Dealing With "Sensitive" Horses

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You know the type. One bug bite causes a huge welt. Every little wound, bump or sprain swells tremendously. Pain and heat are out of proportion compared to the severity of the injury. He may have problems with unexplained hives that just won’t go away or other signs of allergy-like itchiness, low-grade nasal discharge, stable cough, dietary intolerances or exaggerated vaccine reactions.

Frankly, these problems likely stem from an overly enthusiastic immune system and a high inflammatory response. There’s nothing wrong with the horse per se, his genetics just make him this way. And, yes, chestnuts seem to be more prone to the problem than other colors.

Unfortunately, these problems often become more than an annoyance. A high risk of scarring accompanies injuries, the horse’s down time is longer, and repeated bouts with exaggerated inflammatory reactions in joints, tendons and lungs may lead to permanent damage.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and/or corticosteroids may be needed short term for control of severe reactions, but they are not a permanent answer. The side-effect profile is too high, and they don’t “fix” the underlying problem.

Instead, high-dose devil’s claw (see June 2001 and January 2000) works well and is safer for long-term use. And don’t forget that the best inflammation buster of all: ice.

In addition, we would recommend you attack the problem nutritionally, as a diet inadequate in antioxidants and other nutrients can create inflammatory tendencies or make existing ones worse. It’s probably no coincidence that the nutrients needed to control inflammatory responses are also those usually deficient in unsupplemented diets. Also, horses with this tendency place high demands on these nutrients anyway, meaning recommended minimum amounts likely aren’t enough. We’d consider supplementing:

• Whole ground flaxseed is an excellent source of the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids missing from hay and grain diets, as well as vitamin E and other natural antioxidants (see June 2000).

• Vitamin C and bioflavinoids are often used for their own inherent anti-inflammatory effects and because C recycles “used” vitamin E. Use up to 10 grams total of vitamin C (about half as much if using Ester-C) and a high bioflavinoid supplement, like Uckele’s BioQuench or Hesperidin complex (800/248-0330). Note: If inflammation worsens or the horse becomes “depressed” on vitamin C, he may have a high iron level (see sidebar, below). Vitamin C mobilizes iron stores and can create a high level of circulating iron, triggering a pro-oxidant reaction. Your veterinarian can check a serum iron level while the horse is on vitamin C to confirm this.

• Vitamin E should be at a total daily intake of at least 1,000 to 2,000 IU for horses that are working.

• B vitamins should be at solid levels. Although the B vitamins are not directly anti-inflammatory, they’re critical to the normal functioning of pathways that keep amino-acid metabolism flowing smoothly.

• Trace minerals are especially important. Keep body levels of inflammation-fighting trace minerals high, including selenium, zinc, copper and manganese. Needs vary with diet, but in general, if you feed timothy hay and five pounds per day of a fortified grain mix, with at least some trace minerals in chelated forms, you could supplement 1 to 2 mg/day of selenium (toxicity begins at 20 mg/day), 85 to 100 mg of copper, and 255 to 300 mg of zinc and manganese.

Bottom Line
We would take care of the extra trace minerals, B vitamins, vitamin E and most of the C by feeding Vita-Key’s Antioxidant Concentrate (800/539-8482). Combine this with Hesperidin and a whole ground-flax product to cover all the bases. You won’t see changes in the horse overnight, but improvements in the horse’s skin and coat will be evident within as short a time as the first week.

Before instituting any dietary supplements have your horse’s diet checked by your veterinarian or equine nutritionist to be sure you begin with a base of balanced mineral intake. Excesses, even of beneficial minerals, in relation to other minerals may interfere with the program’s effectiveness.

Also With This Article
Click here to view ”Watch Iron And Omega Levels.”