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Mare, Foal Nutrition Impacts Lifelong HealthBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · May 22, 2017

Problems associated with excess body condition are well known among horsemen and include insulin resistance, laminitis, osteoarthritis, and exercise intolerance. Recent research also shows that the health of offspring of overweight mares may also be compromised.

Studies show, for example, that excess maternal nutrition during pregnancy can alter glucose and lipid (fat) metabolism in foals until 160 days of age, and another study reported a higher incidence of osteochondrosis (OC) in foals born to dams that were fed concentrates during gestation rather than forage only.

A more recent study* on broodmare nutrition during the last trimester of gestation and subsequent foal health revealed the following:

  • Growth of foals from 6 to 24 months of age was not affected by maternal diet;
  • Maternal undernutrition appeared to affect bone growth as foals from dams fed forage only had narrower cannon bones than foals from dams fed forage and barley;
  • Seven yearlings (29% of included yearlings) were diagnosed with OC lesions, but no difference in OC based on maternal nutrition was identified; and
  • The testicles of yearlings from forage-fed dams were less mature than those from broodmares fed both forage and barley.

“This research also found that when yearlings were overfed between 19 and 24 months of age, up to approximately 135% of NRC energy requirements, overfeeding negatively affected yearlings from mares fed barley and forage more than yearlings from broodmares fed only forage,” explained Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a nutritionist for Kentucky Equine Research (KER).

Specifically, decreased insulin sensitivity and enhanced insulin levels suggestive of insulin dysregulation were observed in yearlings from mares fed both barley and forage but not yearlings from forage-only mares.

Consultation with an equine nutritionist can help owners design a feeding plan for broodmares and their offspring to ensure optimum health,” Crandell advised. Mares should be maintained in moderate body condition. If good-quality pasture or hay is available, many easy-keeping mares do well on balancer pellet or appropriate vitamin and mineral supplement, such as Micro-Max (available in the U.S.) or Gold Pellet (available in Australia), and free-choice salt.

*Robles, M, C. Gautier, L. Mendoza et al. 2017. Maternal nutrition during pregnancy affects testicular and bone development, glucose metabolism and response to overnutrition in weaned horses up to two years. PLoS One. 12(1):e0169295.