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Articles

All (26)
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Competition (9)
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Equinews (2)
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Health (9)
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Nutrition (6)

Gastrointestinal Motility Key to Horse Digestive Health


A finely honed nervous system helps direct gastrointestinal function in horses. Referred to as the “brain of the gut,” the enteric nervous system monitors the goings-on of the entire tract, from beginning to end. One feature of the enteric nervous system is its ability to precisely coordinate the passage of ingesta from one digestive organ to the next. As horse owners, we can do little to alter or outsmart this innate wiring, but management approaches are available that maximize gastrointestinal motility.

Gastrointestinal motility refers to the passage of ingesta through the digestive tract by normal nervous and muscular functions. How to maximize gastrointestinal motility in horses rests largely with understanding how horses should be fed...
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Electrolytes for Horses with HYPP


Hyperkalemic periodic paralysis (HYPP), a genetic defect of horses, causes abnormal function of muscle cells, leading to unbalanced sodium and potassium concentrations in muscle tissues. Unstable mineral concentrations, in turn, trigger abnormalities in electrical signals that control muscle contraction.

Limiting potassium intake is one of the most effective steps in managing HYPP horses. This pertains not only to forages and concentrates but also supplements, including electrolytes...
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Grass Sickness in Horses: Degree of Weight Loss and Survival


Horses suffering from equine grass sickness (EGS) present with colic, constipation, and swift, severe weight loss. The underlying cause is damage to the nervous system, especially nerves supplying the gastrointestinal tract. Most rapid-onset, severe cases are fatal, frequently resulting in loss of life within two or three days, but some horses manage to bounce back after a bout of EGS.

There are currently no objective criteria available to help predict survival of horses with EGS, reported a group of veterinarians from the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and the Roslin Institute in the United Kingdom.*..
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Vitamin K Absorption in Horses


Vitamin K not only plays an important role in blood-clotting but also in a number of other physiological processes such as bone metabolism, immune function, programmed cell death, energy production, and the development of spermatozoa. In fact, 14 different proteins dependent on vitamin K to function properly have been identified so far. Considering there are three different forms of vitamin K, where do horses get the most vitamin K?

During a recent Australasian Equine Science Symposium, vitamin K absorption was a well-reviewed topic. Two separate studies were presented, each highlighting basic information about this fat-soluble vitamin.*,**..
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Navigating the World of “Fast Food” for Horses


For most horses, the days of peacefully grazing in open fields on a mélange of various forages for much of their existence have gone the way of the dodo. Instead, busy horse owners with limited pasture rely more and more on preserved forages and commercial feeds to provide their charges a nutritious diet.

“Ready-mixed commercial feeds are formulated to meet the specific dietary needs of a range of horses participating in a variety of athletic events or stages of reproduction and growth,” explained Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a Kentucky Equine Research (KER) nutritionist. “These feeds come as concentrates that are formulated to complement forage or as complete feeds that include forage in the formulation.”..
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Competition Horses: Dietary Nickel Requirements and Testing


Recent studies report high levels of nickel in legal performance and recovery products for horses, potentially identifying a new performance-enhancing issue for those involved in equine sports.

“Nickel has similar chemical and biological properties as cobalt, leaving some in the industry wondering if nickel is currently being used as a substitute for cobalt,” explained Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., an equine nutritionist for Kentucky Equine Research...
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Managing Equine Gastric Ulcers Through Nutrition


Scientists know that diet contributes to the formation of gastric ulcers in horses, but what can horse owners do about established ulcers? Can diet adjustments help heal painful divots in the stomach lining? According to a recent study*, medication is still necessary for most horses, but diet and nutritional supplements can also play important roles in successfully managing ulcers.

“All ages and breeds of horses are susceptible to equine gastric ulcer syndrome, or EGUS, with ulcers forming not only in the squamous portion of the stomach but also the distal esophagus, glandular portion of the stomach, and the proximal aspect of the duodenum,” explained Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a Kentucky Equine Research (KER) nutritionist...
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Condition Scoring Horses: Focus on the Ribs


The ribs of mammals, including the horse, serve one primary purpose: to protect the vital organs of the thoracic cavity, most notably the heart and lungs. Each rib is attached to a thoracic vertebrae, so horses generally have 18 pairs of ribs, corresponding to their 18 thoracic vertebrae. Occasionally, a 19th rib may be present on one or both sides of the vertebral column, but these ribs are usually partially formed or misshapen. The interval between any two ribs is called the intercostal space.

Ribs are not all the same length, width, or shape—some are short, others are long; some wide, others narrow; some have greater curvature to their shafts. Rib length increases from the first rib, which lies just behind the point of the shoulder, to the eighth or ninth, and then diminishes again. The last rib is the shortest and most slender, usually...
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Parrot Mouth in Foals: Solutions


Foals with an overbite, commonly called a parrot mouth, have upper incisors that protrude past the lower incisors. While some breeders droop their shoulders and shake their heads when faced with affected foals, floundering in their misfortune, others pick up the phone and call the equine orthodontist.

Parrot mouth, long believed to be an inherited condition, reportedly affects 2-5% of the equine population to some degree. Although common in other species, like humans, any degree of overbite is considered abnormal in horses...
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Feeding Horses Whey Protein


When searching for a source of high-quality protein for horse feeds, formulation experts invariably reach for soybean meal. Though soybean meal is ubiquitous in feeds, other protein sources, including whey protein, are suitable for consumption by horses and offer a beneficial range of amino acids.

Whey protein is a byproduct of the cheesemaking industry. Rennet, a complex of enzymes used in cheese manufacture, is added to milk to curdle the casein proteins. These curds are removed to make cheese. The liquid left after the curds are removed is whey, and the proteins that remain in that liquid are called whey proteins. The whey is carefully dried to preserve amino acids, thus becoming a concentrated source of protein...
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Calcium Deficiency Suspected in a Young Horse


The nutritionists at Kentucky Equine Research (KER) work with horse owners worldwide, offering advice on every level of feeding management. A horseman from Puerto Rico recently contacted KER regarding his two-year-old Paso Fino colt. An overview of the colt’s situation follows:

Weight: 800 lb (365 kg)..
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Preparing for an Orphan Foal


Foaling season leaves many mare owners worried about what will happen if a foal arrives to a mare with poor-quality or insufficient colostrum. As breeders know, this first meal is undoubtedly the most important for priming a foal’s immune system and providing infection-fighting antibodies. Subsequent meals occurring over the next few months are still high priority because a foal relies on milk to survive. What do you have planned if your mare cannot support her foal?

“Newborn foals nurse about seven times every hour and remain reliant on milk for the first three to four months of their lives,” explained Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a Kentucky Equine Research (KER) nutritionist...
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Cool-Season Grasses and Fructans in Horse Diets


Many species of grasses have proven suitable for grazing by horses. Cool-season grasses seem especially appropriate for pastures, and because they do best in temperatures between 65 and 80o F (18 and 270 C), these grasses grow most abundantly in spring and fall. Growth slows in the warmer summer months in some years, and this is often referred to as the “summer slump,” though reduction in growth seems dependent on other factors, such as rainfall.

Five common species of cool-season grasses used in horse operations include timothy, orchardgrass, tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, and perennial ryegrass...
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Stall Vices Linked to Digestive Discomfort in Horses


Horses evolved wandering miles each day and grazing in herds. Now, many horses lead a very different life, spending most of their time in stalls, eating two large meals a day, and having little contact with other horses.

This shift from migratory foraging to stationary meal-eating can cause disturbances in health and behavior. For example, long-term solitary stall confinement can lead to boredom and separation anxiety. Large meals filled with concentrates cause problems such as hindgut acidosis and ulcers, and these issues can cause or exacerbate stall vices. The most common stall vices include:..
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Low Vitamin D Levels and Foals


When we think of newborn foal nutrition, colostrum is often the first thing that comes to mind Replete with infection-fighting antibodies and other healthy ingredients, colostrum jump-starts a foal’s immune system. In reality, the foal’s environment, management, and nutritional factors, including adequate vitamin D levels, all play an integral role in the balance between health and sickness.

“The role of vitamin D in human illness remains a controversial subject,” noted Peter Huntington, B.V.Sc., M.A.C.V.Sc., director of nutrition at Kentucky Equine Research (Australia)...
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Changes in Horse Manure Consistency


Loose manure and diarrhea in horses typically stem from one of three causes: antibiotic therapy, diet, or disease. Because of excessive water loss associated with diarrhea, affected horses can become dehydrated and have other problems, so horse owners should investigate changes in manure consistency immediately, calling in a veterinarian if necessary.

Antibiotics are a well-known trigger for loose manure because they eliminate many of the innate and beneficial microorganisms that reside in the horse’s hindgut...
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Four Dietary Tips for Healthy Horse Transport


Even the shortest trip in a horse trailer for the most seasoned equine jet-setter causes some level of stress due to isolation, confinement, noise, vibration, and altered balance. In addition, physical injuries, respiratory diseases, colic, laminitis, enterocolitis, and tying-up pose real concerns for horses and owners during transport.

“Considering the impact of diet prior to and during transport can make the difference between arriving with a healthy or sick horse,” advised Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., equine nutritionist at Kentucky Equine Research (KER)...
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Measuring Height and Weight of Foals


Waves of anticipation and excitement surround foaling season as a new crop of foals makes its way into the world.  Spindly-legged and helpless one day and robust and independent the next, foals mature quickly. How can mare owners be sure their foals are growing to specs, fulfilling the genetic promise of their sires and dams?

Tracking the growth of foals weekly from birth is the best way to ensure slow, steady growth, according to Eileen Phethean, technical consultant for Kentucky Equine Research’s growth-monitoring software Gro-Trac®. “Though Gro-Trac is used as a management tool on large breeding farms around the world, the importance of recording growth is just as applicable to breeders with just one, two, or three mares,” she said...
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Condition Scoring of Horses: The Topline


Multiple factors affect the shape of the topline of horses, principally body condition or weight, individual conformation, and age.

The prominence of the spinal column, or backbone, is a key factor in determining body condition score. Horses in low body condition, those in the 1 to 3 range, will typically have a sharp ridge along the topline, from the base of the withers to the peak of the croup. Because of the musculature of the hindquarters, the vertebrae of the croup are sometimes flesh-covered when those of the back and loin region are protuberant, though this is dependent on conformation as well. In severe cases of emaciation, however, individual vertebrae are distinguishable in every region of the spine from the posterior withers to the dock...
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Protein as an Energy Source for Performance Horses


Horses derive energy from various components of their diets, namely starch, fat, fiber, and protein. An idle mature horse likely obtains most of his dietary energy from fiber-rich feedstuffs such as pasture and hay. Fiber is fermented in the hindgut and energy created for maintenance of body processes. For horses involved in regular athletic activity, a fiber-only diet will probably not provide enough fuel for the combined toll of exercise and maintenance of body weight, so other energy sources must be added. Of those others mentioned previously—starch, fat, fiber, and protein—protein is least efficient at fueling work.

If the protein intake of a performance horse exceeds its requirement, the superfluous protein can be used as a source of energy. The amino acids from the extra protein are broken down by the liver, and the carbon skeletons that are left are oxidized to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the molecule used to power muscular activity, or used to make glucose or fat. The nitrogen from the protein is excreted in the urine as urea and changed to ammonia as it interacts with environmental microorganisms...
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Big Head Disease in Horses: Calcium Deficiency


Big head disease, known formally as nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism, occurs because of dietary mineral imbalances. Horses require a 2-to-1 ratio of calcium and phosphorus in their diets; when this ratio is upset, absorption of these minerals falters. Horses become calcium deficient when they consume too little calcium or when there is an excess of phosphorus, which blocks the absorption of calcium.

Big head disease was first noticed in horses owned by distillery workers. They fed wheat bran and other grain by-products from the brewing process to their horses. These products are frequently high in phosphorus and low in calcium. When the diets failed to supply sufficient calcium, the horses’ bones were robbed of the mineral in an attempt to maintain necessary levels in circulation, as calcium is required for all sorts of physiological purposes, including muscle contractions, nerve function, and blood-clotting...
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Seedy Toe in Horses: Nutrition Helps Hoof Health


Seedy toe, also called white line disease, is a separation of the outer wall from the sole of a horse’s hoof. This separation occurs as a result of opportunistic bacteria or fungi that invade the hoof when it is compromised. Organisms feed on live tissue within the hoof, destroying it little by little.

A hoof can become compromised for a variety of reasons: laminitic episodes, irregular blood flow, infection, abnormal hoof conformation, or improper hoof trimming causing undue stress in the hoof...
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Four Tips for Managing Tall Fescue and Mare, Foal Health


With the foaling season in full swing in some parts of the world, mare owners should be aware of what tall fescue looks like, why this grass is problematic, and different strategies for avoiding fescue toxicosis.

Fescue toxicosis occurs when mares ingest tall fescue that is infected with the endophytic fungus Neotyphodium coenophialum. The fungus, which lives between individual plant cells, produces a group of chemicals called alkaloids that afford drought- and insect-resistant properties to the plant...
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Balancing Warmth and Weight Gain in Easy Keepers


In many areas of the world, horses must tolerate low temperatures, sometimes for sustained stretches of time. So long as they remain dry, horses with full winter coats can withstand cold easily, in large part due to the gastrointestinal slogger known as the hindgut, which doggedly turns fiber-rich feedstuffs like hay and haylage into warming energy.

For many horses, the defense against cold is simple: free-choice access to good-quality forage. Is this the best tack for all horses, though, even easy keepers?  Unrestricted access to forage sounds like a disaster in the making for horses with sluggish metabolisms and a proclivity for weight gain...
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Cleft Palate in Horses


Though cleft palate, or palatoschisis, is relatively rare in horses, the congenital defect ranks as the most common craniofacial abnormality. Most frequently, cleft palate affects the caudal half or two-thirds of the soft palate. Incomplete fusion of tissues along the midline of the soft palate, which normally occurs at about day 47 of gestation, most commonly results in the defect.

Causes of cleft palate in domestic species runs the gamut from genetic factors to environmental, hormonal, and metabolic interactions. In cattle and swine, cleft palates are thought to be associated with consumption of certain plants, including lupine species, wild parsnip, poison hemlock, and the wild tobacco tree, though no clear association has been made with horses and ponies...
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Rings and Ridges: What Horse Hooves Reveal


Just as coat condition serves as an indication of health status in horses—sheen and dapples suggest vitality, whereas dull, rough, or half-shed coats imply unthriftiness or disease—changes in hooves may provide clues to a horse’s historical well-being.

The hoof wall is subject to any number of imperfections, and it is commonplace for horses to be beset with shallow or deep cracks, chipped toes, or flares, especially if they are not under the scheduled care of a professional farrier. These flaws are obvious. More subtle changes in the hoof wall, including horizontal rings and ridges, tell more about a horse’s health than the regularity of hoof care...
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