Nutrition isn't everything, but there's nothing without it

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This statement came to me one day whilst I was ruminating over the importance of non-nutrition factors in health. The most obvious one is exercise, and I – along with a number of other experts – believe that exercise is key for optimal health and can even make up for suboptimal nutrition in some cases. Another factor is rest/sleep: absolutely key for optimal heath. Nutrition alone will not fix all your horse's ills and you can spend as much money as you like on specific supplements, but if your horse's management – including exercise, stress levels and rest – is below par, then you will not have an optimally healthy horse. 

Shiny healthy horse


Poor nutrition can, however, cause a myriad of health problems, some of which may take years to develop. These conditions can be caused by excesses (too much) of certain nutrients or deficiencies (too little). Health problems linked to nutrition in horses may include (and are not limited to):

  • Laminitis
  • Colic
  • Diarrhoea and other digestive disturbances
  • Acidic gut syndrome
  • Choke 
  • Tying up (exertional rhabdomyolysis)
  • Gastric ulcers
  • Poor immunity including susceptibility to infection and poor healing
  • Osteoarthritis 
  • Increased risk of orthopaedic injury 
  • Muscle atrophy/inability to build muscle 
  • Lethargy 
  • Poor stamina 
  • Poor performance
  • Poor fertility 
  • Early onset of ageing
  • Poor haircoat 
  • Crumbling, flaky hooves
  • Liver and/or kidney disease 
  • Behaviour problems
  • Oral stereotypies (previously called vices)
  • Allergies

(Some of these conditions may arise for other reasons, not necessarily linked to nutrition)

Furthermore, the horse relies on the millions of microbes that reside in their digestive tract – along with their genetic material, collectively called the microbiome – for optimal health because they have far reaching effects on the whole animal. So in addition to delivering nutrients to our horse for their own body, we also have to consider how to keep the gut microbiome ‘fed'! (see #5 The equine gut microbiome).

Because you're reading this, you've already realised that - if you wish to optimise the care of your horse - you are going to have to delve into their nutrition. 

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