Red Mills - Fitness and Nutritional Status
Many National Hunt horses returning from pasture will appear well conditioned, in some cases a little too well conditioned, and giving the appearance of great health following a period of relaxation. Whilst pasture will have provided an abundance of protein and sugars that flesh out a horse nicely, it will in most cases have fallen short in meeting the mineral requirements of a horse even when at rest. When starting back into work it is worth considering improving the nutritional profile of the horse at the same time as building fitness.
Whilst the major minerals including calcium and phosphorus along with key electrolytes potassium and sodium are generally well catered for within pasture the micro minerals of zinc, copper, selenium and manganese are often too low to meet requirements. Of these copper is the most easily noted as the horse’s skin colour changes giving a bleached looked and a flat colour.
Unlike the vitamins A,D,E which are fat soluble and can be stored in the body, minerals cannot be stored in tissues and so it is not possible to pre-load a horse before going out to pasture. The only mineral that can be stored is copper, which is held within the liver. Depending on the pasture content and stocking rate a horse may hold enough reserve to match any shortfall or the reserve will run short and a deficiency occurs. In most cases the horse returns to work with a low mineral profile that needs to be lifted in order to withstand the increased workload.
Increasing mineral intake requires a well supplemented diet designed to provide minerals matching the intensity of work and taking into account a dried forage base rather than pasture. When considering which diet to start on the protein level is important but of equal importance is the vitamin and mineral profile. The initial training phase has high demands for adaptation as fitness increases and the requirement for nutrients that support muscle function, such as vitamin E, selenium, magnesium and copper is raised. There is significant variation in mineral levels found within feeds. Choosing a diet with an elevated mineral content will reduce the need for additional supplements and will cater for the variation of minerals found in dried forages.