Keeping horses healthy and free of disease and disorders is a hot topic of conversation in many popular press journals, magazines and on the internet.  Horse husbandry advice ranges from nutrition to shoeing and veterinary care. Commonly offered suggestions on good horse health management generally start with the following list of recognized techniques: 

    • Employ qualified veterinary and farrier care and routine management such as de-worming and vaccinating

    • Feed good quality forages and low starch, high fat and fiber concentrates that are balanced and offered in the correct amounts to meet the optimal nutrient requirements the type of horse being fed. 

    • Provide access to fresh water and salt at all times which are critical for electrolyte and hydration status. 

    • Provide adequate exercise and access to turnout if possible. Both are now readily recognized as required to help prevent the development of stereotypic behavior (vices) and keeping the digestive tract as well as the musculo-skeletal system of the horse functioning properly.

Other recommendations include the use of various medications and supplements to help combat a host of disorders and unsoundness’s, with one of most common being a malfunctioning digestive tract. Most commonly included in this category is: colic, gastric ulcers and sub-clinical acidosis caused by too much starch in the hindgut of the tract which can also lead to laminitis if left un-checked.

All of the above guidelines are integral in helping the horse stay be and stay healthy.  But can the role of nutrition be even larger?  The answer is yes and here is how:

    • A recent study using mice revealed that omega-3 fatty acids promote an immune response known as a T helper-1 response, or Th1 response. T helper cells are a type of white blood cell known as lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are important because they play a role in directing and activating other white blood cells, whose activity helps to prevent illness.

    • Animal experiments and clinical intervention studies indicate that omega-3 fatty acids have potent anti-inflammatory properties and, therefore, might be useful in the management of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.

    • Emerging science shows probiotics are powerful components of immune system health and because as much as 60% of immune cells are located in the digestive tract, it makes sense that keeping those cells functioning well is vitally important for a horse to stay healthy.

    • Extra supplementation of some vitamins and minerals can be extremely helpful in keeping the immune system healthy and fighting off infection. Zinc, selenium, iron, copper, vitamins A, C, E, and B-6; and folic acid have important influences on immune responses and may be needed in higher than maintenance requirements under stressful circumstances.

    • Phytonutrients are a wide variety of plant-derived substances that have specific immune-augmenting capabilities. Included in this category are garlic, Echinacea, arabinogalactan from larch tree bark, cat's claw, astragalus, maitake mushroom, and yeast-derived beta 1, 3 D-glucans. Beta-1, 3/1, 6 D-glucan from purified yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) is a biological defense modifier (BDM) which potentiates and modulates immune response. Beta-1, 3/1, 6 D-glucan activates white cells which are responsible for scavenging pathogens.

    • Herbs are typically used to treat short-term, acute infections through the stimulation of immune activity. Immunostimulants help the body to resist infection during the beginning stages of infection, as well as throughout the duration of infectious illness.

The immune system acts to protect the horse from infectious agents that exist in the environment (bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites) and from other noxious insults. The adequate functioning of the equine immune system can be largely affected by nutrition, and therefore so is the increased risk of illness if excellent quality nutrition is not available. Providing optimal intake of energy, macronutrients and micronutrients and alternative nutrition helps to improve the immune system, and are fundamental to protect the health of the horse.