Author Zia Sherrell
In terms of performance, we now expect more from our horses than ever before. You won’t see shire horses pulling a plough in the field as you enjoy your country walk and gone are the days when horses were for the exclusive use of the upper classes.
Minerals and developmental orthopaedic disease in the horse
Young, growing horses usually up to two years of age, can suffer from Developmental Orthopaedic Disease or DOD. This is an umbrella term for irregularities in the skeletal growth of the horse. It can result in conditions such as physitis, an inflammation of the growth plates of the bone, osteochondrosis which is a disruption to the blood supply of the bone resulting in necrosis, angular limb deformities such as pigeon toes or flexural limb deformities where the tendons are too tight and constrict the normal flexion of the limb. DOD can result in permanent lameness problems to the horse which in turn causes substantial economic losses.
Ensuring that the pregnant mare and neonatal foal is fed the correct mineral balance is a major contributing factor in avoiding DOD.
The importance of copper to stud farms
Before the 1980s, it was not known how vital trace minerals and in particular, copper, were in regard to preventing DOD. A pioneering study by researchers at Ohio State University determined that low quantities of dietary copper resulted in higher incidences of DOD.
This study focused on the importance of trace minerals on the prevention of DOD and triggered research worldwide that aimed to determine the link between trace minerals, especially copper and zinc and how bones in the newborn foal developed.
On the basis of these original studies and the countless emulators that followed worldwide, the equine feeding industry has without exception acknowledged the significance and value of fortifying the feed of broodmares and foal feed with trace minerals. If you take a look at any label on these such foods nowadays, there will by standard, be high levels of copper and zinc listed on the ingredients.
Horses that have a good diet with plenty of green grass or quality hay, and hard feed to make up any energy deficit, should, in theory, have a good intake of the vitamins and minerals that they need. The problem is that our modern soils have been over-cultivated, at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 it was confirmed that in some areas of the world, the soil has 85% fewer minerals than 100 years ago. This means that the crops grown in these soils will also have a much lower degree of the full range of minerals. It could be that the food you are feeding your horse does not contain the type or level of mineral that it needs for maximum performance, be that reproduction, grown or sport. Feeding your horse a good, all-round mineral supplement will help to avert the issues that lack of sufficient minerals can cause.