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We all want our horses looking good and performing to their best. Many disciplines reward well conditioned horses with a good topline. What is condition and topline?
Condition is measured using a 9 point score from poor/emaciated (1) through to extremely fat/obese (9). The upper curvature of a horse's withers, back, and loin is called the "topline."
How do we put condition and topline on a horse?
Condition is the result of regular exercise consistent with the discipline required of your horse, and appropriate diet. Body fat is produced from glucose and fatty acids derived from the diet. Glucose is derived from carbohydrates and from proteins. Fatty acids are derived from oils. Oils are energy dense (38KJ/g), and supply 2.4 times more energy than the same amount of protein or carbohydrate (16KJ/g).
Protein is an expensive source of glucose, and digestible carbohydrates are the cheapest. Non structural carbohydrate (NSC) is the sugar and starch content of the feed and supply most of the glucose. As explained below, oil and digestible fibre are the "key secret" high energy, components in a diet for topline and condition
How is body fat formed...some science
Feeding high NSC for condition...the downside
Many feeds contain levels of NSC above 20% and will maintain good body condition, and in many cases cause obesity. The downside is that high NSC feeds are often associated with hot or fizzy behaviour, and the metabolic disorders including ulcers, lameness, laminitis, tying up, insulin resistance, EMS and possibly Cushing?s through the effects of insulin on cortisol. Studies indicate that feeding high NSC feeds to pregnant mares predisposes the foals to insulin resistance because of the high levels of insulin crossing the placenta into the foetus.
High NSC and Insulin...why these cause the problems.
When high NSC feeds (>15% NSC) are fed, the horse produces more insulin to lower the levels of glucose in the blood. The muscle cells can become Insulin Resistant i.e. they are unable to take up more glucose, and so are resistant to higher levels of insulin. The levels of insulin and glucose in the blood rise. What does the horse do with the increased glucose? If the horse is in extreme sports work, then it may use the extra glucose for energy. If not, then some of the glucose is converted to fatty acids. In addition, depending on breed, some of the glucose can be stored as a polysaccharide and stored in muscle cells causing tying up (PSSM) and some will form a proteoglycan and be stored in connective tissue in the legs causing lameness (see other articles in this series).
Fatty acids combine with glycerol to form triglycerides which are stored inside the fat cells. Triglycerides are too big to pass out of the fat cells and have to break down to fatty acids and glycerol so that the fatty acids can pass back into the blood stream.
High levels of insulin cause: -
This is a vicious cycle. This happens in humans. For more information see "Why We Get Fat" by Gary Taubes.
High levels of cortisol. Cortisol is the "stress or anxiety hormone" released from the adrenal gland. Cortisol exacerbates insulin resistance by increasing fat storage and raising blood pressure and circulating glucose which further stimulate insulin. High levels of cortisol are involved in Cushing's disease. The question remains is glucose causing insulin resistance and stress, causing increased cortisol [and sometimes leading to Cushing's], or is it that the cortisol increases glucose causing IR in these horses? [Reference: H.C. Schott, Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction [Cushing's] 31st Bain Fallon Memorial Lectures ? Equine Veterinarians Australia 2009]
What to feed for condition and topline and not cause bad behaviour and insulin resistance.
'Why We Get Fat' outlines the role of sugar and starch in obesity and diabetes Type II in humans. If you want to lose weight and reduce the incidence of diabetes, avoid refined carbohydrates!
The same logic applies to horses and dogs.
To put weight and condition on your horse, and avoid the NSC related disorders, you have to select a high digestible energy (DE) feed with low NSC, and high digestible fibre. This can only be achieved by including oil in the diet to replace the carbohydrates.
The following table shows the relationship between NSC content and DE in a range of feeds. Low NSC is usually associated with pasture and hay, or feeds that have been diluted with fillers. High NSC feeds are grain based. Molasses has a very high NSC from the sugars. Copra meal has a low NSC and yet has a high DE from the oil and digestible fibre. The graph depicts Molasses and Copra being the outliers in the almost straight line between NSC % and DE MJ/kg for the other feedstuffs. Molasses is almost 70% sugar. CoolStance has a low NSC (11) and yet a high DE (15)
A range of Australian horse feeds were analysed for NSC content by Dairy One in the US.
These analyses show that there is a large variation in the NSC content in horse feeds, and that CoolStance is the only feed that has both a high digestible energy and a low NSC.
Feeding for topline and condition can be reliably, safely and successfully achieved by considering the feed requirements of your horses. The tables above give you a scientific guide to ensure the energy component of the diet is the right combination.
Fat is derived from glucose and oils. Feeding high NSC diets will provide lots of glucose and deposition of fat to give a topline, however the extra glucose may cause insulin resistance, obesity, and sometimes bad behaviour and metabolic disorders.
For most equine disciplines select low NSC, high DE feeds, which usually contain oil and digestible fibre. CoolStance is a non GMO, all natural chemical free source of non glucose energy that support conditioning and top line.