I own a 17-year-old, 14-hand (142 cm) Paso Fino gelding that’s in moderate body condition. Pete is ridden three days a week at a distance of 6-10 miles. Right now, he’s fed grass hay and a ration balancer. In the past, Pete’s had laminitis and gut problems, which makes spring a worrisome time for me. Is there anything else I can do for him as spring approaches?
Your gelding’s current diet is providing appropriate nutrition, as long as a minimum of 1 lb (0.45 kg) of balancer pellet is fed.
For horses diagnosed with insulin resistance (IR), sometimes referred to as insulin dysregulation, it is best to test the forage for water-soluble carbohydrates (WSC, sugars) and starch to evaluate its appropriateness. Most IR horses can tolerate hay with an upper range of 10-12% nonstructural carbohydrate (NSC, which measures the amount of starch and sugar), but some may need even lower NSC values for optimal health.
If your hay tests above the recommended starch and sugar level, you can effectively reduce water-soluble carbohydrates by soaking the hay prior to feeding. General guidelines for soaking in cold water for 30-60 minutes or warm water for 10-30 minutes have been made based on research. Soaking can reduce sugar content by as much as 30-40%. For example, a hay with 15% NSC can be soaked to within acceptable levels. Do not allow Pete access to the water in which the hay was soaked.
Excessive forage restriction is not recommended. At minimum, Pete should receive at least 1.25% of his body weight per day, approximately 12 lb (5.5 kg) but ideally closer to 1.5-1.8% of body weight, or 14-16 lb (6.4-7.3 kg), per day. If you don't already offer hay in a slow-feeder, then it would be beneficial to do so. A small-hole haynet can help slow consumption and extend time spent foraging.
Caloric reduction and regular exercise has been most effective at reducing body weight and improving insulin regulation. Sustained exercise with heart rates above 140 bpm has been shown to result in improvements in insulin regulation. Regular “forced” exercise such as riding or longeing should be at a level to achieve an elevated heart rate of at least over 100 bpm but ideally 140 bpm.
In addition to exercise, encouraging Pete to engage in sustained low-intensity exercise during the day will be of huge benefit to his health and well-being. Dynamic feeding systems such as slow-feeders placed in different areas of his paddock or pasture, or strategic placement of water, salt, and hay in different locations can help encouragement movement and foraging behavior.
To help monitor Pete’s exercise program, you may be interested in using KER’s smartphone app, KER ClockIt™ Sport. ClockIt Sport can track the distance traveled, speed, and time spent at different speeds. When used in combination with a heart-rate monitor, ClockIt provides a comprehensive fitness and conditioning report that can be viewed on your phone and computer.
Two appropriate products for Pete include EO-3 and EquiShure. EO-3 is a high-quality fish oil that contains a rich source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA. Long-chain omegas have been advocated for metabolic horses due to their role in reducing inflammation and potential to improve insulin regulation and glucose tolerance. An added benefit of supplemental fat and omega-3s supplied by EO-3 is improved skin and coat health.
EquiShure is a time-released hindgut buffer recommended for horses that may be sensitive to grazing rich pasture. EquiShure is a protected form of sodium bicarbonate that works to increase the pH in the hindgut to reduce the risk of acidosis that can be caused by consuming pasture high in sugar. Acidosis might be responsible for the gastrointestinal problems Pete experiences.
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