Eating and the affects on skeletal function

For the racehorse, nutrition isn’t just about the energy required to train and race. The correct balance of nutrients and types of food have far reaching consequences for both energy release and just as importantly, for physical well-being and functional performance. In the winter edition of European Trainer magazine this area is covered in an article discussing how eating can affect skeletal structure and function and ultimately, performance.

We will look at nutrition purely from a biomechanical perspective as described in the article in European Trainer (other details are included in the article which we will not cover here). Horses’ teeth grow continually and require the horse to chew coarse fodder for between 13-16 hours per day in order to keep their teeth flat and short however, most domestic horses and racehorses do not chew for this long due to a diet of concentrated feeds and limited haylage.

This reduction in chewing hours can cause their teeth to become misshapen and sharp at the edges.  This leads to dysfunction of the temporomandibular joints (jaw joints) which in turn causes dysfunction of the poll (upper neck) which causes pain but ultimately, leads to compensatory movement. This is because the jaw joints and poll are linked together by neural connections and are vital to the horse for balance and coordination.  If the horse is suffering from pain in their poll the horse will alter its gait to avoid that pain. However, this altered gait is not as efficient or as fast as the horse’s ‘normal’ gait and, over a long period of time, is more likely to cause injury because more pressure is placed on the compensatory tissues (muscles, tendons, ligaments and bone in the spine or limbs). Unfortunately if compensatory gait patterns are well established, correcting them can be very difficult. The sharp edges can also cause painful ulcers in the horse’s cheek which obviously makes them reluctant to work and race.

Certainly in this case prevention is better than cure. Therefore, regular dental checks (and plenty of haylage-which is for digestive reasons too) are an important part of our horses’ life here. Relatively simple issues such as good dental care can make all the difference to racehorses.