I’m going to start with an easy one this week: Vaccinate your horse for Eastern Encephalitis (EEE). Florida has hit 12 cases of EEE in horses this year. Eleven of those horses are dead. One had a current vaccination status and is recovering. Did you get that? All eleven that had not been vaccinated had to be euthanized. The one that was is going to be OK. Call, text, e-mail, facebook message, heck send a carrier pigeon, however you want to get in touch with the humans here, but make sure your vaccines are up to date.
Whew now that that’s done, I would like to move on to my favorite topic: food. OK, one of my favorite topics, the other being naps. I had to research this week’s food topic since it is about the equine athlete and we all know I am not an athlete. Luckily, we had some very nice folks from Nutrena and Purina in recently that know all about feed and I got to pick their brains. It’s nice when all my sources agree. Here’s the problem in a nutshell: for the average horse sugar is bad (also true for humans and cats) but athletes need some to fuel muscles. Where is the line? Oh and it’s summertime and it’s hot. I promise that last bit is important, not whining. Cats don’t whine.
Nutrition for horses has come a long way in the past 20 years. Those bags of feed are no longer “grain” but are now a perfectly blended mixture designed for your horse’s metabolism, level of activity, and their weird GI tract. A large part of this change has been a decrease in simple sugars. Instead calories now come from complex sugars, fats, and protein along with a bit of simple sugar. For the average horse this is great. They spend a lot of time eating, lounging, and discussing the meaning of life with their closest cat. Sometimes the humans make them work but it usually isn’t for very long or very hard. Calories aren’t so important in this scenario. I resemble this scenario, though I am always trying to convince my minions to share their food with me since I’m starving.
Horses who work for a living are different. I’m not sure why you would want to work but I understand that horses do this and some even enjoy it. Weird. Anyway, at a certain point the equine muscle requires simple sugars to work well. Fat and protein are great long term energy sources but for those bursts of energy, sugar is the way to go. I’m not saying turn them loose in the sugar cube bin, but it is important to have sugars available in the diet. How much sugar you ask? That is an excellent question. How does your horse feel when riding? Do you find you are hitting a wall? Is there less zing when you need zing? Is the hot weather zapping them of energy? These can be indications it may be time to up the sugar content of the diet. That wall and that lack of zing happen when the muscle has used up all its energy stores. The fats and proteins can be used for energy, but the process takes longer. Processing fats and proteins also creates heat. Told you I wasn’t whining about the heat. Summertime in Florida is not when we want to make more heat.
You have decided your horse could potentially benefit from an increase in sugars in the diet. Now what? First check with the Docs. Horses with certain medical conditions such as metabolic syndrome, laminitis, or a muscle disorder called PSSM have to be very carefully monitored. Often the Docs will work with a nutritionist to come up with the best diet for these guys, and monitor them with bloodwork. If you get the OK from our Docs, then it is simply a matter of picking a diet with a higher NSC than the one you use now. I say simply but in reality it is simple but not easy. I’m going to recommend you talk with our in- house expert, Beth, before you just go with a bag of feed. There are million different ways to increase sugars in the diet and not all of them are good. Seriously, check with Beth. Beth has more years than she will allow me to say of experience in the equine feed industry. Beth will help you come up with the perfect program for your horse!
And now I am off to consume my low sugar diet which has been specially designed for diabetic cats. At least it means I don’t have to get insulin shots anymore!