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The pages of any horsey magazine are covered with the advertisements for the supplements, each one claiming to be the best for your horse. How is the horseman to decide which to buy ? The object here is not to recommend a particular supplement but to show the horseman what to look for in a supplement by describing the job that minerals and vitamins do and indicating where deficiencies may arise. A supplement, when is added to the diet, corrects any imbalance of nutrients whereas an additive is merely an additional ingredient acting, for example as a flavouring.
There are about fourteen essential minerals which have been shown to be vital to the biological processes which take place in the body. These include the macrominerals required in larger amounts (calcium, phosphorous, sodium, chlorine, potassium, magnesium and sulphur) and the trace minerals required in small amounts (iron, copper, iodine, cobalt, manganese, zinc and selenium). Other minerals such as molybdenum and fluorine may also play an important role, but this has not yet been fully established.
All natural foods contain mineral elements, the proportions varying greatly between different types of food, e.g. cereal grains are low in calcium and magnesium and high in phosphorus, while forages contain more calcium and magnesium but less phosphorus. Such foods can only contain the minerals present in the soil in which they are grown, and this can lead to deficiencies in certain area. Deficiencies also arise as a result of the intensive nature of modern agriculture, which gradually depletes the soil of certain minerals. Horsemen should be aware of any soil characteristics which may affect the composition and quality of feedstuffs.
The mineral elements which may be inadequate in traditional diets include calcium, phosphorus and magnesium. Sodium, potassium and chloride (sodium-chloride is common salt) may be deficient following prolonged exercise as they are lost in sweat. This loss may be good promptly by the use of electrolyte solutions during and following competitions. The most frequently detected trace element deficiencies are selenium, zinc, manganese and iodine.
Diagnosis of deficiency is difficult because there are no specific symptoms. Borderline deficiencies may exist where the horse shows no external signs of illness but is just not performing as well as it should. A competition horse should receive daily supply of minerals and vitamins so that the body has the chance to function properly. This becomes even more important when the horse has only limited access to quality pasture and is under this stress of top competition.
Calcium And Phosphorus
These minerals are essential for the formation and maintenance of healthy bone, and their effectiveness is dependent on an adequate supply of vitamin D.
Mineral and vitamin requirements are greatly influenced by interrelationships; not only must the minerals and vitamins be supplied in the daily ration, but they must be supplied in the correct amounts and proportions. This is of particular importance with calcium and phosphorus - too little of either one limits the usefulness of the other. Adequate quantities in a ratio 1:1 (P) to 2:1 (Ca) (calcium to phosphorus) are essential for proper utilisation of the minerals in the body. The majority of cereals fed to horses have a very poor ratio, and horses on a high corn ration and growing young stock should be supplemented with limestone flour or bonemeal for extra calcium. Bran inhibits calcium uptake, so when bran is used regularly a calcium supplement is needed.
This element is also vital for proper bone and tooth development, and is usually adequately supplied in the diet.
Sodium And Potassium
Sodium chloride (common salt) and the potassium salts help control fluid balance in the body and play an important part in blood formation and food digestion. Deficiency shows as tiredness, particularly in high performance horses which sweat profusely. It is helpful if 30g (1oz) of common salt is fed daily in the feed.
Iron And Copper
Iron and copper are essential for the formation of blood pigment (haemoglobin) which is responsible for the carriage of oxygen in the blood.
Maganese And Zinc
These help activate the enzymes (biological catalysts) which break up the food during digestion. They are also important in maintaining the health of skin and coat. A lack of zinc is rare, but it will depress appetite.
A deficiency of iodine may be the cause of the horse looking off colour and listless, because iodine is an essential part of the hormone thyroxine which governs the rate of body metabolism.
Cobalt is a component of vitamin B12 and is used to help combat anaemia.
In conjunction with vitamin E, selenium is thought to help prevent cell damage - particularly muscle tissue and may be used to treat azoturia. Some nutritionists recommend selenium and vitamin E as supplements for the diet of high - performance horses.
Vitamins are vital components of the diet, and are essential for normal metabolic functions and optimum utilisation of food. They are only required in tiny quantities and are known as "micronutrients". A traditional ration of oats and hay is likely to be deficient in some of these vital nutrients. However the bacteria in the caecum are able to make certain vitamins, the level of synthesis depending on the vitamin involved and the type of ration being fed. The amount of vitamins absorbed from the large intestine to be used by the body is low and synthesis can be disrupted by external factors, e.g. antibiotic therapy.
* The Fat Soluble Vitamins: A, D, E and K. These can be stored for a limited time in the liver.
* The Water Soluble Vitamins : C and the B complex which cannot be stored.
Necessary for healthy bone and tissue development, vitamin A is found in grass, green foods and good-quality hay. It can be stored in the liver, but these stores can be exhausted during the winter and a supplement, e.g. Cod Liver Oil, may be needed.
This is also known as the "Sunshine Vitamin" because it can be made in the skin when it is exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D is needed for the gut to be able to absorb calcium and phosphorus, and a deficiency can cause bone problems. Again, it is stored in the liver, but these stores are generally used up by mid-winter and cod-liver oil provides a good supplementary source.
Vitamin E is also known as the "fertility vitamin", and is important in muscle function. When used together with selenium, it has been reported to improve the performance of horses in hard work and to combat the effects of azoturia or tying-up.
This vitamin is essential in the process of blood clotting and is sometimes included in the diets of horses prone to nosebleeds. A deficiency is rare because micro organisms of the gut can make vitamin K.
Vitamin B Complex
The B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, nicotinic acid, pyridoxine, pantothenic acid, biotin, folic acid, B and choline) are found in fresh herbage and protein-rich foods, and are also synthesised by bacteria in the gut. They are involved in carbohydrate utilisation and help the horse make the best use of the nutrients it eats. Horses with a very high carbohydrate intake may need higher levels of B vitamins, as may horses on antibiotic therapy and youngsters.
Vitamin B is essential for protein metabolism and hence growth and reproduction. A deficiency can cause anaemia, but is unlikely in horses.
Thiamine is said to have a quieting effect. Folic acid deficiency causes nutritional anaemia because it is involved in the synthesis of red blood cells. Biotin has recently been shown to be involved in hoof growth and horn quality.
Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)
As the gut microbes are able to synthesise vitamin C, a deficiency is unlikely. However, it is given to horses to help them withstand stress, recover from anaemia and prevent nosebleeds.
Broadly speaking, a healthy horse receiving a good quality diet will need supplementation with salt, calcium, and the amino acids lysine and methione which tend to be lacking in cereals. Vitamin A, D and E and folic acid may also be necessary, especially during the winter months. If a horse has a particular problem, e.g. anaemia or chronically bad feet, it may be considered necessary to feed a specialised supplement and it is likely that veterinary advice would be sought.
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