Correct nutrition may be considered vital for optimum performance but its role in supporting healing, and a subsequent return to work or competition, should not be underestimated.
Even quite minor injuries can mean a horse is confined to his stable for a couple of days so it’s important that he has access to plenty of fibre to promote normal gut function and help relieve boredom. With no access to pasture and a reduction in concentrate feed, the horse’s overall nutrient intake can drop significantly.
A balancer, like Baileys Lo-Cal or Performance Balancer, is ideal in these circumstances as it provides all the vitamins, minerals and quality protein the horse requires, for maintenance and all-important repair, but without the energy that could cause behavioural and digestive upsets. Boredom may also become a problem during prolonged box rest so it can be worth introducing both stable toys and alternative forage sources, like Baileys Alfalfa Blend chaff and Speedi-Beet, to keep the horse’s mind active and satisfy his need to chew.Changing The Horse’s Diet
Abrupt dietary changes are best avoided but it may be necessary to drastically reduce a fit horse’s concentrate ration if his workload is suddenly reduced. The horse’s gut bacteria take time to adjust to a new feed and any sudden changes can disrupt their populations, which could result in loose droppings, colic or even laminitis. When changing a diet quickly, a “digestive enhancer”, such as a pre or probiotic, can help the bacteria adapt to the new diet, thus reducing the risk of upsets occurring.
The length of time the horse will be on box rest and his current feeding regime will determine how significantly his diet needs to be altered. For short term box rest, concentrates should be reduced by about two thirds and “top dressed” with a balancer to maintain protein and micro-nutrient levels. If the horse on long term box rest requires concentrates to maintain condition, a gradual change to a lower energy feed over 4 to 5 days, may be appropriate. Baileys Keep Calm and Meadow Sweet with Turmeric are both low to mid-energy feeds, which are non-heating so can help maintain condition while encouraging a calm temperament.
For horses needing more help to maintain condition, a non-heating fully balanced conditioning feed can be fed. Baileys Ease & Excel or Ease & Excel Cubes present a low starch option, delivering their slow release calories from fibre and oil, and are ideal where clinical issues dictate that starch intake should be controlled. Oil is a particularly good source of non-heating, “non-starch” calories, though a minimum of 200 – 500ml are required to make a significant calorie contribution. A specially formulated high oil supplement, like Baileys Outshine, offers a mess-free and palatable alternative, which can be added to an existing balanced diet.
Feeding to Heal
Correct nutrition can really support healing by providing the nutrients required for tissue repair and development. Amino acids, for example, are the building blocks of protein and are components of all body cells. Some “essential” amino acids must be supplied by the horse’s diet, as his body cannot manufacture them, and these are particularly important for soft tissue repair eg. muscle and tendon. With the exception of alfalfa, forages tend not to contain sufficient quality protein to supply essential amino acids, so feeding a balancer should ensure the horse doesn’t go short.
Vitamins are essential for body functions and minerals are also integral in cell and tissue structure and vital for the healing process. Balancers are an easy option for the healing horse at grass, as well as the box or barn resting horse, because their low feeding rates – two mugs/500g per day for a 500kg horse – means they can even be fed just once a day and can fed by hand, if necessary. So, cutting down the feed for a convalescing horse need not mean cutting down on nutrients; reducing calorie intake, in response to reduced workload, is essential but the maintenance of other nutrients is equally important in order to support successful healing.
For information and advice contact Baileys Horse Feeds on 01371 850247 (option 2) visit www.baileyshorsefeeds.co.uk.