When a horses changes in its standard of performance and seems to struggle to achieve the results that you are used to – it can be cause for concern. Like most issues you need to break it down to try and find the reason and then the solution. Assuming no major changes to diet or environment or training patterns – obviously the first is to look for illness by checking the signs of health, getting a blood test and discussing its analysis with your veterinarian.
Checking for soreness in muscles and limbs is also an initial step. Ageing is one major factor and the most common effect of ageing is the feeling of the horse being wooden, less bounce, even negative about moving forward. This can be a sign of the degeneration of the cartilage in the joints, gradual at first then getting more pronounced. Important to quickly respond to the first signs with providing a good modern joint supplement formulation to restore the elasticity (and therefore the bounce of the horse) in the cartilage. Scientific data exists to show that a formula with glucosamine, chondroitin, Undenatured collagen and Gelatin and zinc and manganese will have a major beneficial effect. If the horse is more seriously affected by loss of joint mobility because the condition known as DJD has been left too long unattended to, then injections from the veterinarian (such as Pentasan) in conjunction with a supplement, will assist further.
As a horse ages further they do not absorb all the protein that is in their diet and as protein is the building blocks of all cells, muscles skeleton organs. The reason being that their natural levels of the important limiting amino acids Lysine and threonine drop too low. Supplementing with just these will then bring their use of available digestible protein back to full levels. There are real pitfalls to overfeeding protein so better to just provide the part they need rather than unbalance the diet with too high a percentage of protein.
The other factor in horses that are required to do fast work or long sustained effort is the wind of the horse. Checking for a change in sounds in breathing, even specks of blood from the nose, can be signs of stress in the lungs. The fine capillaries become under great pressure from the lungs working at full capacity and will breakdown. An example of this is the horse who starts out well but fades, when they appear to be healthy and have been in good work and should be fit enough to maintain performance right through a session.
Another possible factor may be in the diet – if a horse is blowing hard, more than you would usually expect from them, sweating more than usual, not achieving normal results then check out the diet as too high a protein level may be the answer. Overfeeding protein reduces performance and has some significant side effects including binding muscles check out the article “Protein – what why and how”.
Hydration is key to performance so as the effort gets harder and/or the days get warmer increase the levels of electrolytes, make sure a full balanced formula is given not just sodium chloride, as all salts are lost in sweat.
Low levels of B vitamins can reduce recovery and therefore possibly the next performance period. Horses generally do not need B vitamin supplementation they create sufficient themselves in their gut. However at times of stress or hard work that “production” shuts down and supplementation will improve the recovery especially if it is given in conjunction with Betaine.
The diet will of course influence the energy levels of the horse – a direct influence on performance. Getting the balance right and understanding how energy is created and how a diet can be adjusted to suit the type of energy is very important.