Ending Show Season with Gut and Nerves in Tact
Tips for Ending Show Season with a Flourish
No matter what your discipline, the show season takes its toll on your horse. Keeping him happy and healthy as you come to the final contests takes some thoughtful preparation.
Keeping Digestive Health on Track
We don't tend to think of the digestive tract much in connection with performance, but that can be a mistake. The digestive tract is secondary only to skeletal muscle as the largest organ system in the body. All the nutrients your horse needs to perform, adapt and heal must come from an efficiently functioning GI tract. On another level, the stress of competition puts the GI system at risk, and problems with the digestive tract can sideline your horse just as quickly and severely as any lameness issue.
The first step in protecting the digestive tract is to understand what it needs to function.
First and foremost is a nearly constant flow of food. A grazing feral horse spends most of its time eating a high moisture, high fiber diet; grass. The more grass you can supply the horse, the better.
Hay has a similar nutrient profile to grass, but without all the diluting water that allows the horse to eat virtually constantly at a much lower calorie intake per mouthful. Horses will increase their water intake when eating hay versus grass but can still potentially overindulge with hay. To help counteract this without having the horse go without food for prolonged periods, use a slow feeding set up – either small mesh hay bags or a slow feeder with a grate that limits how quickly the horse can eat. This is important to hormonal stability (insulin, thyroid and cortisol), mental stability, and smooth functioning of the GI tract.
If grain or concentrates are needed, spread them out over as many meals as possible during the day, to mimic the trickle feeding the horse does with his forages. This, too, will promote stable hormonal, mental, and digestive functions.
Protecting the stomach lining with a steady flow of food
Gastric ulcers are a particular scourge of performance horses. Because horses produce stomach acid on a continuous basis rather than just in response to food, a major factor in ulcer risk is allowing the stomach to be empty. You don't want the horse ever to go longer than about 4 hours without eating. Bring your regular, familiar food items with you when traveling – hay, concentrate and also water. When shipping, always keep a hay bag of well-soaked hay within the horse's reach, and stop at least every 4 hours to offer water.
When more support is needed
This type of attention to feeding details can head off many digestive problems, but with competitive pressures being what they are, it might not be enough. Stress and excitement can keep the horse from eating as calmly and continuously as you would like. Stress and exercise can also directly increase risk of gastric ulcers, and interfere with normal intestinal motility.
- Hydrolyzed Collagen can help by providing a soothing coat to the stomach lining, and amino acids help support connective tissue.
- Deglycyrrhized Licorice also has soothing properties.
- Marshmallow root, Slippery Elm and Aloe Vera further soothe irritated gastric linings by performing double duty as Prebiotics that support function of the hind gut, as do Mannanoligosaccharides.
- Saccharomyces Yeast and key bacterial Probiotic strains keep all levels of the digestive tract functioning normally.
Another issue that is rapidly gaining attention in research circles is the effect of exercise on the microorganisms of the digestive tract. Multiple studies have now shown that elevated body temperature alters the microflora of the intestines. Exercise raises body temperature, and shipping in warm weather can, as well. A Probiotic combination of active yeast plus beneficial bacteria and Aspergillus extract for digestive enzyme activity is an excellent proactive supplement.
Answers for the anxious horse that can't help “worrying” and being over-reactive
These horses unnecessarily rob themselves of energy. They may also have trouble keeping their attention on the job at hand, and have exaggerated water and electrolyte losses if they sweat heavier than normal. Fortunately, a variety of safe and legal oral supplement ingredients can help.
- Taurine is a Nitrogen and Sulfur containing organic acid very similar in structure to amino acids. Taurine can support calmness without compromising alertness. The end result can be improved performance and focus. Taurine exerts these effects by interacting with GABA receptors in the brain in an area of the thalamus that coordinates communication between the primitive, emotional brain and the thinking brain. Taurine may also be of benefit because of its antioxidant properties.
- The amino acid Tryptophan is the serotonin precursor. Serotonin maintains feelings of well being. Ginko and Panax Ginseng also promote support reactions to stress and support calmness.
- Research has found that anxiety is associated with increased production of Nitric Oxide in the brain, which leads to oxidative stress. Experimentally blocking this Nitric Oxide production helps support calmness. This means there is a role for antioxidants in easing nervous behavior and stress reactions. Citrus Bioflavanoids and Vitamin C are good choices. These are water soluble antioxidants with activity both within the neurons and in the fluid surrounding them. Other helpful antioxidants include Acetyl-L-Carnitine, Turmeric and Grapeseed Extract.
- The amino acid Glycine plays interesting functions in the nervous system. In the spinal cord and the primitive brain areas, it supports a calming action. In higher brain areas, the role is reversed and it supports attention, focus and organized thought.
- Inositol has many functions, but the one of interest here is as a second messenger in the nervous system. When important neurotransmitters like serotonin attach to a cell membrane, the second messenger compounds transmit this information to structures within the cell, including the nucleus.
- Gamma Oryzanol is a Polyphenolic found primarily in Rice Bran Oil. Although formal research and details on how it may help are sparse, use as an agent to combat anxiety was the first application proposed by Japanese researchers.
These natural ingredients will not give drug positives. They can help you harness the extra energy that was going into stress and direct it toward a brilliant performance instead.