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Antioxidant Supplementation in Performance HorsesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · May 5, 2016

Owners of performance horses love to offer their mounts nutrition supplements. According to a recent study*, owners of competitive eventing horses give an average of two nutritional supplements a day, but some gave as many as a dozen. Only a mere nine of 542 owners of eventers (1.6%) did not offer any type of nutritional supplement. The most popular supplements were joint supplements and electrolytes.

These findings reinforced other data**, some of which was presented in a similar article*** at the 17th Kentucky Equine Research (KER) Nutrition Conference by Carey Williams, Ph.D., an associate professor at Rutgers University.

Williams previously reported that antioxidant supplements were popular among eventers. That finding likely reflects the recognition by owners of the potential negative impact of free radicals generated during intense exercise, like eventing.

To more fully explore the impact of oxidative stress, described as the damage to cells caused by free radicals produced during exercise, Williams, together with colleague Amy Burke, Ph.D., from the University of Maryland, collected blood samples from horses competing in CCI2* and CCI3* divisions to measure various naturally occurring antioxidants in the body. Those included alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E), beta-carotene (a precursor of vitamin A), retinol, glutathione, and glutathione peroxidase.

The most notable findings in the study were that horses had increased levels of retinol, glutathione, and glutathione peroxidase following the cross-country phase of a three-day event, which involves multiple jumping efforts over a long track. Williams and Burke suggested that these increased levels of antioxidants were in response to a challenge on the antioxidant system as a result of the rigorous exercise bout.

The study authors concluded that the cross-country phase of a three-day event is challenging to the horse’s antioxidant system, and that the increase in antioxidants is potentially due to the increased production of free radicals. Free radicals can damage cell walls, causing increased muscle cell wall permeability or “leakiness,” which can be detrimental to performance.

“Antioxidants in the diet could enhance the horse’s ability to cope with the physical demands of the cross-country jumping phase of a three-day event,” wrote Williams and Burke.

KER offers two antioxidant supplements: Nano•E, a water-soluble, natural-source of vitamin E with a unique nanodispersion delivery system that results in superior bioavailability; and Preserve PS (Preserve in Australia) to provide natural-source vitamin E and other antioxidants, such as vitamin C and selenium.

*Agar, C., R. Gemmill, T. Hollands, et al. 2016. The use of nutritional supplements in dressage and eventing horses. Veterinary Record Open. 3:e000154.

**Williams, C.A., and A.O. Burk. 2012. Antioxidant status in elite three-day event horses during competition. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. 2012:572090.

***Williams, C.A. 2010. Antioxidant research and its application to feeding horses. In: Proc. 17th Kentucky Equine Research Nutrition Conference. pp. 17-22.