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  • Q:

    I own a 10-year-old, 17-hand (172 cm) Warmblood mare that works moderately, three or four days each week. She’s an easy keeper, and her weight has been maintained at a steady 5 on the body condition scorecard for the last year. She spends about 8 hours at pasture and the remainder of the time in a stall. Her current ration includes grass hay, less than 1 lb (0.45 kg) of a senior feed, 1.5 lb (0.68 kg) of a ration balancer, and a supplement containing magnesium, selenium, and chromium. The mare experiences some muscle tightness and soreness in her lower back, as well as reluctance to move, as the show season progresses. She has been tested for PSSM, and the test came back negative. In addition to that, I would like to manage her transition from pasture to hay better to decrease these problems.

  • A:

    It is difficult to say definitively what might be causing the recurrent seasonal muscle stiffness your mare experiences. Working closely with your veterinarian is the key to managing your mare, so continue working with that professional. The following nutritional suggestions can help improve your mare’s overall health and well-being.

    Extending the time it takes to transition from primarily pasture to hay will help reduce any digestive upset related to diet changes. Some horses are more sensitive to changes in forages than others. Including soaked forage cubes or beet pulp in place of some hay, to provide a source of high-moisture fiber in your mare’s diet, may help the transition from high-moisture grazing to consuming large amounts of dry hay. In addition to trying different fiber sources, providing a digestive health supplement such as a digestive buffer will help stabilize the gastrointestinal environment and microbial population as she adapts to different feedstuffs.

    KER has developed two digestive buffers EquiShure (a time-released hindgut buffer) and RiteTrac (a total digestive tract buffer providing both foregut and hindgut support, available in the United States and some other regions). Because your mare is an easy keeper, I assume you offer her a restricted, carefully managed hay ration. With this and her workload in mind, I recommend RiteTrac for her, as I feel she would benefit from the additional gastric support. Australian horse owners should look for these research-proven products.

    Good-quality pasture is a great source of vitamin E, a very important antioxidant involved in nerve and muscle health and function. Including natural source vitamin E to your supplement program towards the end of summer or year-round may offer the necessary antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties to help reduce the incidence or severity of muscle stiffness your mare experiences. KER offers two vitamin E products: Nano•E, a liquid product that is highly bioavailable, and a full antioxidant product, Preserve PS, which contains natural-source vitamin E, organic selenium, magnesium, and vitamin C. In Australia, look for either Nano•E or Preserve.

    Omega-3 fatty acids are another well-known anti-inflammatory compound that have been shown to have many health benefits in horses. Flaxseed is a good source of ALA (short-chain omega-3), whereas marine-derived products provide a direct source of DHA and EPA (long-chain omega-3s) for immediate use. As a fish oil, EO•3 is a rich source of DHA and EPA. For more information on the benefits of plant or marine omega-3s, please click here. Adding flaxseed or EO•3 is a nice way to achieve the added benefits of omega-3s and dietary fat that are provided at lower levels in hay compared to grazing pasture.

    These nutritional modifications are suitable for the easy keeper and may smooth the transition to a hay-only diet and may be beneficial for your mare if this is an underlying cause of the muscle stiffness and reluctance to work.

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