I was honoured last week to be invited to speak at the Trainers course at RACE. After a very interactive discussion one of the main questions that kept popping up was race horse supplements, which ones, when, and why.
Balancing the Balanced Diet
The supplements section in many equine retailer’s premises is extensive and it can occupy a reasonable space in most trainers feed rooms too. The primary question of supplements is which ones are needed. In some cases, there is a pretty obvious choice such as Hoof Aid Powder and Hoof Aid Liquid for horses with poor hooves, added Calcium for horses fed predominantly on oats. However, most horses are, thankfully, “normal”. This combined with feeding fully balanced feedstuffs and good hay or haylage brings us to the question of do we need to add supplements to an already balanced diet?
“Balancing the Balanced Diet!”
There are three main “holes” in most of the commercially available feeds:
Electrolytes should be added to the daily diet of all horses in training. When the horse is working the muscles produce heat, to prevent the horse over heating this heat needs to escape. In horses the regulation of the temperature is as a result of sweating. (There are many differences between different species, for example dogs pant and don’t sweat like horses.)
Sweating will reduce the horse’s core body temperature but also causes dehydration and loss of electrolytes. Sweat from horses is basically a substance that contains water and electrolytes, particularly Sodium (Na), Chloride (Cl), Potassium (K), Magnesium (Mg) and Calcium (Ca). Many people are familiar with the idea of adding electrolytes before travelling or post-race. Adding the electrolytes on a daily basis improves muscle recovery post exercise.
Equi-Lyte G is a powdered electrolyte which provides electrolytes in the right balance and has added Vitamins C and E which act as antioxidants, further promoting muscle recovery.
B Vitamin Supplements for Horses
The B vitamins are in fact a group of many vitamins. B vitamins are not added to many balanced diets. This is because the horse makes its own Vitamin B, in the large intestine and then absorbs it. Adding enough fibre to the diet ensures that the large intestine is working as efficiently as possible and producing lots of B vitamins. Racehorses in particular are often on restricted fibre and so often benefit from added B vitamins as the horses own production is decreased.
B vitamins are responsible for converting feed into energy, and vitamins B9 and B12 are crucial for the production of red cells in the blood. Red cells in the blood of racehorses are hugely important, red cells carry oxygen to muscles to make them go faster and for longer. Low levels of vitamin B in horses may also cause them to get “hot” or nervous in their behaviour.
Shy Feeder is a concentrated B vitamin supplement. Adding a Vitamin B supplement to the diet of racehorses should improve temperament, improve gut function, ensure that the feed is converted to energy more efficiently and improve the red blood cells.
B vitamins are especially helpful in horses that are approaching race days. Many horses have a reduced appetite for both fibre and concentrate feed as they reach peak fitness. This has many negative effects. The reduced feed intake and increased stress levels can lead to gastric ulcers, poor performance, reduced B vitamin production, hindgut acidosis and many other problems. It then can become a vicious cycle, with the reduced appetite causing problems and the problems then further reducing the appetite. Shy Feeder is very pleasant tasting to horses. This can be very useful in horses starting to back off their feeds. Because it tastes great the horse is likely to want it and eat all the feed in the bucket with it. The addition of B vitamins and the improved appetite will have great benefits on general health and performance on race day.
Vitamin E Supplements for Horses
Another “hole” in the balance of balanced horse feeds is Vitamin E. Vitamin E is one of the main foundation stones of healthy muscle and deficiencies of Vitamin E on the diet have been associated directly with muscle problems and weakness for decades. Most performance and racing feeds have at least the recommended daily allowance for Vitamin E and often contain more. Continuing research into the role of Vitamin E in the racehorse and performance horse suggests that the current recommendations are entirely sufficient for the general horse population, but, the current recommendations are “probably” lower than actually needed by horses in intense work. Studies suggest that increased levels of Vitamin E are likely to improve performance and recovery of the muscles.
Vitamin E can be added to the diet daily using Vitamin-E Supplement. Vitamin E works closely with the mineral Selenium. Both of these can be found in V.S.L. and V.S.L. Liquid. Muscle Max combines Vitamin E and Selenium with Vitamin B and L-Lysine.
For further advice on the use of race horse supplements, tailoring the diet to your horses needs, addressing the requirements of specific problems or horses please contact our nutritional team.