What the equine body needs and what we think it needs can be two different things. Fortunately, there’s a test that can help.
The effects of poor nutrition can be seen in both mares and foals. What’s in the mare (or lacking in the mare), will be reflected in her foal. That’s why it is important to ensure the mare is in optimal health before breeding her. It’s also important to maintain that health and throughout her pregnancy. But how can you be sure she’s getting everything she needs?
Vital nutrients for a healthy pregnancy
Some of the key nutrients needed for health, reproduction and fetal growth include:
- Vitamins: Vitamin A, E, D, D3, B12, B8 (inositol), thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2) and pantothenic acid (B5).
- Macrominerals: The essential minerals calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium and phosphorus are classified as macrominerals, meaning the body needs them in larger amounts.
- Microminerals: Iron, copper, manganese, zinc, chromium, iodine, sulfur and selenium are equally important, but are required in smaller amounts.
- Choline and folic acid: Key nutrients for development and a healthy nervous system.
What are these vitamins and minerals for?
PHOSPHORUS – Bones and muscle, protein assimilation
CALCIUM – Bones, milk, immunity, disease resistance, muscle relaxation
MAGNESIUM – Bones, enzymes, nerve calming, heart health
SODIUM – For its electrolytes, balancing body fluids, endocrine support
VITAMIN A – Epithelial tissue, immune system, liver, kidneys, adrenal glands, inflammation reduction
SULFUR – Key to amino acids
ZINC – Needed as enzyme in over 200 reactions in the body, as well as immune system and liver, keeps inflammation down
MANGANESE – Known as the feminine mineral, it balances with iron, the masculine mineral; all females (plants included) need manganese to “flower” and be good mothers; required as part of many enzymes and for joint tissue support
COPPER – Blood, enzymes, adrenal gland function
COBALT – Used by hindgut flora to produce vitamin B12
IRON – Liver, blood
POTASSIUM – Electrolyte that works with sodium at cellular level; also benefits heart and adrenal function
The image above is called “the mineral wheel”. It shows how every mineral is in some way connected to every other mineral. It also indicates how a deficiency or excess of any one could affect all the others.
Mineral availability and metabolism
Most deficiencies in animals are the result of altered mineral relationships within the body. Both the retention and loss of minerals are as important as the nutrients consumed through food, and are valuable in determining dietary needs as well as for supplement recommendations at all stages of life.
Mineral levels and ratios can be altered by the presence of toxic metals, nutritional deficiencies, infections, illness and stress. Thousands of biochemical reactions ultimately control metabolism, digestion, and the regeneration of body tissues. The vast majority of these reactions depend on minute levels of trace minerals for their activity. If these essential minerals are not present to fuel these processes, the body’s ability to regenerate, metabolize, or break down noxious substances is compromised.
Minerals can become unavailable for many reasons. The malabsorption or bio-unavailability (meaning the nutrients are present in the body, but can’t be utilized) of specific minerals can have a myriad of causes: gut interference, improper form, lack of other needed vitamins, minerals or amino acids, cell receptor interruption and more. Studies of both horses and humans link minerals to healthy nervous system function and behavior. Nutrient minerals must be available to support positive behavior.
Setting out to supply your broodmare with sufficient amounts of these nutrients can be overwhelming. Not only do you want to ensure you’re providing her with everything she needs, but you also need to be sure her body is adequately processing and utilizing the nutrients she’s given. This can prove difficult without some form of formal testing.
Tissue Mineral Analysis – the body’s blueprint
The most comprehensive way to determine and monitor your mare’s nutritional requirements is through a simple and relatively inexpensive test called Tissue Mineral Analysis (TMA). Testing is simple. It requires just two teaspoons of hair clipped close to the horse’s body. TMA uses a hair sample to create a blueprint of the individual’s biochemistry, and the nutritional metabolic activity that occurred while the hair was forming in the follicle. During a hair’s growth phase, it is exposed to the internal metabolic environment (circulating blood, lymph and extracellular fluids) and retains the metabolic products presented to it as it hardens. This is why it becomes a perfect tissue sample for testing body function, mineral levels, metabolic trends and toxic metals.
TMA has been used throughout the world to assess the nutritional status of a single horse or a whole herd. It can even indicate metabolic dysfunction before clinical signs occur. The choice of hair as a testing medium is based on the fact that blood chemistries change dynamically from day to day, while hair values give a more stable view of the overall nutritional status, and offer a record of how the body is storing and disposing of elements. It also provides a sensitive indicator of long-term metabolic trends brought on by the effects of diet, stress and toxic metal exposure.
When performed to standards and correctly interpreted, a TMA can tell you exactly what your mare’s endocrine system is doing and what vitamins or minerals need to be raised or lowered – a powerful tool for any mare and foal wellness program.
Find a lab that doesn’t wash hair samples
Multiple published studies indicate significant variations in TMA results when laboratories wash hair samples. Washing samples at the laboratory causes some degree of erratic and unpredictable mineral removal. Hair is 10% to 15% porous. Washing agents can remove not only what’s on the outside, but also penetrate inside the sample, washing out some of the loosely-bound minerals. Water-soluble minerals such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, copper, manganese and zinc are most affected.
TMA case study
This case example using a series of three TMAs demonstrates how minerals can change over time, and how with proper nutrient supplementation, a horse can regain health and maintain a better body. Testing also allows you to monitor whether or not your treatment is working.
The horse in this study is 17 years old. Traditionally active and energetic, she had become very lethargic on trail rides. No differences had been noted between pasture and stall time, or in eating. Her diet consisted of hay, pasture and a little grain.
“Free choice” vitamin and mineral supplementation
Horses are smart. They will “graze” through an offering of open feeding supplements and eat the exact ones they need. If your barn and pasture arrangements make it difficult to support your horses with free choice supplements, look for a product that addresses digestion, microflora and the immune system along with the specific vitamins and minerals included in the supplement. For example, utilizing natural plants like kelp, dandelion, sage, fennel, thyme and basil is an optimal way to support our herbivorous friends in a way their bodies were designed. Supporting digestive microflora by providing nutrient-specific enzymes, substrates and stabilized bacteria allows for increased absorption of all nutrients – even those occurring naturally within your horse’s water, forage and other feedstuffs.
Whichever way you go about it, supplementing your mare and foal will not only give them what is lacking in their forage or feed, but also help counteract the effects of toxins that enter their systems every day. When you supplement properly, you can expect to see improvements in physical health and overall well-being, and see your mare through a happy and healthy pregnancy.