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Calcium Deficiency Suspected in a Young HorseBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · April 1, 2016

The nutritionists at Kentucky Equine Research (KER) work with horse owners worldwide, offering advice on every level of feeding management. A horseman from Puerto Rico recently contacted KER regarding his two-year-old Paso Fino colt. An overview of the colt’s situation follows:

Weight: 800 lb (365 kg)

Height: 13.1 hands (135 cm)

Body condition: moderately thin, a score of 4

Ration: 1 lb (0.45 kg) corn three times a day, grass hay

Turnout: 23 hours stalled, 1 hour in a paddock

Dietary concern: possible calcium deficiency

What’s your call? Do you think this colt could have insufficient calcium in his diet?

With these specifics in mind, nutritionist Catherine Whitehouse, M.S., provided a response.

Corn can be a useful calorie source, but it should not be fed as the sole source of concentrated energy, especially to young horses, because it contains more phosphorus (P) than calcium (Ca). Young horses require a diet that provides adequate amounts of calcium and phosphorus, in the appropriate proportions, ideally falling in the range of 1-3:1 (Ca:P).

Because you suspect a calcium deficiency, I recommend that you have your hay tested for its nutritional composition. A local equine nutritionist or university can help you find a laboratory that performs analysis. If your hay is low in calcium or if the calcium is unavailable due to the formation of a calcium-oxalate complex often found in tropical grasses, then the overall diet will not provide balanced nutrition for your colt.

There are several solutions to correcting a suspected calcium deficiency: feeding a commercial feed with a balanced Ca:P ratio; adding a calcium supplement (limestone or calcium carbonate); or replacing some of the grass hay with legume species, as they have greater amounts of calcium.

In addition to revising the diet to correct calcium shortages, another concern might be the presence of gastric ulcers. If your colt does not have grass hay available to him at all times, he could be experiencing some gastric discomfort, which can cause certain horses to be thin and unthrifty.

In natural settings, a combination of saliva and a continuous turnover of forage protect the stomach lining. Horses managed in a way that includes long stretches without eating, colloquially called “meal feeding,” are susceptible to gastric ulceration, which can best be described as painful erosions in the mucosal lining of the stomach caused by overexposure to acid. A prescription-strength course of omeprazole will heal gastric ulcers, but over-the-counter supplements may keep ulcers from returning.

RiteTrac is a proprietary blend of ingredients designed to support total digestive tract health. Targeted to benefit the stomach and the hindgut of the horse, RiteTrac works in two distinct ways. First with its combination of fast-acting antacids and coating agents, RiteTrac quickly neutralizes excess gastric acid, protecting the stomach lining and restoring the normal gastric environment. Second, RiteTrac contains EquiShure, a time-released hindgut buffer designed to act in the cecum and colon by maintaining optimal pH, thereby reducing the risk of hindgut acidosis. (Horse owners in Australia are encouraged to try these KER products.)

In addition to gastrointestinal health, you may consider a bone-mineralization supplement for your colt. In the description of your colt’s situation, you had mentioned that he is stalled nearly all day. Stall confinement is a fact of life in some horse-management schemes, though it is far from ideal for young horses with dynamic, growing skeletons. Supplemental nutrition can help combat the negative effects of extended stall confinement. DuraPlex is an effective mineralization supplement complete with a special blend of proteins, vitamins, and minerals. In Australia, look for Bone Food Plus.