BHF Nutrition – Summer Weight Gain

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Like most herbivores the horse’s life is attuned to the seasons and especially the growth of grass. In the wild, during spring when the protein and sugar levels of grass are high, horses utilise these rich ingredients to build up their condition in a natural way after winter again. There is a shift in the horse’s hormonal balance to accept this glut of nutrients after a winter of lean conditions. In summer, when the grass is laying down structural fibre and producing seed heads, the horses graze and maintain condition, whilst in the autumn, when grass is laying down oil and sugars to overwinter, the horse is putting on fat to last through the months of low levels of forage.

This natural behaviour was typical 6,000 years ago. With domestication, changes occurred, and today, things are far more complicated. While we now feed our horses over winter, ensuring they come into spring in much better condition than their ancestors, their bodies still anticipate the need to restore condition.

The hormonal drive is to eat more and convert nutrients to muscle and glycogen reserves. However, there is no longer a need for horses to do this, so the most likely outcome is an obese horse.

But why is excess fat so bad?

Fat, in itself, is not a bad thing. It acts as an energy store, insulates the body, and helps regulate insulin. Problems occur when there is an excess – obesity, for horses as for humans, is a negative condition. Although there may be underlying causes, the most common cause of “fat” is a simple equation; energy intake is greater than energy expenditure. Excess starch, sugars and fat are the most likely culprits, but both protein and fibre have the potential to be converted into fat.

Some fats can promote inflammation. Chronic, low-level inflammation has many consequences, including impacting on muscle and vascular system integrity, immune function, and oxidative systems.

High fat reserves can also induce insulin resistance (IR). IR and associated hyperglycemia can lead to muscle degeneration and fatigue.

This can manifest itself as laminitis for those animals that are prone to this debilitating disease and in horses that may have background disorders such as Insulin Resistance (IR), Cushings, Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (PSSM) and EMS. However, it can also cause nutritional problems in other animals causing colic, tying up and obesity.

How can you manage your horse's weight?

The obvious remedy to combat obesity would be to reduce energy intake; however, that is not as simple as it sounds. The truth is that the way the body works means that protein/muscle is more likely to be degraded. Therefore, feeding needs to be modified to reduce both sugar and fat intake whilst maintaining protein intake.

Strategic use of Speedi-Beet from British Horse Feeds can help in these situations.

Whilst the actual nutrient density of Speedi-Beet is greater than grass (or hay), it can actually help in reducing daily energy intake.

  1. For a horse there is a pattern of feeding. The horse is a diurnal animal and so predominantly feeds during daylight. The early morning grazing for a horse in the field, or forage consumption for a horse spending longer periods in a stable is usually at a faster rate, with intake slowly reducing during the day. Slowing this rate earlier in the morning by feeding Speedi-Beet leaves the horse feeling fuller for longer and can impact on subsequent grass and forage intake throughout the day, reducing the overall amount of food consumed.
  2. Speedi-Beet can provide the feeling of being fuller for longer because it has the ability to absorb between 5 and 10 times its own weight in water when soaked. Providing a well-soaked feed like Speedi-Beet before turnout, or as early as possible, helps to fill the gut which will help reduce the subsequent feeding rate.
  3. Feed your horse a supply of feed that stabilises the changes in nutrient profile. Speedi-Beet provides a consistent nutrient profile, that also has a fibre content and profile that is similar to grass. It offers a slow-release energy ratio of volatile fatty acids (VFA). By feeding this we can reduce the reliance on a variable product (grass) and control the changes; this enables using regular meals of Speedi-Beet to both maintain consistency of nutrient intake, and to slow the rate of intake for those horses that need to lose body fat.

Finally, another option is to combine Speedi-Beet with a low-grade feed such as chaff or chopped straw. This combination provides bulk and gut-fill, as both are appetite reducers. Increased chewing means less grazing, and a full belly kick-starts physiological feedback mechanisms. This approach improves the efficiency of slow energy release and helps combat summer obesity, among other benefit.

Click here to find your local stockist of Speedi-Beet.