Notes – Diet, Bone Adaptation, Infectious Disease Control

This past Saturday I attended the Purdue Veterinary Medicine Horseman’s Forum, a great day of seminars and continued education for those in the equine industry in Indiana. I really like this event because the presentations always include recent medical advancements and research, basic information as well as over-my-head info, and awesome real life pictures of gruesome injuries and disease. Here are the parts of my notes that I think are the most interesting and applicable to therapeutic riding programs. Enjoy!

How to Feed a Balanced Diet, by Joe Monroe, of Nutrena

  • Feed Forage!
    • Horses naturally graze up to 18 hr/d, eat many small meals
    • Horse’s stomach empties itself every 2.5-3 hr
    • Produce 25-30 gal saliva a day! That’s what buffers the system
    • Feeding several times is the equivalent to sending balls of food through his intestines, setting him up for colic. Instead, feed continuously.
    • = feed more hay and as little feed as possible
    • Free choice forage = decrease colic, improve mental stage, increase nutrient absorption, maximize feed efficiency (very cool to hear from someone who works for a feed company!)
    • Feeding high quality hay is cheaper than a ton of feed
  • Also interesting:
    • When evaluating horse condition, body score does not tell us much about the actual nutrition they are getting, just the mount of food. Use topline muscle scoring instead of just bodyweight. (He did not tell us how to do it though, so I looked it up – read about it here at The Horse and here at Nutrena.)

Physical Adaptation to Training: Implications for Injury Prevention, by Timothy B Lescun

  • Bone adaptation to physical training
    • Just like human athletes, horses adapt to the type of work we put them in, which has consequences in the types of energy we see. The underlying feature in injuries is the adaptation that is going on.
    • Majority injuries in bone & joint due to maladaptation, not being able to keep up with the activity. Risk factors: exercise intensity, lay up period.
    • There is an adaptation spectrum between NORMAL & INJURED/FRACTURED
  • How bones adapt to exercise
    • Mineral/collagen content = bone is similar to buildings, lay down several components to strengthen structure
    • Modeling = structural adaptation to loads (training), adding to bone, occurs during training (in young racehorses cannon bones get thicker in certain places)
    • Remodeling = local adaptation and structural maintenance of bone, occurs during rest, activated by microdamage (a normal process, the body constantly maintains bone), remodeling consists of resorption of bone (takes several weeks) and formation of new bone (takes several months) and inbetween these two events (30 – 90 days, at app. 2 months post injury) the bone is at very high risk to injurybecause it is not fully healed, yet it is usually when we start working horses again! So wait the full 3-4 months to let bone injuries heal fully
    • Biology = When horse grows
    • Mechanics = When horse trains, races, rests
    • Combinations thereof = training when horse is growing vs. when done, etc.
  • Implications from other studies
    • In rats, 30-?(35-50?) steps (strain cycles) needed to achieve max bone response, after that the bone’s adaptation is fairly minimal = we probably overtrain our equine athletes
    • Short discrete bouts of loading are best (from study in rats?)
    • Refractory period (time to wait to achieve more results, within this time would achieve no more results) between 4-8 hr in rats (I think) = probably no more than 12 hr in horses
    • 3 sessions showed bone improvement (in children)
    • Young (prepubertal) skeleton is more responsive than adult = makes a case for early training, of building up a robust skeleton to prevent future injury (in humans?)

Decrease the Risk of Equine Herpes by Dr. Sandy Taylor

  • Infection Control Basics
    • Small herd groups that can be quarantined if needed
    • Wash hands between horses
    • Minimize stress to prevent recurring EHV reactivation
    • Isolate new horses 3 weeks (or even just horses that returned from a show)
    • Herd vaccination – maximize immunity
    • Keep pregnant mares separate (can cause abortion)
  • Vaccinating
    • Decreases amount of virus in secretions and blood (doesn’t eliminate)
    • Prevents abortions
    • Does NOT prevent neurological/EHM – in fact, overvaccination (more than every 6 months, probably) can increase because too many antibodies bind to virus in spinal chord blood vessels – interesting because recommendation is adult horses vaccinate every 6 months, but pregnant mares (3), 5, 7, 9 months minimum
  • Outbreak Control
    • Isolate exposed horses
    • Do not move horses (even if horse nearby doesn’t seem sick, don’t move him in case he’s got it!)
    • Diluted bleach to decontaminate equipment and environment (1:10)
    • Wash clothing/blankets in hot water works
    • Temp all horses daily, if fever do nasal swab test
    • Quarantine 3 weeks – clock starts over every time a horse spikes a fever
    • Try not to blame each other in the barn
    • Vaccinate unexposed horses – can boost immunity
    • Do not vaccinate exposed animals – might increase incident due to high antibody levels – can take 1-5 days to see signs in exposed animals

 Hope that’s interesting to someone!


Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgement! If you would like to contribute an activity or article, please contact me here, I would love to hear from you!


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