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- Carbohydrates fall into two categories:
- Structural Carbohydrates (also known as Insoluble Carbohydrates) are contained in forage. These are broken down in the hind-gut of the horse by the gut microflora. The end result, Volatile Fatty Acids (VFA’s), are absorbed and used as “non-heating” sources of energy by the horse. In most horses, VFA’s are the main energy source.
- Non-structural Carbohydrates - starches and sugars (also known as Soluble Carbohydrates) such as those contained in cereals. These are broken down in the small intestine and absorbed to provide more rapidly available energy – “heating” type of energy, which can make some horses excitable.
- Fats and oils are potent sources of energy for the horse. A concentrated source which typically contains twice as much energy as cereals and more than three times that of forages. Fats and oils are a mixture of compounds known as fatty acids.
- The horse did not evolve naturally to digest fats and oils but it is nevertheless very efficient in digesting them in the small intestine. The use of fats and oils in the diet provides greater endurance to the horse and the use of high oil diets in hard working horses can lead to reduced fatigue and improved recovery.
- Minerals are split into two groups: Macro Minerals (those needed in larger quantities) which include: calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium and chloride and trace minerals (those needed in minute quantities) which include: iodine, cobalt, copper, zinc, iron, selenium, manganese, florine and chromine.
- The horse’s mineral intake will depend greatly upon the water and soil content of the area. Some minerals interfere with the absorption of others in the gut so overfeeding of one may lead to a deficiency of another. If phosphorus levels, for instance, are too high then less calcium will be absorbed and deficiency may result. Approximately 21 minerals are required in the diet and these are essential for health and development. Compound feeds contain a carefully selected and balanced broad spectrum of added minerals.
- This is an important component of all animal tissues. Without the synthesis of protein, life would not exist. All proteins are chains of repeating units call amino acids, and it is these proteins that are broken down by enzymes in the small intestine.
- Excess protein is wasteful as the horse has to break it down. Part is excreted in the urine or may be used as an expensive and inefficient energy source. Horses that are working harder need extra carbohydrates and/or fat rather than utilising protein as an energy source.
- These are a group of chemical compounds, which are vital for life and are required in tiny quantities for the normal functioning of the horse. Some chemical compounds take on the function of vitamins after undergoing a chemical change. These compounds are known as Pro Vitamins e.g. B-carotene changes into Vitamin A. There are 15 vitamins, which are known to be essential to the horse, and they are split into two groups: Fat Soluble and Water Soluble.
- Fat Soluble vitamins can be stored in the fat deposits of the horse and in the liver. Most of the fat soluble vitamins are abundant in fresh herbage which means that the horse can store them through the summer months for use later in the winter. They can therefore become toxic if overdosed with additional supplements. Vitamin A, D, E & K are fat soluble vitamins.
- Water Soluble vitamins are soluble in water. When excess are fed, they are broken down and excreted through the urine. The horse can make some of its own water soluble vitamins in the hind gut (via the microflora). Vitamin C and B Group (Thiamine, Riboflavin, Pyridoxine, Cyanocobalamin, Folic Acid, Pantothenic Acid, Choline, Biotin, Inositol, Niacin) are water soluble vitamins.
- Supplementation of vitamins may be required due to: poor quality feeds being used; hard work being undertaken by the horse; stress situations; illness; young or old horses.
- About 70% of the bodyweight of a horse is made up of water, increasing to 75-80% for a foal!
- Water is required for many different life functions including: temperature regulations (sweating); excretion (urine); mare’s milk (lactation); a medium in which chemical reactions take place; a solvent in which substances can be dissolved and transported around the body and helps to give cells their shape
- Horses must have a fresh supply of clean water at all times. The amount consumed will to some extent depend upon climatic conditions and the amount of dry feed the horse is eating. Grass contains 75-80% moisture therefore the horse at grass takes in much more water from this source and will likely drink less from the trough.