The Importance of Nutrition during Rehab

If you have owned horses, you have likely experienced a time where your horse had an injury, was on layup, or needed to be rehabbed. When thinking about the immune system and soft tissues, there is one common factor that should always be considered or it could be the missing link in your program: Nutrition. Do you consider nutrition a part of your preventative maintenance or rehab program? A balanced diet is crucial when having a horse on layup or light work because of an injury or illness. 

Energy is the foundation to push all systems forward. Insufficient energy limits utilization of other nutrients. These nutrients could be essential in soft tissue repair and regeneration. Conversely, excess energy can cause unnecessary weight gain or increase risk of laminitis. Monitor your horse’s body condition score during layup & rehab to ensure you are keeping them in a safe zone. 

Quality protein is another essential factor in a balanced diet. Proteins are broken down into amino acids in the horse’s body. These important little amino acids are components of muscle, enzymes, and several hormones. There are several amino acids, lysine being one of the essential ones. Essential amino acids must be supplied by the diet. If the diet is deficient in lysine and other essential amino acids, it impairs protein synthesis. If lysine is important in soft tissues, like collagen, how could a deficit be impacting your rehab? It is important to consider a balanced profile of amino acids, versus just supplementing with a specific one. Overall, amino acids have key roles affecting muscle function, antioxidant protection that help tissues recover quickly, gut health, joint and hoof and skin health, and are required in roles of the immune system.

Minerals are another important aspect of a nutrition plan. Minerals are needed for formation, maintenance, and repair of joints and bones, connective tissues (ligaments and tendons), hoof integrity, skin health, synthesis of collagen, immune system, and more. Minerals also need to be maintained within proper ratios of other minerals in the diet and should not be supplemented on an individual basis unless recommended by a veterinarian or nutritionist. Minerals, like Selenium, play a role in the antioxidant system. 

Finally, vitamins have a very important place in a balanced diet. Some vitamins are produced in the body while others must be supplied in the diet. Water soluble vitamins are not stored in the body like fat soluble vitamins. Vitamins are involved in bone remodeling, maintenance of tissues, immune response, and antioxidants. Vitamins and minerals have a sensitive relationship and work together in several metabolic functions. If either is deficient or excessive in the diet, it can impact their roles. 

Having a balanced, complete diet is imperative to promote overall health. A diet should be addressed when anything changes in the horse’s life like activity level, health status, production stage, and any changes in feed affecting the nutrient balance. As always, provide your horse with fresh clean water. Above all else, water is the number one essential nutrient in a horse’s diet. 

In some cases of rehab, the diet is more than a supporting factor. Some clinical diagnoses or procedures can be enhanced by utilizing diet as a solution. Clinical conditions like colitis, fecal water syndrome, IBD, post-surgery, or dental conditions can be dramatically impacted by utilizing diet as a tool in recovery or maintenance. Be sure to register for the Healthier, Happier Horses Virtual Summer Series final event, hosted by Stable Mix, to learn more about a complete feed’s role in your horse’s condition. Guest speaker, Dr. Rachel Mottet, MS, PhD, of Legacy Equine Nutrition will be taking a deep dive into nutrition’s role with insulin resistance, EMS, and PPID.

Written by Lindsey Close, PAS.