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When it comes to enjoyment and quality of life, a horse's true
fitness may mean more than just a pasture and some oats.
While most horses get the majority of their nutrients from pasture
and grain, many may not be receiving the mineral nutrition needed
for optimum health.
"It is important to remember that mineral content of forages and
hay are determined by the mineral make-up of the soil where they
are grown," notes Dr. Glennon Mays, clinical associate professor at
the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical
Sciences. "Therefore, if the soil lacks the mineral then the
plant grown there will not have that mineral."
Since soil types can vary from farm to farm and no one soil type
has all minerals needed by a horse, mineral supplements are
necessary, says Mays.
"Horses foremost need the minerals salt, calcium and
phosphorus," states Mays. "Salt is lost through sweat and
urine so it should be available free choice to the horse at all
times. Calcium and phosphorus are needed for healthy teeth
and bones. Greatest need is in the first year of a horse's
life when it grows the majority of its height. Accordingly,
lactating mares need higher amounts of calcium and phosphorus to
keep elevated levels in their milk."
"Calcium and phosphorus should be at least a 1 to 1 ratio,"
explains Mays. "Since grains are low in calcium and high in
phosphorus, some grains are adequate to meet phosphorus
requirements but not calcium needs. Therefore, additional
calcium is needed to develop the 1 to 1 ratio."
Most hays have a high calcium to phosphorus ratio, but the
nutritional value of the hay is dependent on the amount of
fertilizer applied to the pasture and handling of the hay. By
using a combination of grain and hay the proper calcium-phosphorus
ratio can be obtained. Of course, poor quality forage could
result in mineral deficiencies, notes Mays.
"The minerals magnesium and potassium are also important to a
horse's well being. Magnesium is needed for muscle and
nervous tissue function, while potassium helps maintain the cell's
pH balance and internal cellular fluid pressure," says Mays.
There are additional minerals (needed in very small amounts)
that can make a difference in the health of a horse. The
trace minerals cobalt, copper, iodine, iron, selenium, and zinc are
needed to maintain healthy, productive horses.
Cobalt deficiency is rare but cobalt supplementation has been
shown to enhance digestion and therefore increase energy from eaten
forages, notes Mays. Copper is necessary to help the horse
fight off bacteria and viruses as well as maintain connective
tissue and hoof integrity. Iron is necessary for blood
hemoglobin. Iodine is important to regulate metabolism and
growth. Selenium is important to reproduction, growth, and
the immune system. Zinc enhances bone development, healthy
hooves and coat, and reproduction, explains Mays.
"Well balanced mineral supplements should be provided for your
horse to insure quality health," states Mays. "The horse is a
grazing animal with a unique digestive system. It has a
relatively small stomach and a large hindgut that holds fibrous
matter which bacteria work to digest. Therefore, forage
should be the first food of choice. However, forages do not
provide sufficient amounts of minerals for horses, so supplements
Trace mineralized salt in block form will not meet the horse's
nutritional needs, notes Mays. These blocks are mostly salt
and contain low levels of trace mineral. Because of their
high salt content, the horse takes in small amounts of the
supplement and even smaller amounts of trace minerals.
"Determine how much hay and grain your horse eats. Read
the bag label for the analysis of the grain. Have the forage
tested and nutritionally evaluated. Then determine which
minerals and the amounts your horse is lacking," explains
Mays. "Purchase a mineral supplement that is closest to the
needed nutrient requirements."
Minerals are important ingredients necessary for your horse's
good health. Take the time to determine the amounts that your
horse needs. When you do, you'll enhance your horse's
performance and help prevent health problems.
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