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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Convention day 1 - Nutrition Seminar

Slept in and only have 15 minutes to get this post out this morning.  EEK!

Nutrition talk

This was the seminar I most regret losing my notes for, since it had specific technical details I wanted to share with you.

The seminar was given by a representative from KER (Kentucky Equine Research) which produces research driven horse supplements etc so interspersed throughout the presentation was some recommendations for their products - however it was a rather low key sales pitch compared to what I see on a daily basis here at the vet school and since most of what he had to say fit into what I already knew, I’m inclined to believe his data. 

In general, the nutrition seminar confirmed what has already been widely discussed throughout the endurance world, and what I’ve seen spreading throughout the horse world in general - cereal grains are not that great for horses, unless fed under specific circumstances (more on that later), diets should be composed primarily of forage, with alfalfa not being a good choice for an endurance horse.  To add calories add soy hulls or beet pulp because of their high amounts of fermentable fiber, and add oil. 

Although I’ve been aware that cereal grains (corn, oats etc) are not the best thing to feed a horse when you are trying to add calories, I usually pointed to things like the type of carbs the feed contained, the risk of increased inflammation with corn etc.  The seminar focused on the risk of ulcers - both gastric and colon - associated with feeding cereal grains.  I *think* (darn my loss of notes) that the significant risk was seen at 5 pounds of cereal grains.  He went through the mechanisms of HOW the cereal grains cause ulcers which was mildly interesting at the time, but I have promptly forgot now, a week later.  He did say that an appropriate time to feed cereal grains is at vet checks.  Since they do produce an insulin spike (more on that later), the timing is critical so you don’t get a blood glucose crash. 

Some notes about oil: He recommended feeding 1 pound of oil daily.  Specifically feed veggie oils.  Stay away from Corn.  I also stay away from Soy, however he didn’t specifically say there was any problems with soy.  The health benefits of adding oil to the diet go beyond the calories - and yes, they were listed. But do I have my notes?  NO!!!!!!   There was also a nice paper cited on the effects of fat adaption on glucose kinetics, I believe written by JD Pagen.  In summary, after feeding 1 pound of oil daily, at 5 weeks there was significantly more fat dependance energy, and the reliance/effect on  blood glucose significantly decreased.  Which is good.  Through a mechanism that will probably become very important to me during my next block (GI) but for now I DON’T have to understand the intricacies of it….but if you are interested, ask and I’m sure I can write another vetmed post on it in a couple of weeks. 

A couple of days before a race you need to make sure to “top up” all tanks - but during competition need to use the correct tank - i.e. you don’t want to do something that will inhibit the horse from using all those nice fat-burning/metabolizing systems you have conditioned.  Feeding close to the race will release insulin.  Increase in insulin tells the horse to go into storage mode, which inhibits mobilization of fat.  (This is bad)  You’ll end up with a huge blood glucose drop, which is also bad.  The recommendation is to feed 5 hours before the start of race.  Feeding cereal grains during a vet check is fine because exercise inhibits the drop of glucose.  However, like I mentioned earlier, its a timing issue.  If you are a little late leaving the vet check, your horse could experience an insulin spike/glucose drop etc.  It was at this point that I asked what happens to a horse during a glucose drop.  He related to humans and said it was probably much like what we as humans experienced.  I was hoping for a less anthropomorphizing answer and something a little more physiologically related to the horse, but oh well.  He did mention neural fatigue which makes sense - if insulin causes blood glucose to drop and that’s where the neuro system is getting it’s energy….then you will definitely feel fatigue both physically and mentally until you give your system a chance to stabilize.  The consequences probably involve slowing down, understanding why your horse is “bonking” and trying to convince your horse that this is temporary and he’ll be feeling fine and having fun again soon - he just needs to stop pouting and whining.  If anyone else has a good, based in physiology and literature, response on what exactly happens to the performance of the horse during a blood glucose drop/insulin spike, would love to hear it. 

That takes up through day 1 of the convention!

Sorry this is rushed.  I’m having a blast in my behavior block and don’t want to be late to class!


  1. What if your horse is maintaining weight on hay? Should you decrease the hay ration and work up to the 1 lb/day of fat anyway, to get the fat-burning benefits?

    How much grain can you feed at a vet check before you risk the insulin spike/crash?

    If you don't remember/know the answers, that's fine :)

  2. Since the fat metabolism is a more efficient way to do the whole aerobic thing for hours on end, then yes, the recommendation is to add oil even if you don't need the calories.

    I *think* the threshold amount of cereal grains in a meal that they started seeing ulcers was 5 pounds. So even though you are feeding the grains when they are actually appropriate, probably don't want to go over that amount.

    He didn't specify an amount. I *think* (and this isn't something that was covered in the seminar) that any amount is going to cause it to some degree. He did say that the horses that were really at risk are those that the riders do a dosing of mollasas/sugar syrup etc. at the vet checks. That you ahve to be really careful about timing. The cereal grain thing, done in moderation, probably isn't that big of a deal - if you are OK feeding cereal grains. I got the feeling that while oil is recommended for pretty much everyone, the whole "cereal grain" thing was presented more as a "if you want to feed it" sort of thing. I think personally I would rather stick to the beet pulp/other complete feed that is relatively low in NSCs. But that's a personal perference.

  3. So, what creature does well on cereal grains?

  4. Ummm....I was going to say cows....but you have to worry about them too! I think Birds are pretty adapted to grains.

  5. Oh crap, meant to come back here yesterday. Thanks for the answers - more questions!

    Yall are talking about liquid oil, top-dressed over BP, right? Or is that rice bran stuff ok - but I've heard the Ca/P is off on it. I wonder if I could use extra-light olive oil - it's not TOO dear at Costco, and I think it's less inflammatory than corn/veggie.

    I've read the Tom Ivers book where he talks about dosing glucose, and while it's really interesting, I think you must have a really disciplined crew and a fast racehorse to pull it off. It's not for me, or for most American riders.

    Chickens are actually not that suited for grain either; they eat mostly bugs/each other if left to their own devices. Cereal grain is designed to go through a critter uneaten and get dispersed somewhere new. And the stuff inside is to grow baby plants, not animals.

  6. Yeah...I was kinda grasping at straws with the whole bird comment. I mean, it has to do SOMETHING good besides thatch roofs right?

    Liquid top dressed or freeze dried oil is generally what we are talking about. I think olive oil is fine - too pricey for me since I don't shop at costco. I know some oils are more stable than others which is a consideration in choosing an oil as well.

    I don't like ricebran because of the Ca/P ratio. I dont' care if it's stabilized or whatever, I feel like it's too big of a risk (I've heard mixed things about the stabilized rice brans) and I'd rather use something that I know isn't throwing my mineral ratios off.


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