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Building muscle in horses

Owners can successful build muscle on their horse through proper protein-based dieting and exercise.

Owners can successful build muscle on their horse through proper protein-based dieting and exercise.

There are a number of reasons why an owner may want to increase their horse’s muscle mass. A rider may want to put their horse in high-performance competition but it currently lacks the conditioning and endurance needed. A horse may have been sick for an extended period of time or experienced a pregnancy and lost some muscle tone. An equine may have been recently purchased from another owner who did not provide adequate exercise; the list continues. Whatever the reason, many owners find themselves hoping to get their horses in better shape. The best way to achieve this goal is through proper diet, sufficient protein supplementation and exercise.

Importance of amino acids and proteins

“Appropriate amino acid intake needs to be consistent.”

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, which provide the foundation material for muscle tissue. In order for proteins, and by extension muscle, to be successfully built, a horse needs to have all the required amino acids present within their bodies.

There are 22 amino acids responsible for the production of protein, and a horse is only able to synthesize 12 on its own, according to Practical Horseman magazine. The other 10, known as essential amino acids, are collected through food intake. Together, the collective amino acids form a chain that creates proteins, enough of which lead to new muscle.

Without the presence of the essential acids, muscle production cannot occur because links in the chain are missing and proteins are unable to form. This makes proper nutrition vitally important for a horse’s muscle gain.

 

Nutrition

A horse’s diet is a key component to building more lean muscle mass. Most natural protein sources lack many of the 10 essential acids necessary for muscle formation, and supplementation is often necessary. A product like Finish Line’s Muscle Tone features a broad spectrum of ingredients like methionine and rice bran oil which promote healthy muscle development and performance in horses.

A horse’s nutritional needs also depend on its metabolic rates to a large degree. Dressage Today noted that horses of certain breeds and those over 20 years old have a slower metabolic rate than others. Younger horses and those that perform or work demand higher caloric intakes.

However, eating all the correct protein blocks for one day does not mean a horse will continue to build muscle a week later. Appropriate amino acid intake needs to be consistent throughout not only a horse’s mass-gaining cycle, but through its entire life.

“It’s not that a muscle protein gets made and then stays there forever,” said Kristine Urschel, associate professor of equine science at the University of Kentucky, to Practical Horseman Magazine. “It’s constantly in the process of being broken down and then remade, which allows the animal to be able to adapt to changing conditions.”

The progression of time and the horse’s age is one of these changing conditions. As a horse grows older, it loses its lean muscle mass. Exercise is another circumstance that facilitates muscle breakdown and build-up.

Exercising tips

Consistent training is a key part of promoting tissue new growth. In the same way that body builders go to the gym to develop their muscles, owners must workout with their horses. Physical activity works with the amino acids build new muscle on cellular level.

“When a horse exercises, that exertion causes some of his muscle protein to break down,” Urschel said. “His body then replaces and adds to that muscle by synthesizing new protein.”

 

WikiHow recommended a number of exercises owners can do to strengthen their equines:

  • Walk up a hill. Start small, then progress to more steep inclines with time. This develops the horse’s rear and helps its canter work.
  • Trot downhill. This builds strength in the back legs. Beginning at a medium speed then slowing down significantly and controlling momentum adds a layer of intensity.
  • Do jumping exercises. Have the horse repeatedly jump over things on flat ground then increasing the height over time. This works a large number of muscles.
  • Weave around trees to improve flexibility and all-around performance.
  • Trot along riverbeds. Sand and soil offer resistance that work the horse’s leg muscles and increase endurance.
  • Add extra weight to saddle bags. Weighting down the horse with a number of water bottles or weighted objects can work its muscles further during generally every exercise.
  • Walk over small logs when climbing and descending hills. The horse is forced to lift its shoulders and use its back muscles.
  • Work the horse daily. Try to avoid letting it  rest during the week then working it vigorously on weekends.

Bulking up a horse takes care and diligent work ,but with proper diet maintenance and exercise, an owner can get their equine healthier than it has ever been.

Bulking up a horse takes care and diligent work, but with proper diet maintenance and exercise, an owner can get their equine healthier than it has ever been. Champion standardbred trainer Joe Holloway explains, “Building muscle helps improve performance.”

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