condition for a hunter or a jumper?

MK: According to the Henneke body condition scoring system, the ideal body condition for a hunter jumper is a five. Ideal body condition depends on the use of the animal. This system was originally designed to monitor broodmares, as there is an influence of body condition score on reproductive efficiency. The system is particularly useful if body weight cannot be measured. It is a fast and inexpensive way to evaluate your horse’s body condition. The scoring system ranges from one to nine, one being poor and nine being extremely fat. It is based on visual and tactile appraisal of six areas of the body, which include the ribs, behind the shoulder, along the neck, the withers, the crease down the back and the tail head. For a body condition score of five, the ribs are not visually distinguishable, but can be felt, the fat around the tail head feels soft and spongy, the withers are rounded and the neck and shoulders blend smoothly into the body.

SRR: What is the best way to put weight on a competition horse?

MK: Along with increased access to good quality, nutritious forage, adding an oil like Equine Omega Complete to the diet is an easy and effective way to add calories and put weight on your horse. Fat has 2.25 times the energy by weight as carbohydrate. Fat is a source of calm calories that provides increased caloric density without an increase in volume. It does not make your horse hot or overwhelm their system. All oils are essentially equal in energy content, however, it is important to look at the chemical composition to be sure that you are providing a source of good, beneficial fat. Essential omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are required in the diet, as they cannot be made inside the body. Omega-6’s promote blood clotting, inflammation and immune system responses, however if these processes get carried away, they can actually become more harmful than helpful. The diet must therefore contain the correct proportion of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in order to keep these processes under control. Equine Omega Complete is made from all natural, GMO-free, mechanically expelled soybean oil with added human grade, deep water, wild caught fish oil. It has a very tight ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, mimicking the fatty acid content of fresh pasture grass that many domesticated horses are lacking.

SRR: How do good fats benefit the horse?

MK: There are many benefits to supplementing good fat, including reduced joint and tissue inflammation and the development and maintenance of healthy immune and digestive systems. However, it really starts at the cellular level. Every cell in the body is surrounded by fat and this fat is a direct reflection of what is provided in the diet. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids compete for incorporation into the cell membrane. When greater quantities of omega-3 fatty acids are present in the diet, they are integrated into the membrane at the expense of omega-6 fatty acids. As part of the cell membrane, omega-3 fatty acids increase fluidity, flexibility, permeability and the activity of enzymes that bind to the membrane. Omega-3 fatty acids have a key function in the formation, growth and regeneration of cells and in the transmission of cell signals throughout life. Therefore, by providing a good source of fat in the diet, we can directly influence cell development and function, and, ultimately, every system in the body.


Due to the abundance of information provided, this interview has been split into two parts. Check back next week for part two!


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