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Leading Veterinarian Highlights Link Between Nutrition & Equine Performance 

© by Nutrition & Equine Performance 

A leading veterinarian surgeon who specializes in horses has urged the racing industry to pay more attention to the impact nutrition has on equine performance.

Dr Richard McCormick had a brief spell as a trainer in the 1960s, famously becoming the youngest person to ever hold a license in Ireland.

He subsequently qualified as a veterinarian at the University College in Dublin, before spending a year honing his craft in the United States.

This period exposed McCormick to what he describes as best practices in ‘equine care and oversight for peak performance in racehorses’.

Particular attention was paid to the quality of hay and oats used, while one of the stables he worked at used bottled Saratoga water for the horses in their care.

This methodology helped trainers run their horses more often, with US Jockey Club statistics reporting that an average of 12 starts per year was the norm at the time.

By contrast, the average in the US is now less than half that figure, and this is reflected in most other major racing jurisdictions worldwide.

McCormick says this reduction is primarily due to modern feeding practices, which are negatively impacting the ability of racehorses to consistently perform at their best.

“The equine diet of the 1960s was lower in starch and high in fibre,” McCormick said. “It consisted of oats, minerals, and flaxseed as the ‘norm’. Hay was the preferred forage.

“Today’s trainers rely on pre-mixed grain feeds that are higher in starch, supplemental minerals of questionable efficacy and use of soya bean rather than flaxseed as a protein source.

“This change in diet has led to a significant decrease in the omega-3’s available to stabled horses and also has a considerable impact on prostaglandin-E production, thus reducing mucus production in the stomach.”

McCormick believes many modern trainers are failing to provide their stabled racehorses with the nutritional protection afforded a previous generation of horses.

Several research studies have shown that gastric ulcers are a massive issue in the racing industry – most of which can be attributed to unsuitable nutrition.

While McCormick’s comments are concerning for the racing industry, it would be foolish to assume that every trainer is neglecting the importance of nutrition.

A quick look at the Leanne horse racing record perfectly highlights that point, with the horse a regular visitor to the racetrack.

Every element of Leanne’s nutritional requirements are carefully micro-managed by her trainers and qualified veterinarians.

Her diet includes an individually tailored feeding program, providing the necessary nutrients and fuel for optimal performance.

This attention to detail has helped Leanne win numerous races, thus demonstrating the importance of prioritising equine nutrition.

Some stables are going even further to ensure every element of their horses’ wellbeing is monitored by using the latest GPS technology to provide early warning of any issues.

The sensor is inserted into a small pocket under the horse’s saddle and measures its motion throughout the day to quickly detect any underlying problems.

The StrideSAFE system has been adopted by several racetracks in the United States including Churchill Downs and has been made mandatory in numerous other regions.

The data collected on each individual effectively creates a ‘fingerprint’ for each horse, with the sensor able to reveal even the slightest abnormality.

This information is hugely effective in tracing problems which could turn into life-threatening issues if they are left untreated.

The sensor essentially ‘speaks’ on behalf of the horse, thus providing the trainer with information not usually available to them.

With the artificial intelligence technology supporting the system likely to become more sophisticated as time progresses, StrideSAFE could become a worldwide phenomenon in the horse racing industry.

When used in conjunction with a perfectly structured nutritional intake, the system has already proved to be an invaluable tool for numerous US horse racing stables.

For McCormick, the point about nutrition remains the primary element he feels trainers must focus on if they want to maximise equine performance and wellbeing.

“In the last 25 years, I have factored the above issues into my own equine practice dealing with racehorses, showjumpers, show horses and dressage horses,” McCormick said.

“My recent case study, published in The Irish Field – ‘Ground breaking gut solution’ – highlights that evidenced-based results of nutritional change are apparent in weeks rather than months or years and I continue to be astounded by the synergy of ‘diet’ on wellbeing and performance.