Friday, February 17, 2017

Probiotics Explained

Although much still needs to be learned about supplements that contain “friendly” bacteria, their potential benefits for ill or stressed horses are widely accepted.

  • You’re preparing your horse for a 200-mile trailer ride to your new home. You know the trip will be stressful, but you plan to wrap his legs carefully, make sure he’s up to date on his shots and even give him a preventive dose of antiulcer medication. Is there anything else you can do to safeguard his health during the trip?
  • The cut on your mare’s chest was deep and dirty, but your veterinarian arrived quickly. The wound is now stitched closed and your mare is on a course of antibiotics to combat infection. During the weeks of nursing care to come, can anything else be done to support her overall health as her body mends?
  • Your schedule couldn’t be any busier this fall. Each week, it seems, you’ll be at a different show, clinic or event. Your horse’s new routine will be no routine at all. What can be done to help prevent his hectic, constantly shifting schedule from dragging him down?
In each of these scenarios, one relatively new option may be helpful in safeguarding the horse’s health: probiotics, dietary supplements that contain beneficial live microorganisms, usually bacteria, but also sometimes yeast and other fungi.

Credit: Simko/
Probiotics have been studied for more than a century, and their use is now common for food animals, such as cattle. For the past decade or so, veterinarians have been administering them to horses, too, to aid recovery from serious intestinal illnesses. Described in academia during the 1960s and ’70s as any organism or substance that benefited the intestinal microbial balance, the generally accepted meaning today is “a live microbial supplement which beneficially affects the host animal by improving its intestinal microbial balance.”

However, how probiotics can help horses is still under study. “We are honestly at our infancy of understanding how we can use probiotics to benefit the horse,” says Kelcey Swyers, head nutritionist at Ranch-Way Feeds in Fort Collins, Colorado, and a PhD candidate at Colorado State University. “While research does not yet have a solid recommendation for probiotic supplementation in the equine diet, it cannot be disputed that an owner might see a benefit from offering probiotics to their horses in a real-life setting.”

Billions of bacteria, protozoa and fungi, often referred to as the intestinal flora or microflora, live in the horse’s gut. These organisms break down foodstuffs to make nutrients available, prevent growth of harmful bacteria and produce vitamins and amino acids. Probiotics are administered "to manipulate the normal intestinal flora in such a way that is beneficial to the health of the horse," says equine nutritionist Kelcey Swyers.

Probiotic bacteria colonize the mucous layer of the equine intestines.

Intestinal flora

“The main goal of administering probiotics is to manipulate the normal intestinal flora in such a way that is beneficial to the health of the horse,” Swyers says. “With that said, researchers are looking for ways that we can use probiotics to improve the digestibility of feedstuffs, reduce the incidence of digestive upsets that could lead to colic or diarrhea, and act as a natural alternative to administering antibiotics, just to name a few areas of interest.”

The inside of a horse’s gut is home to colonies of bacteria, protozoa and fungi, often referred to en masse as the intestinal flora or microflora. “It has been estimated that there are approximately five billion organisms per gram of digestive fluid in the mammalian digestive tract,” Swyers says.

These tiny organisms are engaged in the usual activities of life: consuming one set of substances, excreting another and reproducing. Together they create a complex, symbiotic web. The excretions, called metabolites, produced by one organism may feed another, which in turn produces a third that may be a nutrient necessary to the horse’s life. For example, the complex molecules in starches and cellulose cannot be directly absorbed by the horse’s intestine—they must first be broken down by the flora into components that he can use.

Credit: Eric Erbe/USDA In addition to producing many of the vitamins, amino acids and other nutrients the horse needs, the intestinal flora help keep potentially damaging bacteria, such as Salmonella and Escherichia coli, under control.
In addition to producing many of the vitamins, amino acids and other nutrients the horse needs, the intestinal flora help keep potentially damaging bacteria, such as Salmonella and Escherichia coli, under control. They do this in several ways, including colonizing the gut wall---by attaching themselves to the epithelium0, they block spaces that might otherwise be occupied by invaders. Some of the bacteria also produce lactic acid, which maintains the local environment within a narrow zone of acidity that is comfortable for the beneficial bacteria but hostile to the pathogenic ones.

Maintaining a balance

Intestinal microflora function in a delicate but constantly fluctuating balance. For example, if a horse who usually eats mostly hay gets more pasture grass one day, the organisms who thrive on that particular mix of foodstuffs thrive while their counterparts decline. Most of the time, these fluxes are harmless and self-correcting.

At other times, however, the balance can be tipped in a direction that can cause harm to the host. The classic example is the horse who breaks into the feed room and gorges on grain: Suddenly, there is too much starch to be digested in the stomach and small intestine, and it passes into the hindgut. There it fuels accelerated population growth among certain microbes, which results in greater volumes of lactic acid and a lower pH, killing off other good bacteria in the vicinity. This can begin the cascade of events that leads to devastating digestive-related illnesses, including laminitis.

But there are many other factors that can alter the microbe levels in the gut. “Anything that changes the pH, interferes with gut motility or affects the fluid levels---all would change the balance,” says Kathleen Crandell, PhD, a nutritionist with Kentucky Equine Research. In addition to sudden changes in diet, specific events that can upset the microflora levels include the administration of oral antibiotics, dehydration, fever and ingesting feed tainted with molds or bacteria.

Even stresses, such as those associated with travel and competition, can have an effect. Going on the road tends to disrupt the horse’s routine: He may not drink as much, he may be getting different hay or grasses, his anxiety may keep him off his feed entirely for atime. Also, stress produces measurable changes in levels of hormones, body temperature, immune responses, heart rate and other functions, all of which may cause the populations of beneficial bacteria to drop.

These fluctuations, too, would likely self-correct in time, but meanwhile the horse might be somewhat “off,” perhaps enough to affect his performance, to inhibit weight gain, or to contribute to digestive upsets. “[Another] goal of giving probiotics to a horse is to add organisms—seed organisms—to form new colonies and rebalance the beneficial bacteria,” says Crandell. The thinking is that by helping to restore the populations of beneficial bacteria sooner, the probiotic supplement will offset any potential negative consequences of the disruption to the microflora.

Credit: Miloslav Kaleb/ Probiotics contain living organisms. The bacteria may be in a dried, dormant state, but they can still die if mishandled. Heat is the biggest threat: "Don’t let them sit on the dashboard of your truck on a 100 degree day," says Kathleen Crandell, PhD, a nutritionist with Kentucky Equine Research. Even some tackrooms might get too hot—if you can, keep your probiotic refrigerated. Light can also be damaging. Keep the product in its original (opaque) container out of direct sunlight and even away from bright indoor lights. Finally, don’t forget the expiration date: Make sure you purchase the product well ahead of the "use by" recommendation.

Does your horse need probiotics?

Although research into probiotics for horses is still ongoing, there is general agreement that they can be useful in the following ways:

  • To give young digestive systems ahead start. Foals acquire their intestinal flora from their environment—that’s one reason why they sometimes eat manure. A probiotic may help populate the young digestive system more quickly.
  • To aid recovery from illness or infection in horses who have received oral antibiotics. Medications that kill harmful bacteria sometimes do collateral damage to beneficial organisms. After the course of antibiotics is finished, a probiotic may aid in faster recovery.
  • To compensate for the effects of stress. Dietary changes, travel and/or competition can put stress on a horse’s system. To give the probiotics time to colonize, it is best to start administration two to three days ahead of the stressful event and continue until it is over.
  • To reduce digestive upset in horses susceptible to chronic diarrhea and/or mild colics. Probiotics may stabilize the microflora and promote a healthier environment in the gut. They may also be a good preventive measure in horses who have experienced serious colics.
  • To help old or unthrifty horses better utilize nutrients. A probiotic may improve the efficiency of digestion and aid nutrient absorption in aged horses and others who have trouble maintaining weight.

Consult with your veterinarian about giving your horse probiotics, just as you would when making any other dietary change. If your horse is not holding weight or has frequent mild colics or diarrhea, a probiotic may well be part of the solution, but you’ll also want to address any underlying medical issues.

On the other hand, says Crandell, giving a probiotic to a healthy stay-at home horse can put unnecessary stress on your wallet. “There’s no reason to give a probiotic if your horse is healthy, he’s not traveling, he’s holding weight, etc.,” she explains. “Sometimes horse owners will not see a benefit from offering probiotics, and this can simply be because their horse is already healthy on his normal diet, so no additional benefit can be realized.”

On the market

A wide variety of probiotic products for horses are now available. Some are pure cultures with only one or two bacterial species; others contain up to eight or more; many are mixed with other substances, including vitamins, yeasts, electrolytes, enzymes and prebiotics.

Living microorganisms include any of several species of bacteria, often Lactobacillus spp. as well as Enterococcus spp., Bifidobacterium spp., Lactococcus lactis, etc. Sometimes bacterial species are listed individually on the label; other products will identify only the class, such as “mixed lactic acid bacteria.”

Yeasts (Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Aspergillus spp.) offer well-established dietary benefits, including improved performance during exercise and the production of better quality milk in mares; yeasts are often included in regular horse feeds.

Prebiotics are nutrients that aren’t necessarily absorbed or utilized by the horse but instead “feed” the beneficial bacteria. You’ll often find these identified on the label as some sort of oligosaccharide, but bacteria themselves can also have a prebiotic effect if they produce by products that in turn nourish other bacteria.

Your veterinarian or equine nutritionist may well have experience with specific formulations and can advise you about which ones might best suit your situation. For example, Crandell recommends that foals be given a product that also contains dried egg yolk antibodies and, in general, she believes that products with a wide variety of bacteria or a combination of probiotics and yeast are more likely to be effective. Once you’ve got that input, it’s a matter of choosing a product and keeping close watch on your horse to see how he does.

Swyers advises caution with products that might promise too much: “Probiotics are not considered a drug, so be leery of marketing claims that state a probiotic supplement will do specific things for your horse, such as‘reduce your feed costs, reduce the potential for your horse to get colic, or enhance the performance of your horse.’”

Credit: Michael Abbey/ (center) (bottom)
If your horse does not respond to one product, he may do better with another. Even if the bacterial species are the same, there may be other ingredients in the formulation that affect how the product works. But keep in mind that you may not see results right away: “The benefits of administering probiotics to horses can only be seen when given for a prolonged amount of time, and generally when administration of that supplement goes away, so do the benefits,” Swyers says. “So feed according to the manufacturer’s label, and feed for the whole amount of time that your horse could benefit from it.”

And, she says, “like anything, just because giving ‘some’ could be good, giving more is not necessarily better. No matter what supplement you might give to your horse, it is a good practice to always follow the manufacturer’s feeding or dosing instructions as indicated on the label. And, if there are any concerns, to consult a trusted veterinarian or nutritionist.”

The next few years ought to bring more answers about the best uses of probiotics in horses. In the meantime, if a probiotic is helping to keep your horse happier and healthier, there’s no reason not to keep offering it.

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in EQUUS Magazine. It is reprinted here by permission.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Rafter Y South

Annie Goodwin's Next Step

By Pam Gleason, Photography by Gary Knoll

For Annie Goodwin, who trains eventing, dressage, and showjumping horses, the relationship you build with your horse is the most important thing.

"You have to have the utmost respect for your horse," she says. "It's not necessarily that I love one discipline over the other; I love each of them. I love them for the relationship with the horse. When you go out on the cross country course, you have to trust your horses just as much as they trust you. When you come off cross country and think about what you've just done, you realize it's pretty incredible to have that relationship with a horse, to get them to trust you so much that they do the things you asked them do to. That is the most rewarding feeling to me. But honestly, I can get the same feeling after riding a dressage test."

Annie Goodwin, who is 27, owns and runs Rafter Y South, a 33-acre training farm on Aiken's Southside. Set far back from the road and surrounded by trees, the facility provides an ideal environment for horses in training. It has a comfortable barn with roomy stalls, several grassy paddocks with run-in sheds, an outdoor jumping area and a covered dressage arena. Annie purchased the facility (formerly Xanadu dressage) at the beginning of the summer of 2016 and has been working ever since to adapt it to her needs. She put a trotting track around the perimeter of the property and a gallop path through one of the fields and up a hill ("It's really cool, because there are not a lot of places in Aiken with hills, so that's great for my horses.") She is currently planning to build some cross country obstacles for schooling, as well as a second barn and a house.

Although Annie is new to owning her own business, she has been deeply involved in the horse world almost from the moment she was born. Her mother, Tina Goodwin, was formerly a steeplechase jockey and professional event rider. Her father, Putter Goodwin, is an all-around horseman, cowboy and former polo player. Annie started riding when she was very young at Rafter Y Ranch, her family's 1,000-acre property in Banner, Wyoming, just outside of Sheridan.

When Annie was still in preschool, her parents divorced, and her mother began to pursue an eventing career in earnest. When Annie was about 5, they moved to Southern Pines in North Carolina, where Tina worked for the upper level eventer David O'Brien and trained with Jack Le Goff, a former coach of the U.S. and Canadian Olympic teams and a member of the United States Eventing Hall of Fame. From there, they went to British Columbia, where, for two years, Tina continued to ride and train with some of the best eventers in Canada.

"I had my own horse all this time," says Annie. "I was very young, but I was riding and living the dream, following in my mother's footsteps."

But then, her mother had a devastating accident on the cross-country course, breaking her neck and ending her riding career. While her mother started on the long road to recovery, Annie moved back to live with her father in Wyoming.

"I saw the accident," she says. "I didn't want to have much to do with riding afterwards."

But she lived on the ranch, surrounded by horses, mountains and the spectacular open range. From mid-June to the end of August, the ranch was opened to guests who came from all over the country to spend time enjoying the outdoors. Rafter Y could accommodate 20 guests, and most of the time it was completely booked, often with families. They would go on daily rides escorted by Putter or one of the people who worked for the family, and Annie often rode along. They went through cattle pastures and into the hills where they startled herds of wild antelope, sometimes taking day-long excursions. Annie's fear gradually disappeared.

"My dad never put any pressure on me to ride," says Annie. "He didn't force me back into it in any way."

Throughout middle school and into her high school years, Annie, who describes herself as "super competitive" focused her energies on other sports: soccer, basketball and volleyball. She is from an athletic family (her grandfather was the longtime coach of the Stanford University golf team: he recruited and coached Tiger Woods) and she was good. When she started seeing other kids her own age competing in equestrian events, she caught the riding bug again. Soon, she took up barrel racing and whenever the local shows had English riding classes, she competed in them, too.

Once she was back on a horse, riding began to take up more of her time. She rode and played various sports at her boarding school, and when she came home for the summers, horses took center stage. She groomed polo games at the Big Horn Polo Club, both for her father and for other players, and she rode every day on the ranch, by herself, with her father or with guests.

"Being an only child, each family that came in I became a part of," she says. "It was fun for me. I wuld immerse myself in these other families. I also learned, from a very young age, how to be a gracious host."

In her senior year of high school, she gave up volleyball to focus on riding. The school she was attending had an excellent riding program, and it brought her back into the eventing world. For her 18th birthday, her father gave her a horse: Nike, an off the track thoroughbred that was too big for his polo string. Although soundness issues limited Nike's potential, he was a project for Annie, and one that taught her a lot about horses and about herself.

"I realized how much I really enjoyed working with young horses," she says. "I attribute a lot of my success with young horses to my dad: I learned a lot from him about patience and about natural horsemanship.

Annie went to college in Arizona for two years, but all she wanted to do was ride and train horses, so she left after her sophomore year to become a working student for Elizabeth Iorio, an eventing rider who was training at Full Gallop Farm in Aiken.

"And that is how I started out on my journey,"she says.

That journey brought her back to the heart of upper level eventing and exposed her to some of the top talents in the business. While in Aiken, she met Kadi Eykamp, a 4-star eventer, trainer and coach based in Dallas and ended up working for her. Annie had her own two horses at the time, and she had the opportunity to compete at lower levels herself and groom for Kadi at some of the most prestigious events in the world, including Rolex. "I thought this was where I wanted to be," she says.

Then, she took a job with Will Coleman just after he returned from competing for the U.S. at the London Olympics in 2012. "That was where my riding grew the most," she says. "I was given the opportunity to ride lots of different horses and to be in the ring every day with phenomenal riders. I'm a very visual learner I learned so much. Will definitely respected that about me: he knew he didn't have to teach me every day."

After a few years with Will, who splits his time between Aiken and Virginia, Annie came back to Aiken full time, taking a job riding showjumpers for Daniel and Cathy Geitner.

"Showjumping was definitely my weakest discipline, but I learned so much there," she says. "The job was a lot of individual reflecting: you had to figure out how to ride each horse to make it more successful. It was a lot of really good miles for me and it gave me more confidence in the ring."

While working for these other trainers, Annie also had her own horses to bring along, including Bruno (Fetterman B), a Dutch Warmblood that she imported from Holland as an un-backed 3-year-old in 2013. Although she had no definite plans for when she would start her own business, by the beginning of 2016, she knew she was coming to a point in her career where it was time to do something different, to make some kind of larger investment in herself. Last spring she saw an advertisement for a farm for sale in Aiken, and something about it spoke to her. On a whim, she called her father for his advice: he surprised her by telling her to take a look at it. She did, and she fell in love. By June, the farm was hers.

By this time, Rafter Y Ranch in Wyoming had been sold. It had been in the Goodwin family for five generations, but no one in the youngest generation really wanted to live there. When the opportunity to pass it along to someone who would appreciate it presented itself, selling was the only logical answer. So when Annie took possession of the former Xanadu dressage, it naturally became Rafter Y South, a tribute to the place where she grew up and where she learned, and re-learned, to love horses.

Today, Annie is busy riding and training. She is coming off a successful competitive season: Bruno, now 6, has proven himself a phenomenal jumper, and moved up this year to compete, and win, at the Preliminary Level. She has another horse, Giselle, who is 5 and not far behind. Her goal for the spring is to take Bruno to the one-star level and to compete at the Bromont CCI*. She has some off-the-track thoroughbreds that she is hoping to debut at schooling events over the winter. She also has two talented young dressage horses who are ready to enter the show ring this year. "I'll be working towards my medals and pursuing my goals in the sand box as well: she says.

Meanwhile, Rafter Y South is quietly gaining its own reputation in Aiken. There are regular dressage clinics given by Gabriel Armando, an FEI judge, trainer and rider who comes up from Florida. Clients have started bringing horses for Annie to train and show. The business is just getting started, but it is nothing if not a solid start, backed up by a lifetime of hard work, passion, and dedication.

"I'm really excited to be here," says Annie. "It's a lot to take on, but being as competitive as I am really keeps me going; I never get bored. I'm trying to be as successful as I can be.