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ELLEN COLLINSON Dip. Ir. M.G.N.I., Dip. Herb.

There are many different disciplines in the horse world, dressage, driving, endurance riding, eventing, polo, point to pointing, racing both flat and national hunt and showjumping, and in every discipline the horses have to be fit and healthy. As there are so many different types of competition there are equally many different ways of reaching peak fitness, depending on what the end result is to be and every one has their own idea on how to achieve this, but once the horse is fit and competing, the next thing is to maintain fitness and hopefully maintain interest in the job at hand, so many horses go ’over the top’ as they say, or become stale, sometimes this is down to mental attitude and sometimes, more often than not it is because the body, muscles, organs etc become over stretched, and or overloaded with excess protein, and lactic acid.

I was at a talk a couple of years ago given by a vet on the art of training and he asked if we had ever noticed the fact that certain trainers got the, and he put his hands up to imply inverted comas, “virus” at the same time every year. He then went on to talk about lactic acid build up in the muscles and how if not corrected will basically overflow into the bloodstream thus causing more problems.

Lactic acid is the result of incomplete fuel burning that takes place in all muscle cells, Without oxygen the cell must convert fuel to energy by reducing the fuel with enzymes, this is referred to as anaerobic energy production, this enzymatic fuel burning is inefficient, and you are left with partially ‘burned fuel’ better known as lactic acid. Lactic acid is an acid, it lowers the pH of the blood and muscle cells. When the pH drops, cell activity becomes inoperable, the more lactic acid, the more muscle cell paralysis.

This does not just effect racehorses, think of the way a top class dressage horse has to work, head flexed and having to have a supple round top line, if their muscles are full of lactic acid the horse will automatically try and ‘save’ its back muscles by hollowing and carrying the head up, and will not use the hind quarters efficiently.

Diet is very important in the reduction of both mental and muscle stress and one very good supplement to feed is seaweed, seaweed is high in minerals and trace elements, it is rich in copper, iron, iodine, magnesium, phosphorous, silicon and sulphur. The iodine content, which is a supreme gland builder and conditioner, reduces excess fatty tissue and removes toxic elements, along with iron which is of premier importance to the blood, promoting oxygen absorption and building red corpuscles.

One of the frequent causes of horses losing their ‘form’ in any sphere is the over feeding of too much protein, as research I received from Australia indicates that excess dietary protein can have several damaging effects. These include High blood urea and ammonia levels, Liver & Kidney stress, Increased fluid and electrolyte demands, Nervous irritability, Increased risk of respiratory conditions, Poor performance.

Also many people feed a balanced diet and then unbalance it by feeding supplements, it has been found that over supplementing can cause an excess of certain minerals and a surplus is equally dangerous as a deficiency. Research has shown that 78% of competition horses fed supplements are likely to receive excess energy, protein and an imbalance of minerals, which can lead to the risk of excesses and sub clinical toxicity.

It is an interesting fact that Racing pigeons also suffer from lactic acid build up, and after discussing this with several trainers of racing pigeons I tried following their advice and the results were quite amazing.

Apparently when a racing pigeon returns from a sprint race, sprints being 100 miles, they often suffer build up of lactic acid, apparently the skin on the breast of the pigeon goes from pink to purple when they have a lactic acid build up and it is often ‘treated’ by feeding the birds with boiled cabbage water or boiled nettle water, well on the theory that the majority of horses get lactic acid build up after strenuous work I started boiling up nettles and giving between ½ to 1 pint of the juice in the feed at night, the results were fantastic, the equine physio who came to my yard regularly said that she could not believe the difference in the muscles on the horses, they were so soft and pliable, and the horses never suffered post competition physical stress, it is so cheap and easy to do.

Obviously there are other issues at keeping horses fresh and interested and obviously one of the biggest benefits to any horse is being put out in a paddock for as long as possible when not working, to be stabled 23 out of 24 hours must be unbelievably boring for them, I do know a trainer in Ireland who does not have a lot of turn out for her horses so she put up a television in her barn and you would be amazed how many of the horses stood watching it!! Some yards have hens and ducks wandering around so the horses have something to watch and of course the other thing is to vary the work, nobody likes to do the same thing every day, many of us have to do it but we don’t necessarily enjoy it but we know that there is a pay packet at the end of the week, the horses must get their pay packet too even if it is just a change of ride, a day in the field or a trip to the seaside!!

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