Rebuilding Topline: “Pre-Work” Prior to Putting Your Horse Back in Work

Rebuilding ToplineAn ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If your horse has been out of work for a few months this might just be the perfect time to do a little prep work. 

Before you hop back in the saddle, use the weeks prior to check if your horse’s diet is balanced and providing the nutrients to have their body ready to support, recover and rebuild when you start exercising. 

A common misconception about topline is that it can be improved through exercise alone. Lack of exercise – or the wrong type of exercise ‑ is often blamed for a poor topline.

While exercise alters existing muscles, building new muscles is a different story. The nutritional building blocks of muscle (essential amino acids) must be present in sufficient quantities and balanced with adequate calories to rebuild or augment muscle tissue.

In fact, if a horse is worked hard but his diet lacks sufficient amino acids, existing muscle mass can shrink. This can be a slippery slope in some situations, and as muscle atrophy sets in, the belief is that the horse needs to work even harder when in fact the fuel is not present (in the form of nutrition) to help support and repair tissue that is broken down with exercise.

Just like human athletes, athletic equine partners need more essential amino acids than maintenance horses to maximize the effects of training and allow the horse to look and feel its best.

Certain exercises are thought to improve topline include hill work, backing exercises, and those that encourage the horse to collect and arc the body. These exercises can help condition muscles, but only if the diet is supporting the muscles through proper nutrition.

Ensure the nutritional building blocks of muscle are available in your horse’s diet before you head back to work so their system will have the nutrients available to build the muscle and support their body.

One suggestion to help with this issue is to combine a feed that contains guaranteed levels of the right amino acids (fed at the right amounts per the feed tag) with a healthy exercise program for best topline results.  Work with your veterinarian and equine nutritionist to ensure you are on the right track. 

A great resource is available at ToplineBalance.com by clicking on the “Fix My Topline” button and walking through the 8 questions in the barn with your horse.  

Blanketing Horses in Cold Climates

A popular question always comes up when the temperature drops – should I blanket my horse in cold climates? The horse’s hair coat is an excellent insulator and works by trapping and warming air. A healthy horse with a thick, dry and clean hair coat can retain enough heat and be comfortable outside in cold climates.

A horse will continue to develop a natural winter coat until December 22 (Winter Solstice), as the days become shorter and temperatures become colder. Horses begin to lose their winter coat (and start forming their summer coat) as the days become longer (starting December 23) and temperatures start to warm (slowly). Blanketing before December 22 will decrease a horse’s natural winter coat.

Horses can acclimate to cold temperatures and often prefer the outdoors. However, blanketing a horse is necessary to reduce the effects of cold or inclement weather when:

  1. No shelter is available during turnout periods and the temperatures or wind chill drop below 5 F
  2. There is a chance the horse will become wet (e.g. rain, ice, and/or freezing rain, usually not a problem with snow)
  3. The horse has had its winter coat clipped
  4. The horse is very young or very old
  5. The horse isn’t acclimated to the cold
  6. The horse has a body condition score of 3 or less.

If a horse is blanketed, it is critical that the blanket fits properly. Poorly fitted blankets can cause sores and rub marks, especially along the straps. Remove the blanket daily, inspect it for damage, the horse for rub marks, and re-position it. Make sure the blanket stays dry and never put a blanket on a wet horse, wait until the horse is dry before blanketing.

Written by Krishona Martinson, PhD, Christie Ward, DVM and Marcia Hathaway, PhD, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.

Feeding a Rescue Horse: Rehabilitating the Rescue Horse

Feeding a Rescue HorseOften I am sent the good news that a fellow horse enthusiast has recently obtained a rescue horse and needs help to rehabilitate. Or the ASPCA asked their barn to rehabilitate a horse.

The following post is written to help you understand managing the rescue horse or re-feeding the malnourished horse.

Since 2007, horses arriving at rescue or humane shelters have been increasing in numbers. The amount of horse rescues have also been increasing, not only for the malnourished, but also the unwanted or traumatized horse. Horses arriving at rescues with low body condition (scores of 1 to 3 on the 9 point scale) due to starvation continues to produce the most questions for the care takers. For the rescue organization or foster individuals that take on the tasks of rehabilitating these malnourished horses, rehabilitation is most successful with a refeeding plan to help guide them.

When managing a rescue horse, start by working closely with an Equine Veterinarian. A Veterinarian will conduct a physical exam measuring body weight, body condition score, Topline Evaluation Score, blood chemistry parameters and assess appetite.  Disease status can impact the horse’s gastrointestinal (GI) system.  Having gone a prolonged time without food, physical changes in the small and large intestines compromise a horse’s ability to digest nutrients.  Thus making it difficult to regain body condition or to establish a healthy appetite.

When refeeding a malnourished rescue horse consider your ability to safely interact with the horse. Some rescue horses have been neglected or abused and may react defensively. Take care to be observant of this as the horse begins to rehabilitate and gains energy.

Calculate the digestible energy (DE) intake on the current body weight, not the desired optimal weight. An equation to help estimate DE is DE MCAL/DAY = Body Weight in KG x 0.03. This amount must be slowly worked up to over several days and fed “continuously” throughout the full 24 hour day. Forage from a ground feeder, and reliable help that have time to feed this type of horse every hour to every three hours. Feed high quality continuous forage along with an easily digestible controlled starch feed as first choices. A diet based primarily around forage helps regenerate the GI track; when combined with easily digestible feeds, such as those designed for Senior horses, are often a good starting point.

The GI tract is sensitive and digestive disturbances could potentiate if free choice forage and feed is available. Sudden changes and food amount increases elevate the risk of refeeding syndrome. Refeeding syndrome occurs when too many calories and nutrients are consumed by a malnourished animal, resulting in an electrolyte balance and could potentiate multi-organ failure and possibly death.

As a guide, horses with a Body Condition Score (BCS) of 1, a good goal is to gain 0-1 pounds of body weight (BW) per day, horses with BCS of 2 a good goal is 1-2 pounds BW per day and BCS of 3 goal to gain 2 pounds BW per day. Adjust your desired DE levels as the horse continues to gain weight and condition.  As the rescue horse continues to show improvement, the frequency and size of meals can VERY SLOWLY change.

Veterinary and nutritionist guidance is key for helping ensure the horse returns to health. Full rehabilitation can take weeks, months and in severe cases years. A horse with a BCS of 1 can take nearly a year to reach and ideal weight, body condition and Topline score. Care should be taken to ensure the rehabilitation process includes safe physical exercise. A horse that is stall bound can develop other conditions or harmful habits if not exposed to a safe amount of physical activity. Slowly introduce a horse to exercise (the first couple of days might only include slow lead line walk) and take care to be patient as the horse regains strength, balance and ability to perform physical exercise.

Carrying Capacity Of Horses. Guidelines For Weight.

When it comes to understanding factors that play into your horse’s weight carrying capacity, all the information out there can feel a little heavy.

That is why our friends at University of Minnesota Extension have compiled some easy guidelines to follow.

Carrying Capacity Of Horses

Written by Aubrey Jaqueth, PhD, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition and care articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.

Feed It Forward with Nutrena

We believe animals change lives. We want to help.

That’s why we created Feed It Forward™, our giving program to help organizations that share our belief in the life-changing bond between animals and people.

Do you know of a deserving organization that could benefit from a Feed It Forward grant? We’re offering grants to qualifying organizations, we’re raising awareness for their amazing work, and we’re continuing efforts to help animals in immediate need in disaster-struck areas. Visit www.FeedItForward.org for more information and application details.

Join the movement by reading and sharing the Feed It Forward stories that inspire you, and encouraging organizations that you know and work with to apply for grants. Make sure to stay connected with the Feed It Forward movement on social media and our website.

A Feed It Forward Story: Kiara and Clown

Clown is a twenty-three-year-old paint thoroughbred who works as a therapy horse with We Can Ride in Maple Plain, Minnesota. He connects with people with disabilities, like eleven-year-old Kiara, who has Mitochondrial Cytopathy Disorder, which quickly drains her energy. Kiara has normalcy in her life now. She’s able to be active, and for more than just twenty minutes a day. That’s because of Clown. Feed It Forward is proud to help We Can Ride and the other organizations like them.

Horses Winter Water Needs: Ask the Expert

Horses Winter Water NeedsQuestion: I’ve heard that horses need more water in the winter, is that true?

Answer:  During the summer months, pasture contains about 80% moisture and can contribute to your horse’s water requirement if grazing.

In contrast, hay should contain less than 15% moisture, increasing your horse’s need for water during the winter months or when fed a primarily hay diet.

If your horse doesn’t drink enough water during cold weather they may eat less and be more prone to impaction colic and more susceptible to cold weather.

Most 1,000-pound adult, idle horses need at least 10 to 12 gallons of water daily and water is most readily consumed when kept between 45 and 65°F.

Written by Krishona Martinson, PhD, and Marcia Hathaway, PhD, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.

Fiber Sources for Senior Horses

Fiber Sources for Senior HorsesThe health and well being of senior horses are important topics to horse owners as these horses are frequently considered treasured members of the family.  There are many different criteria that are applied to determining when a horse would be considered a “Senior Horse”.  One of the important criteria is when we determine that, because of changes in ability to chew pasture or hay, we need to consider different forage options for our old friend.  Quidding (spitting out unchewed wads of hay) is one of the signs we look for in making this determination.  Inspection by a veterinarian may confirm that the condition of the teeth requires an adjustment in fiber sources.

Fiber Source Options

  1. There are now a variety of Senior Horse Feeds available that can be fed as a complete diet. These feeds are designed with sufficient fiber to help maintain gut heath as well as providing the required energy, protein (amino acid balanced), minerals and vitamins for the balanced diet.  They will also normally contain added pre and probiotics to help maintain gut health.  For horses with extremely poor teeth, these feeds can be made into a mash as well to make consumption very easy.
  2. Dehydrated alfalfa or alfalfa/grass pellets may also be used as a good fiber source. While not a complete balanced ration, these products work well for senior horses as they require minimal chewing.  They can also be soaked to form an easily consumed mash for horses with limited chewing ability.   Diet balancer products work well with this type of product to provide the addition amino acids, minerals and vitamins that are required to provide a balanced diet.
  3. Beet pulp is also a good highly digestible fiber source and is a good source of calories. Again, beet pulp is not a balanced ration, but may be added to a diet to provide energy.  Beet pulp pellets or beet pulp shreds can also be soaked for ease on consumption.
  4. Soy hulls are also a good highly digestible fiber source. Soy hulls are more likely to be used as a part of a Senior Horse Feed rather than being offered as a separate product.

Monitoring Body Condition Score and Topline Evaluation Score can help determine what changes may be needed in the total diet.  Loss of Body Condition Score tells us that our senior horse needs more Calories.  Loss of muscle mass may tell us we need a better amino acid profile in the diet.

Senior horses also need access to salt, preferably loose salt, free choice and free access to fresh, clean water.  Water temperature is important to senior horses as water that is too cold may cause discomfort to badly worn teeth and may limit water intake, which can contribute to other problems such as impaction colic.

Providing an appropriate fiber source is a key management tool to help our old friends enjoy a long and happy life!

Horse Drooling? Ask the Expert: Slobbers

Horse DroolingQuestion:  My horse is drooling excessively and I’ve heard this is from eating clover. Will this hurt my horse?

Answer:  Recently, there have been several reports of “slobbers” in horses. Slobbers, characterized by excessive salivation or drooling, is caused by a compound (slaframine) produced by the fungus Slafractonia leguminicola, which can be found on red clover.

The fungus can be identified by looking at the underside of red clover leaves, where it appears as small black dots (as though someone dotted the leaf with a felt tip marker). The fungus grows best in hot, humid conditions and can cause slobbers when eaten fresh in pasture or when consumed in dried hay.

Although unsightly, slobbers is not a concern for horses as long as they stay hydrated.

Written by Devon Catalano, M.S. and Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.

Fall Pasture Precautions

Fall Pasture PrecautionsHorse owners should take precautions when grazing pastures after the first killing frost. Frost damaged pastures can have higher concentrations of nonstructural carbohydrates, leading to an increase in the potential for founder and colic, especially for horses diagnosed with Equine Metabolic Syndrome, laminitis, obesity or Cushings.

To reduce the chances of adverse health effects, we recommended horse owners wait one week before turning horses back onto a pasture after the first killing frost.

Horses should be removed from a pasture when a majority of the forage is grazed down to 4″. The entire pasture should then be mowed to 4″ (since horses do not graze uniformly), drug to disperse manure piles and the horses should be rotated to a different pasture or housed in a drylot. This time of year (fall), horses will likely need to be kept in a drylot due to limited forage re-growth.

Ideally, owners will slowly transition horses back to hay diet (from a pasture diet) in preparation for winter feeding. We do not recommend over-wintering horses on pasture due to plant damage from digging, pawing, and hoof traffic.

Finally, ingestion of dried or wilted (but not fresh) maple leaves is associated with the toxicosis. Toxicosis normally occurs in the autumn when normal leaf fall occurs. Red blood cell damage has been reproduced in horses ingesting 1.5 to 3 pounds of dried leaves per 1,000 pounds of bodyweight.

Horses are the only species for which maple leaf toxicity has been reported. Horses are often depressed, lethargic, and anorexic with dark red/brown urine after the first day of ingestion. They may progress to going down with labored breathing and increased heart rate before death.

Horses should be fenced out of areas where wilted maple leaves are plentiful. Although dried leaves may remain toxic for 4 weeks, they are not generally believed to retain toxicity the following spring.

Written by Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.