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Workshop Focuses on Horse Health

by Caitlin Yoder

Published: Friday, September 6, 2019

Nutrition plays a key role in a horse's ability to perform and reach their full potential. Providing a horse with proper nutrients is essential, especially for the Amish community and those that depend on horses for daily work and transportation. Muscle therapy may also come in to play to further improve the performance.

A workshop last Saturday in Grabill covered both of these topics. Samuel Schrock of Schrock Equine Nutrition in Shipshewana presented in the morning. Gary Wells of Australia gave a presentation and demonstration on Emmett therapy for horses in the afternoon. Together, nutrition and muscle therapy can improve the horse's overall ability and help get them in the best possible condition, according to Schrock and Wells.

The goal of the day was to teach attendees the importance of correct nutrition and arm them with the basic overview of how a horse should be fed. According to Schrock, many problems in horses start with the incorrect nutrition to begin with.

"Ninety-six percent of the time in the equine world, the problems with our horses actually are nutrition related," Schrock said.

The first thing that owners should look at for any horse is water. An 1,100-pound horse needs at least 20 gallons of water each day. Schrock said there are several factors that may lead to horses drinking less water than their needed amount to stay hydrated. If the horse has access to enough water, but still won't drink enough, Schrock said to provide salt in the diet.

A salt block may be enough. However, Schrock said owners can also sprinkle an ounce of salt directly in the water tank. If salt is added to the water, tanks must be cleaned out daily to prevent build-up. Another option for dehydrated horses is Pedialyte. Water is the most important nutrient in the horse's diet, and making sure they get their needed requirement is vital.

Hay or forage is the second most important element of the diet. The quality of hay plays in big part in nutrition and how much the horse will eat. Hay that has soft, fine stems will be higher quality than thick, stemmy hay.

"Softness and cleanliness is key for hay quality," he said. "One of the main things that goes wrong in the equine world is keeping the dust down in hay."

Even if the hay is not the best quality hay, getting it dry is most important. He said spraying down dusty hay can help, but the best thing is to feed it to cattle instead of horses.

Calories are the next most important component, according to Schrock. Ninety percent of calories in the equine diet comes from hay. The average Standardbred in the area burns about 28,000 calories each day. Those horses will consume about 20 pounds of hay in a day. If the horse is fed hay that tests at 900 calories per pound, the horse will consume 18,000 calories just from hay. The rest of the needed calories must be met with grain.

When a horse's caloric need is not being met, their weight will go down. Not all feed is created equal. Testing the hay can give a better idea of how many calories a horse is getting from forage, and how much it needs from grain.

"Hay actually is a big player when it comes to how much feed to feed my horse," Schrock said.

He does not like to tell people how much grain to feed their horse without knowing what kind of hay they are feeding. Weeds can provide empty calories and decrease the number of calories being consumed.

According to Schrock, horses should not be 50 pounds overweight, or 50 pounds underweight. It may not seem like a big difference, but it will impact performance of the animal. Fat only hinders the horse from performing to the full potential. They actually pull energy from muscle before fat.

When it comes to grain, amino acid content can make a huge difference. Amino acids help the horse develop muscle instead of fat. Sugar and starch level also contribute to the feed's ability to benefit the horse. Each horse requires a different level of sugar and starch. Corn and oats used to be the typical ingredients in horse feed. Today, very few performance horses are fed this diet. Pelleted feeds are becoming more popular.

Feeding proper feeds for the individual horse's needs is the best option. Requirements for each horse is unique. Their needs change as they progress to different stages of growth and work. Talking to a knowledgeable nutritionist can help determine what each individual animal requires.

Nutrition can increase the work life of horses. Schrock said there are Hunter Jumper horses competing at 23 years old. He personally has a 19-year-old horse still pulling a buggy down the road today. He said this is unheard of for most buggy horses in the area.

Schrock said there are many factors and issues that change a horse's nutrient requirement, but getting water, hay and supplemental grain is the most important concept. Learning to count equine calories and determine feed quality can make a huge difference in horses. Once a horse's nutrition is corrected to put the horse in perfect condition, owners can then use muscle therapy to correct additional issues in the body.

Gary Wells said muscle therapy can correct many issues, but there are many things he can't correct. A horse must first have proper care of hooves, teeth, diet and veterinary care. With the addition of some kind of body therapy, the horse will then be able to flourish.

Attendees were able to experience an Emmett treatment on people before seeing it done on a horse. Schrock also explained how to body score a horse to determine whether or not they are in top condition physically.

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