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Essential Role of Nutrition in Skeletal Development and Conformation

Essential Role of Nutrition in Skeletal Development and Conformation
5 July 2017 | Foran Equine


To ensure correct bone development in horses their nutrition must be managed from pregnancy right through training.

Breeders and managers of young growing horses have long known the importance of calcium and phosphorus in the diet and that these must be fed in the correct ratio of 1.5-2:1. Less known perhaps, is their essential roles in the different stages of pregnancy, lactation, growth and development and later, in work.

A relatively new addition to the list of paramount elements in this field is silicon. Research in the last decade has demonstrated its importance in the horse. It has an essential role in the formation of bone, cartilage, tendons, ligaments and skin and in the maintenance of their integrity. It facilitates the absorption of minerals and enhances their activity in the body.

Calcium and phosphorus have closely inter-linked roles. The best known is their involvement in bone development, strength and repair but these elements are also essential for muscular and nervous activity.

Their blood concentrations must be maintained within narrow limits for optimal bodily function and when the dietary intake necessary to ensure this is deficient, the body draws upon its reservoirs, principally bone.

There the elements are in a constant state of movement, being mobilised and replenished according to the changing physiological needs of the body in its various states of growth, activity, breeding and rearing young. Inadequate replenishment due to low daily intakes results in reduced bone density, bony malformations and vulnerability to fractures.

The elements are being constantly absorbed, utilised, excreted and re-absorbed via kidneys and intestine but overall there is a daily net loss. Irretrievable losses of calcium and phosphorus occur in sweat. These losses must be made up from dietary sources.

In recent years the recommended daily requirements for calcium and phosphorus in horses of all categories have been revised upwards and it is likely that these levels may not be achieved in the grazing and box fed horse. It is advisable therefore, to supplement the daily rations with an appropriate compound.

This, in addition to calcium, phosphorus and silicon, may also contain other nutrients, macro and trace elements, vitamins and amino acids which are essential for growth and development. These include magnesium, sulphur, the trace elements copper, zinc and manganese, vitamin E and essential amino acids, principally lysine. Adequate lysine in the diet will ensure that growth is maintained especially in an otherwise low protein situation.

It has been found in recent research, that contrary to expectation, training two year olds in a controlled manner, including fast work, results in a diminished risk of bone fractures on the racecourse later on when compared with horses which began their training as three and four year olds. This is because two year old bone responds with an increase in bone strength to the evenly regulated and developing stress of training. This would of course, be dependent on an adequate daily intake of essential bone related nutrients.

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