The horse is an amazing athlete and a powerhouse of physical strength and ability. As we continue to push the equine athlete for greater success, we should not forget to take into account the extra efforts this puts on the horse, as well as the added demands that this puts on the body, which supplementation using antioxidants can assist with.
When the horse exercises, a natural inflammatory response is created and this can lead to an increase in free radicals and increased oxygen consumption, which can lead to damage of cell membranes in the horses muscles and tissues, including the lungs. This oxidative stress is a change or disturbance in the balance between oxidants (e.g. free radicals) and antioxidants (e.g. vitamins).
Free radicals are molecules that have an unshared electron, these molecules cause damage to cells and when a build up occurs, can lead to serious disease. Antioxidants, on the other hand are part of the defence system, and are a range of molecules that can prevent the free radicals from causing damage. Antioxidants work by donating an electron and therefore neutralising the free radical.
Damage caused by oxidative stress and free radicals can be very detrimental to the horses health and performance. That is why it is important to support the horse’s nutritional needs in order to reduce the risk of long term damage to cells
Research has shown that correct dietary supplementation can reduce the inflammatory response in equine athletes and this can be achieved through supplementing the diet of the performance horse with antioxidants. Recent research has shown that instead of concentrating on increasing supplementation pre-performance, vitamins and antioxidants provided to horses after intensive exercise can help support recovery and reduce the time it takes for horses to recover after strenuous exercise.
Although horses are capable of producing vitamins from microbiota in their gastrointestinal tract, this is not always sufficient to meet the demands brought on by exercise. As the horse becomes fitter, the capacity of the hind-gut shrinks and therefore less microbiota are available to produce the vitamins required, therefore horses involved in high intensity work have greater need for supplementation.
Antioxidants work together to protect the health in the horse in times of changes and this includes areas other than exercise such as; ageing, pregnancy, lactation and also in times of illness. It is important to remember that oxidative stress increases as energy requirements increase, so in times of high intensity exercise or growth a carefully balanced diet and correct supplementation of vitamins and minerals all help to keep the equine athlete healthy and sound.
Some of the important antioxidants in equine nutrition include:
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