Holistic Horsekeeping Newsletter April 2014

April 2014

Holistic Horse Health – Arthritis in Young Horses

Holistic Horsekeeping
How to have a healthy happy horse.
Volume 19, Number 4


In This Issue:

Holistic Horse Health – Arthritis in Young Horses


Holistic Horse Health – Arthritis in Young Horses
It is not unexpected to have an older horse with stiff joints but arthritis in young horses is an entirely different matter. Recently I have had 2 horses under 10 years old diagnosed with severe arthritic changes in multiple joints. Both these horses have good conformation and have recently been on very good feeding programs. So why the bad joints?

Cause of Arthritis in Young Horses
Arthritis in young horses is caused by the combination of over work and inadequate nutrition at a young age. Nutrition for healthy joints should begin with the feeding program very early in life. The minerals of most concern are calcium, phosphorus, zinc and copper. According to Lon D. Lewis, the author of Equine Clinical Nutrition, if foals growing at a faster or normal growth rates are limited in any of these nutrients, developmental orthopedic diseases may occur. Even if mineral deficiencies are not present a rapidly growing foal can develop orthopedic disease because the rapidly growing bones grow in size but have less mineral density causing them to be weaker.

Considerations For Feeding the Young Horse
We have a wide variety of choices for feeds for growing foals but the majority of these contain inorganic minerals. Dr Lewis sites research indicating that foals’ nursing mares fed organic minerals had higher blood levels of these minerals than those nursing mares on inorganic mineral mixes. It is not known if the milk contained different levels of minerals or if the foals were ingesting a portion of the mineral mixes fed the mares. This would indicate, however, that organic minerals are more easily assimilated by the young horse.

Horses continue to grow until they are 5 to 6 years old. Many horses are started into at 2 to 3 years old and in some cases are already expected to perform heavy work. While I don’t support heavy work for young horses at least they should be supported with quality nutrition for joint support. Instead a young horse’s condition is evaluated strictly on body condition. High fat diets may be fed to provide the levels of energy needed to support heavy work. Most fats added to formulated rations are in the form of vegetable oils. Not only are these oils empty calories but they can be very imbalanced in fatty acids.

Causes of arthritis in young horses:

  • Inadequate levels of calcium, phosphorus, zinc and copper
  • Rapid growth even with adequate nutrition
  • Lack of assimilation of inorganic mineral mixes

Good Feeding Program For Young Horses
A much better feeding program for a young horse in heavy work would include free choice quality grass/alfalfa hay and a low starch, moderate fat concentrate. Additional fat, if needed for condition, would be provided in the form of energy and nutrient seeds such as chia or hemp. Sunflower, flax and pumpkin seeds are also good sources of fat but do not have as healthy a ration of omega 3 fatty acids as the chia.

Blue green or green alga such as AFA, chlorella and spirulina offer great sources of energy, balanced fat and organic minerals to support healthy bone grown. Algae also provides additional phytonutrients for immune and digestive support.

For healthy, strong bones growing horses need:

  • High quality forage and minimum grain
  • Larger amounts of calcium, phosphorus, zinc and copper
  • Fat sources that contain adequate minerals such as healthy seeds
  • Organic sources of minerals from quality forage and nutrient dense foods such as algae

An example of a nutrient dense, whole food recipe for a young working horse would be:

  • 3/4 can alfalfa pellets
  • 2/3 can beet pulp
  • 1/4 cup each
  • Flax seeds(chia can be substituted if the horse is too fat)
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • 1 cup BOSS(black oil sunflower seeds)
  • 1/3 cup healthy glow rice bran

Ideally, horses should be allowed to mature before being asked to perform heavy work or training. If horses are worked at a young age they need extra support to avoid arthritis. Bone health in young horses is best supported with quality forage, nutritious seeds and organic sources of minerals, especially calcium, phosphorus, zinc and copper.

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