There seems to be a huge level of interest in nutritional support for joints in the dressage horse but far less for muscle health, longevity and fitness, the muscles in the dressage horse work 100 times harder when working in collection than any other equestrian sport and the muscles are responsible for the energy and beauty of the performance so it’s worth going through a quick check list on what extra nutritional care the muscle may require.
Most diets consist of a sufficient balance of vitamins and mineral compounds for the muscles to work and the biggest area of concern to a horse owner would be fatigue, stiffness and recovery after exercise. To provide energy the muscles store glycogen which they access during a hard work out, the glycogen stores give the muscles that ‘plumped up, blooming ’ look which makes the horse look fit and well and usually means the horse is thriving in its work. So what does make the muscles stiff and sore?
As more impulsion and energy is required the horse will be more likely to switch to anaerobic respiration in order to supply the need for muscular energy. Once the horse is working anaerobically fatigue follows on quite quickly as the ph of the muscle drops and the amount of lactic acid rises (lactic acid is a by product of anaerobic energy production). Until this is cleared out of the muscle system during the normal cool down and post work recovery period it is harder for the horse to produce energy for muscle contraction. During these times there should be a continuous supply of available energy, which should be given in the form of creatine phosphate as an extra energy supply during intense work outs during anaerobic respiration. The popular approach seems to be to give supplements to buffer against the effects of fatigue brought on by lactic acid in muscle fibre, but the most recent research has revealed that the horse works better and for longer if it is given the extra supply of energy to feed the muscle in the form of creatine phosphate. It is better therefore to give an extra supply of energy rather than a buffer to prevent the build up of lactic acid.
To do this simply, the horse should be given the extra supply of creatine phosphate in the form of bruised oats (not rolled or naked oats). An extra 1-2 kg oats given on the morning of the competition will supply sufficient creatine phosphate for that extra demand for energy. However if the horse is prone to fizziness or excitability on oats then creatine phosphate can be added as an extra dietary supplement and if possible provided in natural plant form rather than in a synthetic form as the horse will absorb it quicker.
Whilst a minimal amount of stiffness can be attributed to the production of lactic acid within the muscle itself, the most recent research has pointed to nerve sensitization on the outside of the muscle fibres as the being the main reason for soreness and discomfort. With this in mind it is a good management practise to provide an anti inflammatory on the morning of the competition and during times of intense training in order to prevent nerve sensitisation and microtrauma.
All synthetic Nsaids (bute etc) are banned or prohibited during competition but it is possible to provide relief and protection using a natural alternative which will act as an anti inflammatory and will also provide the extra nutrients for energy production and transportation. The great thing about using medicinal plant compounds is that they have a shot gun effect on the metabolism and will provide a variety of buffering, protection and repair mechanisms such as the supply of creatine phosphate (to save you giving extra oats) and also phosphofructokinase which will help fuel and provide the energy transport system for horses involved in medium level dressage/jumping and above as well as preventing the production of the chemicals of inflammation.
Energy for muscle contraction is stored as glycogen in reserves within the muscle itself and as exertion increases it is important to quickly access the glycogen stores. Plant compounds contain phosphofructokinase and phosphylase which are transporters of energy, better to keep providing a supply of energy than buffer against the onset of disease.
The other benefit of giving a natural anti inflammatory formula prior to competition is to prevent a referred pain pattern arising out of the vulnerable long muscles (hamstrings and forelimb protractor muscles) into the hock joints/knees which are the most popular target site of a referred pain pattern. Many owners and trainers use regular joint injections of HA or cortisone to preserve joint flexibility without considering that it is the muscle that also provides a high degree of flexibility and also freedom to the joint. Many muscles insert or originate onto joints and if sore and shortened through sensitisation or fatigue the joint will also have a degree of stiffness, muscle soreness following exercise is more pronounced after 3 days.
Referred pain, that is, pain perceived in an area other than that in which the noxious stimulation takes place, is common especially referred pain from a muscle to a joint, referred pain brings changes to the nerves creating a continuous pain cycle. If your horse is having regular joint injections to maintain flexibility and soundness it is highly likely the pain has originated in nociceptive (painful) input from a sore muscle. A third benefit of medicinal plant compounds is to provide much needed support to the immune system. It has been well documented that although horse’s health is improved by exercising in the short term during periods of intense competition or work out the immune system becomes compromised by the increase in plasma concentration of neutrophil marker proteins called myeloperoxidase (MPO) and elastase which causes oxidative stress and free radical damage. The horse’s immune system is most compromised when the exercise is continuous, prolonged (more than an hour) and of moderate to high intensity. The combined effects of small changes in the immune system may compromise resistance to common minor illnesses, such as upper respiratory tract infection. The horse is more vulnerable during the week after intense work outs and will require an immune boost during this time again medicinal plants and dietary plants provide a valuable service providing anti oxidants including phenolic acids, flavonoids, tannins, stilbenes, curcuminoids, coumarins, lignans, quinones, and others. Superfix Sportmax has been formulated to provide phenolic compounds with significant antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects www.superfix.net.
Muscle working anaerobically requires an extra source of energy in the form of creatine phosphate which can be naturally sourced in bruised oats or from plant compounds.
Feeding a natural anti inflammatory (plant phenolics) on the morning of competition prevents muscle soreness and removes the risk of joint pain being referred from a damaged muscle.
Provide plant compounds with the capacity to increase metabolism and speed up energy transport.
Provide plants and food with high levels of anti oxidants to boost the immune system which is compromised during high intense exercise.
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