Performance Horses and Muscle Recovery

Stevi Hillman

In various disciplines speed, strength, collection and stamina all play into the difference between earning a big paycheck and awards or going home empty handed. Performance horses need to be able to come out of the stall ready to win, whether it’s the first day of the event or the last. Like their human athlete counterparts, a solid nutrition plan is the fuel that allows performance horses to compete and perform at their highest level. With Rebound Technology™, recovery isn’t an afterthought, the horse is always being fed for optimal performance.

Rebound Technology™ is a unique, proprietary blend of research-backed chromium and branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) to support exercise recovery. When performance horses have the right nutrition, they are more able to quickly return to peak performance after strenuous training sessions and/or competitions.  Each time an equine athlete competes or performs there is an opportunity to increase its value, that of future offspring or help a rider achieve his or her goals. That’s why avoiding muscle fatigue and giving horses the ability to rebound from exercise and efficiently train for performance activities is a high priority for horse owners and trainers alike.

What Happens When Horses Exercise

When horses exercise, they experience an increased cortisol level, reduced muscle glycogen, increased Serum Amyloid A (normal inflammation), increased heart rate, reduced blood sugar and reduced plasma BCAAs. Three major factors in improving athletic performance in the horse are muscle development, muscle recovery and glycogen availability. Faster glycogen replenishment in the horse could lead to increased muscular performance.

As horses work, ATP or energy enables their muscle fibers to quickly contract and relax. Each muscle cell contains only enough ATP for a few contractions, which means horses must continuously resynthesize ATP during exercise primarily via stored glycogen. The more glucose we can make available to the cells in the performance horse, the better able they are to quickly replenish glycogen. The unique ingredient combination found in Rebound Technology™ optimizes the opportunity for these glycogen and glucose levels to rebound after work.

The essential BCAAs leucine, isoleucine and valine help to decrease muscle fatigue and improve muscle recovery19. Research with BCAAs has demonstrated that leucine infusion along with glucose infusion appears to increase whole body glucose availability, potentially increasing glycogen synthesis in horses1. Oral leucine supplementation has shown increased markers associated with protein synthesis in the post-exercised horse. Providing an increased rate of protein synthesis would increase both muscle mass and muscle recovery, both of which may improve athletic performance. In humans, BCAA supplementation prior to exercise appeared to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness and muscle fatigue, increased insulin response along with increased post-exercise rates of glycogen synthesis 5,7,8,9,10. Increased availability of amino acids and glucose demonstrated in research shows an improvement not only in protein synthesis, but also a decrease in protein breakdown19

Chromium’s Role in Recovery and Protein Synthesis

Recently FDA and AAFCO approved chromium propionate as a feed ingredient. Found in Rebound Technology™, it supports glucose getting to the cells where it’s needed for energy to repair and replenish after work. Chromium is involved in carbohydrate metabolism and other insulin dependent processes such as protein and lipid metabolism12. As horses exercise, increased levels of cortisol work against insulin as insulin attempts to move glucose and nutrients into muscle cells. Chromium supports more efficient insulin function by stabilizing insulin receptors leading to more efficient movement of glucose from the blood stream, thus reducing the negative impacts of exercise stress and increasing the body’s physiologic ability to move nutrients into muscle cells to function efficiently during exercise and rebuild muscle broken down following exercise13. Research in Thoroughbreds during exercise has demonstrated blood glucose was controlled on lower insulin levels versus control, which demonstrated higher insulin sensitivity when they were supplemented with chromium11

Another potential benefit to the improved insulin sensitivity demonstrated in horses supplemented with chromium propionate is in supporting the signaling pathway for protein synthesis, which is the re-building of structures. When insulin sensitivity is improved, glucose can more readily be available for protein synthesis. Insulin infusion in mature horses was shown to stimulate whole-body protein synthesis and activate the upstream and downstream effectors of mTor signaling in the gluteus medius muscle1. Simply put, this means is there was an increase in protein synthesis, or a re-building of muscle.

Glucose – An Important Component for the Working Horse

Glucose is the key energy source for every cell in the horse’s body and BCAAs stimulate protein synthesis. The proprietary BCAAs and chromium in Rebound Technology™ have been shown to make this key energy source more readily available to the cells of the horse. Rebound Technology™ can be extremely important for the performance horse needing muscle repair and remodeling to rebound in between shows and workouts.

Click here for more information on Rebound Technology and Nutrena’s ProForce products.

References:

1. Urschel, et al. Insulin infusion stimulates whole-body protein synthesis and activates the upstream and downstream effectors of mechanistic target of rapamycin signaling in the gluteus medius muscle of mature horses.  Domestic Animal Endocrinology 2014; 47: 92-100.

2. Glade,  M.J.  Timed  administration  of  leucine,  isoleucine,  and  valine, glutamine, and carnitine to enhance athletic performance. Equine Athlete 1991; 4:4-10.

3. Trottier, et al. Equine endurance exercise alters serum branched-chain amino acid and alanine concentrations. Equine vet. Journal 2002; 34:168-172

4. Eva Blomstrand, Jörgen Eliasson, Haåkan K. R. Karlsson, Rickard Köhnke, Branched-Chain Amino Acids Activate Key Enzymes in Protein Synthesis after Physical Exercise, The Journal of Nutrition 2006; 136(1): 269S–273S

5. Shimomura et al. Nutraceutical Effects of Branched-Chain Amino Acids on Skeletal Muscle. 2006. Downloaded from https://academic.oup.com/jn/article-abstract/136/2/529S/4664393 on 05 June 2020

6. Ra, S., Miyazaki, T., Ishikura, K. et al. Combined effect of branched-chain amino acids and taurine supplementation on delayed onset muscle soreness and muscle damage in high-intensity eccentric exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 10, 51 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-10-51

7. Arfuso, et. Al. Dynamic Change of Serum Levels of Some Branched-Chain Amino Acids and Tryptophan in Athletic Horses After Different Physical Exercises. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science 2019; 77:12-16

8. Van Loon, et al.  Maximizing post exercise muscle glycogen synthesis: carbohydrate supplementation and the application of amino acid or protein hydrolysate mixtures. Am J Clin Nutri 2000; 72:106-111

9. Van Loon, et al.  Plasma insulin responses after ingestion of different amino acid or protein mixtures with carbohydrate.  Am J Clin Nutr 2000; 72:96–105

10. Zawadzki, KM, et al.  Carbohydrate-protein Complex Increases the Rate of Muscle Glycogen Storage After Exercise.  J Appl Physiol 1992 May; 72(5):1854-9

11. Pagan, J. D., S. G. Jackson and S. E. Duren. 2018, March. The effect of chromium supplementation on metabolic response to exercise in thoroughbred horses. ker.com/published/the-effect-of-chromium-supplementation-on-metabolic-response-to-exercise-in-thoroughbred-horses

12. Spears, et Al. 2020. Chromium propionate increases insulin sensitivity in horses following oral and intravenous carbohydrate administration. Journal of Animal Science 2020; 3:1-11

13. Mertz, W. 1992. Chromium history and nutritional importance. Biol Trace Elem. Res. 32:3.

14. Lancome, et al. Muscle Glycogen Depletion and Subsequent Replenishment Affect Anaerobic Capacity of Horses. J Appl Physiol. 2001; 91:1782-1790.

15. Lacombe V, Hinchcliff KW, Geor RJ, and Lauderdale MA. Exercise that induces substantial muscle glycogen depletion impairs subsequent anaerobic capacity. Equine Vet J Suppl 1999; 30:293–297.

16. NRC. 2007. Nutrient requirements of horses. 7th rev. ed. Washington (DC): National Academies Press.

18. Graham-Thiers P.M.; Kronfeld D.S. Amino acid supplementation improves muscle mass in aged and young horses. Journal of animal science 2005; 83:2783–2788, 10.2527/2005.83122783x

19. Matsui et al.  Effect of amino acid and glucose administration following exercise on the turnover of muscle protein in the hindlimb femoral region of Thoroughbreds.  Equine Vet Journal Suppl 2006; 38:S36 611-616.

How to Safely Introduce Dogs and Horses

Many of us who own horses also have a dog (or two or three…) that is part of the farm family. In general, horses and dogs go together like peas and carrots. But just like people, animals are individuals so caution should always be taken. If you’re considering introducing your dog to your horse, here are a few steps to help ensure the meeting goes well.

  • First, make sure your dog is trained and obedient. Basic commands – especially come, sit and stay – are vital to be certain you have your dog’s attention.
  • Gradually introduce your dog to your horse by getting him or her used to the daily routine of the barn. Let your dog see your horse in a stall or pasture before they meet nose-to-nose. Use this approach for a few days. 
  • When you are ready to introduce your dog and horse, have someone there to help in case an unexpected situation arises. Each person should have full control of only one animal. You don’t want your dog’s leash getting entangled around a horse’s legs or a horse stepping on a lead rope if you are busy trying to tend to your dog. 
  • If either your dog or your horse is nervous, don’t force the interaction and try again another day. And if one acts aggressively, immediately remove them from the situation and when all is calm reward them with a pat or treat.
  • You’ll recognize when your four-legged companions are comfortable with each other when they just go about their own business, in a relaxed, calm manner.

The most important thing is to remember to take the introductions slowly. By nature, dogs and horses are predator and prey, so building the relationship will take some time. Once they are accustomed to each other, they are likely to be good companions for life.

Using Nutrition to Manage Horses with Gastric Ulcers

A horse owner recently contacted us about changing her horse’s diet. She stated that they are ¾ of the way through show season and he is just “off his game”. It seems that the horse was showing a lack of appetite and not finishing his grain. In addition, his disposition became rather grumpy and his performance level was suffering. In addition, a few times he had shown signs of mild colic over the past two months.

We suggested the owner contact her veterinarian, as it sounded like the horse may have an ulcer. The percentage of horses with ulcers continues to increase, and higher intensity levels of training are correlated with an increase in ulcer incidence. The ulcers often occur in the upper third of the stomach, which does not have a mucus layer and does not secrete bicarbonate that helps to buffer stomach acid. It is also interesting to note that ulcers have not been founded on pastured horses. This is likely due to the fact that as a horse grazes, it produces large amounts of saliva, which contain the bicarbonate and amylase needed to provide a buffer for the stomach lining.

Within the week she contacted me and said the horse had been diagnosed with a gastric ulcer. He was now on medication, but we needed to make dietary changes as well. I suggested the following “back to basic” steps to help manage her horse’s condition:

  1. Allow the horse to be turned out or hand grazed.
  2. If access to pasture is not possible, good quality hay is a must. Recent studies indicate that legume hay such as alfalfa is an excellent choice due to the high calcium content which may help to serve as a buffer.
  1. Breaking the daily rations into smaller more frequent meals helps keep saliva production constant and protect the stomach lining – more like “grazers” instead of “meal eaters”. If possible, use a slow feed hay net (also called a nibble net) to allow the horse to consume hay more slowly and increase chewing time. Also, it’s a good idea to feed hay prior to grain.
  2. High starch diets also tend to aggravate ulcers due to increased acid production. A high fat, high fiber feed is ideal.
  3. Consider a digestive supplement such as Nutrena Empower Digestive Balance which contains marine sourced calcite. It is a highly porous form of calcium, includes other trace minerals such as magnesium, and has twice the buffering capacity of regular calcium carbonate.

It’s important to remember that all horses are unique and respond differently to stressors. If you can minimize stressors as much as possible, provide your horse with access to pasture and light exercise, offer quality nutrition and forage, you are helping to limit the chance your horse will develop ulcers.

Signs of a Healthy Foal

Chances are your foal will sail through the baby stage with flying colors, especially if it’s normal at birth and good management practices are in place at your farm. However, even under the best circumstances, it’s possible that your youngster could fall prey to one or more problems that can affect foals. How does a healthy newborn foal appear?

Healthy newborn foals should:

  • Assume a sternal position (be able to sit up on his chest) within minutes of delivery.
  • Breathe easily, slowing from an initial high of about 70 breaths per minute to 40 to 60 minutes within 15 minutes of birth.
  • Have red or at least pink mucous membranes, indicating adequate oxygen is reaching the tissues.
  • Display a strong suckle reflex within two to 20 minutes of birth.
  • Appear alert and display an affinity for the dam.
  • Be able to stand within two hours and nurse within three hours.

If your foal fails to meet these criteria, he may already be suffering from a serious condition and needs the prompt attention of a veterinarian. Good observation coupled with prompt action gives you the best opportunity to help your foal avoid a setback. 

Make every effort to maximize the chances of your foal’s continued good health. These good management practices can make the difference between a healthy foal and a sick one:

  • A well-ventilated, clean foaling environment.
  • Good farm and stable hygiene and parasite control.
  • Sound nutrition, current vaccinations and regular deworming of all equine residents.
  • Plenty of fresh air and room to exercise for the foal as well as commencement of a regular vaccination and deworming program.

Our Foal Health Watch Guide describes signs of a variety of common ailments that can occur during the first 6 months of a foal’s life. In most cases, even if the problem is not life-threatening, you will still want your veterinarian to confirm the diagnosis and direct you in the most effective treatment. Please keep in mind this guide lists signs that are frequently observed with certain foal disorders, but not all foals display the same signs or to the same degree. A foal’s condition can deteriorate very rapidly, so don’t wait until your sick baby shows all the signs before acting and calling your veterinarian.

Foal Health Watch Guide

FIRST SYMPTOMOTHER SYMPTOMSPROBABLE DIAGNOSISACTIONS
Labored, suppressed or noisy breathingSoreness, reluctance to moveBroken ribs due to severe compression from deliveryStall rest, gentle handling
 Reluctance to move or nurse, extended abdomenRuptured diaphragm, often due to birth traumaImmediate corrective surgery
 Yellow-stained amniotic fluid with deliveryMeconium-aspiration pneumoniaAntibiotics
 Depression, coughing, intermittent feverFoal pneumoniaAntibiotic treatment based on bacterial culture
Loose stoolsMild diarrhea at time of dam’s foal heatTransient, “9-day scours”Gently clean foal’s tail and buttocks with soapy water to prevent scalding of skin
 Dehydration, scalding of skin on buttocks, matting of tailNoninfectious diarrhea (from overeating, eating manure, etc.)Fluids, decreased rations, clean tail and buttocks as above
 Rapid dehydration, scalding, matting, fever, depressionInfectious diarrheaAntibiotics, fluids, clean tail and buttocks regularly
ColickyColic after ingesting first milk, enema ineffectiveClosed colon or rectum – development error causes gut to end in blind pouchSurgery, success depends on length of missing part
 Rolling, thrashing, lying on back, fecal matter not passedSevere constipation, fecal mass too large or too far forward for enema to be successfulLaxatives, fluids
 Lethargy, appetite loss, diarrhea, teeth grinding, lying on ground with feet in airUlcerConfirm with endoscopy, treat with anti-ulcer medication
Profuse watery discharge from eyesBlinking, avoidance of light, scratched corneaInversion of eyelid (entropion), dehydration, if uncorrected can lead to blindnessFluids, lubricate eye and lids gently, pull out eyelid as often as necessary, surgery may be needed
Navel stump dripping urineWet, soiled, warm, swollen navel stump“Leaky navel” (pervious urachus), umbilicus fails to closeDaily cauterization with silver nitrate or iodine, possible surgery
StrainingTail switching, meconium (first feces) not passedSimple constipation, meconium not passedEnema, fluids
 Distended abdomen, little or no urine produced, toxicity, fever, jaundiced membranes, progressive weaknessRuptured bladder due to birth trauma or jerk on umbilical cord after deliverySurgery to repair hole in bladder, drain urine from bladder, fluids
Low immunoglobulin (IgG) countLess than 400 mg/dlFailure of passive transfer, foal did not receive adequate colostrum or was unable to absorb IgGProvide colostrum if foal less than 24 hours old, otherwise administer plasma IgG transfusion
 Greater than 400 mg/dl, low risk environmentPartial failure of passive transferFoal probably adequately protected, but watch closely
 Less than 800 mg/dl, high risk environmentPartial failure of passive transferAdminister plasma IgG transfusion, monitor IgG level
Weakness, incoordinationDelivery between 300 and 320 days of gestation, low birthweight, little or no suckle strength, weak fetlocks and lax pasternsPremature birthOxygen, humidity and temperature control, tube feeding, fluids
 Intolerance to exerciseCongenital heart defectCardiovascular exam, surgery
 Will not nurse, severe diarrhea, dehydration, subnormal temperature, bluish-white third eyelid“Sleeper foal” caused by Actinobacillus equii bacteriaAntibiotics, fluids
 Inflammation of umbilical vein, fever, depression“Navel ill” (septicemia), systemic bloodstream infectionAntibiotics, fluids, intensive nursing care
Swollen jointsLameness, fever, depression, joints are hot and painfulJoint ill (septic arthritis) or bone infection (osteomyelitis)Antibiotics, surgical draining
Mare cannot nurseMare dies, does not allow foal to nurse, or is unable to provide milk (agalactiae)Orphan or rejected foal, agalactic mare, early weaningSupply colostrum is newborn, provide foal milk replacer or nurse mare

Equine New Year’s Resolutions

It’s that time of year when everyone seems to be resolving to do things differently. Whatever that means to you, we are putting a horsey spin on resolutions as they relate to what we do with our equine partners and our activities around the barn. Here are some resolutions to consider if you’re trying to change things up for the New Year:

  1. Commit to a barn safety evaluation. Look around and identify things that need repair such as loose boards, nails protruding, broken crossties, or loose electrical outlets. This is also a great time to revisit or create your fire evacuation plan. (link to fire evac article) Make sure you have extinguishers around in key areas and that they are functioning. You don’t want to discover your fire extinguisher is no longer working when you need it most.
  2. Focus on nutrition. Take a close look at your horse and determine if they require some extra weight, need to lose a few pounds (like many of us this time of year!) or look just right. Also check to see how your horse’s topline looks and utilize the TES tool (TES link) to review how it should look. This is a chance to re-evaluate your nutrition program.
  3. Work on an emergency fund. “Horses are extremely predictable and always make good decisions”, said no one ever. We all know that there is a high probability our horses will get injured or sick at some point in their lives. And often it’s on a weekend or holiday that incurs emergency vet fees. If you can put away some extra funds to build up savings in case disaster strikes when you least expect it, it will help soften the economic blow.    
  4. Clean out your trailer, tack box or your mobile tack room (i.e. your truck or car). “A place for everything and everything in its place” is a great mantra to start the New Year off right. There is nothing more satisfying than opening a neatly organized tack box or getting rid of the extra horsehair in your vehicle.
  5. Enjoy your time together. No matter what you do with your horse, commit to spending some quality time with them every day. Riding, groundwork or even just some grooming to see what lurks under that winter blanket or shaggy coat will strengthen your bond.

The start of the new year is always a great time to evaluate some of our equine endeavors. Comment below if you have any of your own horsey resolutions.

Nutrena Nutrition Tips: Feeding Horses During Reduced Work

If your horse’s work level changes during the year, then his feeding program should change as well, to ensure he stays in peak condition no matter what his activity level. Adjusting caloric intake through adjusting the total amount fed, or through changing which feed product is being given, are both viable options to help maintain ideal body condition and topline score.