Exercised horses digest food better – study

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A French study on harness racehorses has revealed that exercise can improve the nutrient digestibility of feeds.

A team of researchers in France took a group of previously inactive standardbreds and put them on a five-week training programme, to assess nutrient digestibility and faecal fermentative parameters (FFPs).

“As an increase in digestibility had previously been reported in trained endurance horses, we hypothesized that similar results would be found in horses being trained for other types of exercise on a different type of diet,” the researchers said.

The same natural meadow hay (H) and pelleted complementary feed (CF) were fed throughout. For five days before the digestibility trial, horses were fed 2.1% BW on a dry matter basis (55:45 ratio H:CF). Body weight and body condition score remained constant.

After three weeks of dietary adaptation, a digestibility trial (DT1) was undertaken, over three days, in eight untrained Standardbreds with a fresh faecal sample being collected on the second day for FFP determinations.

Six of the eight horses undertook a training programme, and after five weeks of exercise, the DT and the FFP measurements were then repeated (DT2). DT2 began after three days of inactivity.

Apparent digestibility of dry matter, organic matter, neutral detergent fibre, hemicellulose, crude protein and gross energy, as well as faecal total volatile fatty acids (VFA), acetate and propionate concentrations, were significantly (p < 0.05) higher at DT2 than at DT1.

The researchers say that training may improve dietary energy supply, in particular via increased hindgut VFA production.

“The potential improvement of digestive efficiency with training should be taken into account when formulating nutritional recommendations for the exercising horse, particularly when performing light work, which is low-intensity exercise for one to three hours per week.”

The study was funded by Britain’s Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition and AgroSup Dijon in France.

Effect of physical training on nutrient digestibility and faecal fermentative parameters in Standardbred horses.
A. G. Goachet, P. Harris, C. Philippeau, and V. Julliand.
Published in the Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition. DOI 10.1111/jpn.12177

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