The birth of a foal is always an eagerly awaited event. We dream of seeing him growup and becoming that longed for competition partner. But for the young horse the road to success is a long one, full of pitfalls. The best way of preparing his health as a future competition horse? By giving him an environment perfectly adapted to his needs as soon as his dam is pregnant.

Osteochondrosis is a widespread joint disease faced by breeders and riders. It affects up to 70% of sport horses and develops in foals up to 1 and a half years of age. It’s uncommon for youngsters suffering from this disease to show symptoms whilst growing. However, once in work, the horse may show lameness and swellings of the joint. The most serious form of osteochondrosis occurs when a fragment of cartilage liberates within the joint, and can cause serious damage whilst the horse is in movement. The only means of treating this disease being surgery.

What can you do to limit the development of osteochondrosis?

Osteochondrosis is a multifactorial disease. This means that a number of factors come into play, such as genetics and the foal’s living conditions. Equally, the nutrition of both the broodmare and the foal is primordial to ensure optimal growth and development.
Therefore it is important to :

  • Limit mineral deficiencies, particularly in copper and calcium, these are very important elements for skeletal growth. Respecting different ratios between minerals is also essential, such as that of calcium to phosphorus which must be situated at around 2.

The Reverdy Breeding range has been developed in order to fulfil all the needs of pregnant mares and growing foals. The right amount of minerals, the phosphorus to calcium ratio, and the quantity of those vitamins involved in bone development have all been calculated to ensure they meet all the requirements of the mare and foal.

  • Restrict carbohydrate intake (starch + sugars). This is why it’s primordial to give importance to feeding forage to the broodmare and foal.
    What feeds are high in carbohydrates?

    Cereals have a high starch content. Certain technological treatments carried out on cereals, such as flaking and extrusion of grains improve the digestibility of starch and therefore lead to a sharp rise in the blood sugar level following a feed (the glycaemia). This is also the case of feeds containing high levels of simple sugars, such as molasses. Indeed, numerous scientific studies in broodmares and foals have shown a strong correlation between a sharp rise of the glycaemia after meals and the development of the disease.
    We therefore recommend limiting the quantities of flaked cereals and molasses containing feeds, but equally restricting the amount of starch fed per feed to a maximum of 100g/100kg live-weight, which equates to 0.5L (0.35kg) of Breeding per 100kg live-weight.

The quantity of starch per feed is related to the risk of osteochondrosis.

The quantity of starch per feed is related to the risk of osteochondrosis

  • Avoid the intake of excess energy. Providing too much energy can cause obesity in broodmares : a pregnant mare doesn’t need to eat for two, above all she requires her nutritional requirements to be perfectly adjusted to fulfil the requirements of the future foal. In the same manner, exceeding the energy requirements of growing foals can accelerate their growth. But too rapid growth will be to the detriment of skeletal strength: bone cannot simultaneously grow and acquire solidity. Obesity in the broodmare and too rapid a growth rate in the foal are also associated with the development of osteochondrosis. Therefore we must restrict energy intake excesses, controlling the condition of the mare and respecting feeding recommendations.

Offering your foal the best possible start in life is maximising his chances of good health at maturity. Notably this is through suitable and balanced feeding as soon as the dam is in gestation.

Morgane ROBLES, Docteur en Sciences de la Vie et de la Santé.
Cyrille DAVID, Docteur Vétérinaire.
Department of Research and Development, REVERDY Equine Nutrition, Juvigny-le-Tertre, France

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