The goal of every owner and trainer is to create a healthy, sustainable, sound, and happy horse. Horses are extraordinary athletes whose bodies are put to the test on a daily basis. Todays equine disciplines such as show jumping, racing and eventing put the horse under great physiological pressure and they possess extraordinary athletic capabilities. Due to this, it is critical to support and maintain the physiological status of the equine athlete. One critical aspect of supporting their health is to respect and recognize the importance of recovery from injuries that may occur during their athletic careers. Injuries are unfortunate, but unavoidable, aspects of participating in physical activity regardless of the level of participation. There can be several causes of lameness in the equine athlete, which can vary from muscle injuries to injuries involving soft tissue, tendon, bone and joint. In fact, the physiological processes that occur due to exercise alone, in particular, the increased production of inflammatory mediators may lead or contribute to many of these injuries. Minimising the impact of the injury and enhancing recovery from injuries or exercise is crucial for equine athletes.
Firstly, let’s discuss the effects of exercise-induced injury on the body. Exercise can be both anti-inflammatory and pro-inflammatory to the body of the horse. Research in human medicine has shown that regular, non-vigorous exercise can have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. Research in the equine has not been so extensive however limited data has shown that training exercises in thoroughbred racehorses may also be somewhat anti-inflammatory in nature.
However, in contrast more vigorous and strenuous exercise can cause inflammation or be pro-inflammatory and so can lead to a range of physiological strains on the body. This type of strenuous exercise elicits a stress response analogous to the acute-phase immune response and this is called exercise-induced inflammation. The consequences associated with this inflammation post exercise can range from the mild symptoms of muscle soreness to debilitating problems related to soft tissue, joint, and bone damage. Thus, it may create a physiological environment that sets a horse up for injury or may cause them to become more susceptible to injury due to the underlying inflammatory process that is occurring in the body due to vigorous exercise.
When the horse is involved in vigorous exercise, exercise-induced tissue damage can stimulate the inflammatory cascade. The inflammatory cascade is a phenomenon that occurs in the body in response to disturbances such as trauma, infection or injury. White blood cells involved in immunity (neutrophils, monocytes, and lymphocytes) are recruited to the site of inflammation and produce enzymes in order to clear and repair damaged tissue. Although an acute inflammatory response is a part of the healing process, chronic inflammation can lead to tissue damage, poor performance, and perhaps an end to the athletic career of a horse. Therefore one of the goals in inhibiting exercise-induced injury is to reduce the inflammation that occurs and this can be aided through dietary supplementation.
Due to the negative implications of exercise-induced inflammation, there is a widespread use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in equine athletes. In fact, it has been reported that plasma concentrations of NSAIDs are highest in injured horses. While anti-inflammatory medication relieves some muscle soreness in athletes, it actually does not affect the recovery from injuries of muscle function or impact levels of inflammation. Moreover, long-term use of NSAIDs has been associated with other adverse effects. The use of dietary supplementation to aid in the reduction of inflammation is an area of on-going research in the field of equine science. Studies have found that non-pharmacological approaches can reduce the inflammatory response in equine athletes. The aim of this is to support the nutritional status of the horse. During recovery from injuries, the body, and in particular the immune system uses extra energy to fuel the healing process, thus dietary supplementation should be considered. Plusvital Recovery-7 is a concentrated formula of vitamins, amino acids and anti-inflammatory agents designed to aid in muscle recovery.
Unfortunately, if not provided in addition to the diet during recovery, the horses body’s stored protein becomes a source of energy for healing. This can cause the horse to enter a catabolic state, which means the body breaking down metabolically active tissues such as muscle to provide energy for healing. During this process the horse becomes weak due to protein loss. This is why injured horses often have increased protein requirements compared to horses at maintenance. It is important to keep the recovering horse at an ideal body condition score. One can do this by providing adequate protein either by supplementing with a good source of amino acids and to provide the injured horse adequate micronutrients such as a balancer pellet to help the body heal. Increasing sugar and starch is not ideal rather one should increase fat and fibre to ensure enough calories are consumed. Plusvital Racing Pellets are specifically designed to supplement the diet of the horse in training and are a significant source of antioxidants, proteins and fats.
Altered nutritional needs are just one facet of managing an injured performance horse, but it’s also one of the most important aspects. In summary, one of the main goals of equine health and nutrition should be to provide anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant support to the equine athlete in order to help reduce or minimise exercise-induced inflammation; support muscle tissue by providing adequate protein to the diet; to help maintain glycogen synthesis; and to provide micronutrients that will aid in bone, joint and immune system support to the recovering horse. This can be done with supplementation with carefully formulated products designed specifically for these needs.
Learn more about Plusvital’s full range of supplements here.