The Role of Nutrition for Performance Horses

Apr 25, 2022


Dr. Connie Larson, with our friends at Zinpro

It is no secret that horses are incredible athletes. While a solid exercise regimen is vital to success, good nutrition is most important to the overall health and performance of the equine athlete.
Horses are grazing animals with a unique digestive system equipped to utilize fiber. Naturally, horses will eat small amounts of roughage often. As a result, the stomach only accounts for about 10% of the equine digestive system.
Water, forage, and feed all work together to supply the necessary nutrition to performance horses. Let’s take a closer look at the building blocks of nutrition – including water, energy, vitamins, and minerals – and see what role each plays in helping horses stay healthy.
Water
Equine nutritionists spend a lot of time talking about the feed aspect of their equine nutrition program, such as protein, energy, fat, fiber, etc. In reality, water is the most essential nutrient for equine athletes.
In fact, a horse can live about a month without food, but within 48 hours can start developing issues like colic, impaction, lethargy, or kidney failure. As such, having enough high-quality water available to performance horses should be the first priority.
Protein
Proteins are made up of amino acids and contribute to building the body of the horse. As a major component of all tissues, protein is critical for muscle and bone development. The higher the growth rate, the more protein required.
Energy
Energy – primarily fats and carbohydrates – provide the calories that are needed to fuel the horse on a daily basis. Fat provides the most nutrient-dense source of energy while carbohydrates from fermentable fiber or starch are the most common sources. Excess protein can also contribute to energy needs but is a much less efficient source of energy.
Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins are needed to support metabolism, immunity, bone formation, vision, and reproduction. Each vitamin plays a critical role in the overall health of a horse.
Minerals, both macro and trace minerals, are vital for many metabolic functions, including:
  • Reproduction
  • Skeletal development
  • Nervous system function
  • Immunity
  • Skin and hoof integrity
  • Energy transfer
Macro minerals, like calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium, are required by performance horses in the greatest amounts. These minerals are required for healthy teeth and bones, movement of fluids, and nerve and muscle functions.
Trace minerals are required in much smaller amounts than macro minerals, but are essential for hoof integrity, immunity, growth, reproduction, and lactation.
However, not all trace minerals are equal in their performance.
Inorganic vs. Organic Trace Minerals
Inorganic and organic trace minerals are structurally different. Put simply, organic trace minerals are those whose metal is chemically bonded to a molecule containing carbon. Inorganic minerals are relatively easy to produce, inexpensive to administer and are fed as a baseline portion of an animal’s diet. But an animal can’t optimally function on inorganics alone because the amount of inorganic minerals an animal is able to absorb is limited.
Organic vs. Performance Trace Minerals
While organic trace minerals are bonded to a molecule containing carbon, performance minerals are a complex trace mineral bonded to an essential amino acid — resulting in a mineral that is soluble, stable, absorbable, and metabolizable. This directly impacts the animal’s health, well-being and productivity. By feeding Zinpro Performance Minerals®, you can ensure that more essential nutrients are being absorbed and used by the animal. This is especially important in today’s animal production environment, where the pressure continues to increase to raise healthy animals with less waste.
Nutrition is Key to Equine Athlete Performance
The natural athletic abilities of horses are astounding, but horses need water, energy, vitamins, macro minerals, and trace mineral nutrition to fulfill their bodily functions and complete their exercise regimen.  

For more content like this, check out the latest issue of the Cooperator.

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