by Lizzie Drury bSc (Hons) MSc Registered Nutritionist
The hindgut of the horse of full of fibre digesting microbes. It is the job of these microbes to break down the fibre the horse eats and convert this to energy, B vitamins and other important nutrients required in daily life. This microbial population is extremely diverse and the number of microbes in the hindgut is more than the number of cells that make up the entire horse! However, despite the importance of this microbial population it can be easily affected by stress, something which is all to common for the racehorse. Stress can result from regular travel, competing, staying away from home and even training. In addition the diet of the racehorse can have an effect on the microbial population, especially if high levels of starch and low levels of fire are being fed. When the microbial population is challenged during times of stress the ‘friendly’ fibre digesting bacteria can die off, and as they do they release endotoxins into the bloodstream. This can cause a number of digestive upsets, as well as systemic illness such as colic and laminitis. Whilst this is happening the ‘bad’ lactic acid producing bacteria will start to replicate and increase in numbers, leading to further gastric upset.
So, what can you do to help support the fibre digesting microbes in your racehorses horse’s hindgut? One thing that may help to support the horse during this time in the use of the oligosaccharides, otherwise known as prebiotics. A prebiotic is defined as ‘a non-digestible food ingredient that promotes the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the intestines’. There are two types of oligosaccharides that we use in equine nutrition; fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) and mannan-oligosaccharide (MOS).
Fructo-oligosaccharides are a sugar that is not digested by the horse but instead feeds the fibre digesting microbes. Various studies in a number of different animal species have shown that FOS can stimulate the growth and activity of the beneficial microbes whilst reducing potentially harmful pathogenic bacteria. In addition supplementing with FOS has been shown to increase the production of volatile fatty acids, which in turn can support optimal energy levels in the racehorse horse.
Mannan-oligosaccharide work in a difference way to fructo-oligosaccharides. They are a dead yeast cell wall, usually Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which binds to pathogenic bacteria throughout the digestive tract ensuring they are excreted with the faeces and do not attach to the gut lining where they can replicate, competing with the fibre-digesting microbes for nutrients as well as causing digestive upsets. The use of MOS can also help to enhance immunity, with studies showing an increase in infection-fighting proteins in the blood of broodmares supplemented with MOS. As racehorses can often be at an increased risk of illness due to increased stress levels the use of MOS may help to support immune function in turn helping to optimise performance.
So now you want to feed your racehorse oligosaccharides how do you do this? Many racehorse feeds contain FOS and MOS but it is always worth looking at how much the feed will actually be providing when fed at the recommended levels! The other option is to feed a dedicated supplement on top of your horses feed to ensure they are receiving the scientifically recommended daily dose to support optimal digestive health.
Find out more about the Saracen Horse Feeds range - Click HERE