Tuesday 14 June 2011

Minerals and grass

I blogged last week about Lady, and her changing sensitivity to grass.

UK grass (even up on Exmoor!)  has a long growing season and our wet, mild climate means its also relatively high in sugar so its always something I need to be careful with; however most horses at Rockley cope well with being out at grass for part of the time - overnight during spring and summer or during the day in autumn and winter.

What does sometimes happen though is that horses who've coped well on grass while up here are much more sensitive to grass once they go home.  This can be due to a number of things - perhaps the land they go back to has been artificially fertilised or intensively farmed.   Its also often in a warmer, lower-lying area which means not only a longer, richer  growing season but that horses are using less energy to move around or keep warm.

There is another factor which has become apparent only in the last couple of years  - although there have been hints of it for longer.  The mineral levels in the forage (grass and haylage) at Rockley are not perfect but, once supplemented with the basic broad spectrum supplements (linseed, yeast, magnesium oxide) which Sarah and I talked about in "Feet First", our forage provides a good overall balance of minerals which needs only minor tweaking.

When horses go home, I always send them with a feed sheet as well as information about exercise and ongoing work levels, but the biggest change once horses leave here is often (but not always!) the mineral levels in their  home forage which can sometimes be very different from the mineral levels in the forage here.

What Sarah found a couple of years ago was that the levels of some minerals (particularly manganese and iron) in her forage were so high that they were blocking uptake of other key minerals; by contrast levels of other equally important trace elements were virtually zero.   As with so much about horse health, the mineral imbalances showed up first in hoof problems and to solve the hoof problems she had to sort out the mineral imbalances first.Having done this, she was so pleased with the results on her own horses that she set up a company (Forageplus - website on the right with lots more info!) specifically to offer a mineral balancing service.

Its clear that a good balance of minerals is one of the reasons why horses hooves improve while they are here and of course its important that this good nutritional base is maintained once horses go home because its such a fundamental requirement for ongoing hoof health.

Very often, if there is a reasonably good mineral balance in the horse's "home" forage, the basic Feet First supplement will do the job.  However, if horses don't carry on improving when they go home - or worse still deteriorate and become footy - then the first things owners should be suspicious of is sugar and starch levels (especially in grass) and the second is a mineral imbalance in their forage.

These 2 elements can both be present, of course - 2 wrongs don't make a right, and so a horse who has inadequate levels of minerals may also become more susceptible to the damage caused by high levels of sugar and starch in his diet.

So in Lady's case, when she has a good level of minerals in her diet (together with a good workload) she can cope with the levels of sugar and starch in summer grazing.  Without adequate minerals she seems to have a tendency to become much more sensitive to the same levels of sugar and starch which then affect her feet and in consequence the amount of work she can do - a vicious circle.

For practical purposes, not everyone can carry out a mineral analysis of their forage but if you have a horse who is not performing as well as he should be on the basic mineral supplements, it may be worthwhile to take a closer look at mineral levels.

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