Horses have bone marrow in their bones

Bone and tendon health

The bone is a living tissue!

Bone problems in horses have lost none of their horror, even if, thanks to great advances in medicine and its surgical techniques, “only” long periods of standing are often the result. The good news, however, is that healing of bone damage is heavily influenced by diet.

1. Feeding in the event of bone damage

The term bone is closely connected to the idea of ​​a skeleton from the ghost train or the skull on the pirate flag. These bones represent dead calcareous tissue and really do not adequately convey that bone tissue is alive and has a highly active metabolism.

In fact, the bone is a living and metabolically active tissue that is in a constant process of being built up and broken down. A vivid example of this metabolic activity is the rapid decalcification of the bone when there is insufficient load and the formation of over-legs (exostoses) after an injury.

The bone is so rich in minerals that it was fed

The bone consists of about 25% water, organic substances (including the protein ossium) and inorganic minerals, of which mostly only calcium, phosphorus and magnesium are mentioned.

But not inconsiderable amounts of trace elements, above all manganese and copper, as well as silicon, boron, iron, potassium, sodium, chlorine and fluorine are also located in the bone and are involved in its healthy structure.

The wealth of minerals led to the feeding of bone meal to livestock, but also horses. The success of bone meal feeding is undeniable. This nutritive support has been lacking since the BSE scandal banned bone meal. It now has to be balanced out with high-quality mineral feed.

Stability through interweaving of organic and inorganic matter

The bone mass is made up of a thick outer layer of bone and surrounds an inner core of trabeculae. This sponge-like filling material serves to stabilize the bone without making it difficult and protects the bone from deformation. Every bone is surrounded by the sensitive periosteum, which is permeated with nerves and blood vessels. The large bones contain the bone marrow, a fatty tissue that is used to make blood.

The bone matrix

The bone is subject to constant build-up and breakdown, in which the osteoblasts (bone-forming cells) and the osteoclasts (bone-breaking cells) are involved. The osteoblasts build the bone matrix, the tissue that is later mineralized. The essential components of the bone matrix include mucopolysaccharides and collagen fibers. This explains the necessity and presence of high amounts of copper and manganese as well as silicon for bone formation and regeneration.

Feeding in case of bone damage

But if a horse is condemned to immobility due to a broken bone, one may wonder how the bone is supposed to heal if calcium migrates from the bone.

Horses with bone damage (bone fracture, bone fissure, navicular bone dissolution, overlegs, deforming osteoarthropathies) should be mineralized in a highly specialized manner. It is important to ensure that there is a really good amount of copper and manganese before the calcium is administered. However, the relationships to zinc and the other trace elements must not be disregarded.

Magnesium is the better calcium

Magnesium also plays a significant role in bone health. After all, the bone consists of 12% magnesium. Since the bones serve as a storage chamber for magnesium and these stores are often used up in stressed or negligently mineralized horses, it has been found that many horses with a magnesium deficiency end up in the condition of the patient with bone fissures, broken bones or bone deformations. Therefore, a cure-based dose of magnesium is positive, especially at the beginning of the standing phase, and allows many horses to endure their fate better. If there is no adequate mineralization, these problems can lead to arthrosis.

Also important for the bones is the trace element boron, which up to now has only been regarded as a plant-relevant nutrient, especially in grape skins and grape seed extracts. The need for vitamin K, which plays an active role in the development of bone strength because it is involved in the formation of osteocalcin, an important moderator in bone formation, is generally covered in the horse by fresh green. If the horse is standing and there is no fresh grass available, special alfalfa extract can provide natural vitamin K1. Vitamin D also plays a key role in building bones.

The need for vitamin B6, which is also of great importance for building bones, is only generated by the horse itself if it has a healthy intestinal flora. The vitamin B6 metabolism is bound to zinc.

Here you can find the dr. Weyrauch feeding suggestion for bone problems:Bone health

2. Feeding for tendon damage

The stable tendons, rich in connective tissue, are the connection between the muscles and the bones. Tendon damage is considered to be very protracted because the tissue cannot regenerate as quickly.

A slowly regenerating tissue

Tendons, like all connective and supporting tissues, consist of cells and the substance in between (intercellular substance), in which mainly collagenous, i.e. protein-containing fibers are embedded, which give the tendon its strength. Large amounts of copper and silicon are required to build up the collagenous tissue. Manganese supports the proteoglycan synthesis.

If the tendon damage is caused by overheating (bandaged too long and too much, overheating under the gaiters), large areas of protein structures can be denatured and thus damaged. You have to be prepared for a lengthy healing process.

Loose muscles make healing easier

It is easy to imagine that a great deal of tension is exerted on the tendons, especially if the muscles are already tense. To support the healing of tendon damage, nutrients should be fed that can help loosen up the muscles, so-called muscle-relaxing nutrients, which include magnesium, natural vitamin E, selenium and, above all, manganese.

With herbs against tendinitis (tendinitis)

Anti-inflammatory herbs such as rose hips, tarragon or the silicon-rich horsetail and verbena have long proven themselves in the regeneration of tendon tissue.

In principle, a physiotherapist should be consulted for the diagnosis of the veterinarian, who will resolve any blockages and compensate for possible incorrect loads. If the tendon is damaged, the horse owner can take action. Daily water applications, moist, warm compresses with herbal solutions or homeopathic ointments support the inflammation process and remove waste products.

You can find more detailed information on tendon problems here:Tendon health

3. Feeding when the box is closed

Serious injuries, tendon damage, operations or even broken bones are reasons why horses are sentenced to several weeks of box rest. Horses often get used to this situation faster than their owners. But what now has to change seriously is the feeding.

Basic feeding instructions for horses that have to stand

The grain or concentrate feed is no longer necessary because the lack of exercise in the box results in a very low energy requirement. One speaks here of the maintenance requirement, which is made up of “minimum requirement” and “energy requirement for feed intake, heat regulation, digestive activity and muscle work”.

This is around 70 MJ for a warm-blooded horse that weighs 600 kilograms. The maintenance requirement in terms of energy is covered by pure raw fiber feeding of around 1.2 to 1.5 kg of hay per 100 kg of body weight and three to four kg of feed straw. It may also be possible to add grain-free, high-crude fiber feed supplements.

Grain-free feeding has the advantage that the horses do not become fat, do not become overly acidic and can restrain their temperament when they are led later.

Problem with the pit rest: the bone decalcification

With the immobility, the decalcification of the bones begins. The low stress on the muscles leads to a strong loss of calcium in the skeleton, which is stored again later when the muscles are stressed again.

This decalcification cannot be counteracted with calcium. Apart from that, the calcium requirement, which is around 30 grams in the above-mentioned horse, is adequately covered by the roughage, especially the hay.

The correct mineralization of the horse is a real challenge for feeding in this phase. The horse's need for non-energy-supplying nutrients still exists, but cannot be met by the small amount of food being fed. In addition, there is an increased need for tissue regeneration and healing.

Calcium-rich mineral feeds such as those used for breeding are unsuitable. As an antagonist, calcium displaces trace elements such as zinc, manganese and copper, which are so important now. The latter are both essential for the regeneration of connective tissue (e.g. tendon tissue, cartilage tissue) and bone, since the bone matrix, like the tendon and cartilage tissue, is rich in collagen and mucopolysaccharides. The formation of collagen and mucopolysaccharides is closely linked to the presence of the above-mentioned trace elements.

Therefore, the first priority is mineralization with magnesium, which should be fed in abundance and in a highly bio available quote from. The advantage of the citrate form is the rapid migration through the cells, whereby the citric acid in the citric acid cycle is inhaled into CO2 and H2O and the magnesium is immediately available to the cell.

The standing time should be used to provide the horse with plenty of trace elements.

Zinc for wound healing

This is especially true for horses that have had a serious injury or are to be fed after operations.Sufficient zinc ensures the stabilization of the immune system and reliable wound healing. High amounts of zinc promote the formation of new cells and thus regeneration for rapid healing of destroyed tissue.

Oil feeding at pit stop

Oil is one of the most energetic nutrients, but in the form of polyunsaturated fatty acids it is essential for the metabolism. During the box rest, the horse has no pasture, no oat supply and in very few cases consumes enough seed-rich hay. However, since a supply of essential fatty acids is necessary to combat inflammation, an additional 50 milliliters of linseed oil makes sense.

Herbal support

Of course, the ration of the standing horse should be enriched with herbs. Digestive herbs such as anise and fennel can prevent colic, artichoke and milk thistle relieve the liver, which is of particular benefit to horses that have been treated with medication. The support of the respiratory tract is just as useful in the standing horse as the general metabolic support for a better healing process.

Herbs often have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects and free the body and especially the connective tissue of waste products and excess acids for faster regeneration.

Special herbs can have a calming effect on the nerves and can be of good service for the first time when leading the horses in walk.

Juice feed while standing

Anyone who had the opportunity to feed some fresh carrots (3 kg per day) or a mash every three days (500 to 1000 g before adding water) would certainly give the horse a lift. Freshly cut grass (length over 30 cm) in dimensions (maximum 5 kilograms) is also a welcome change and, like carrots, provides ß-carotene, which should not be missing for bone regeneration. Anyone who fears that their horse could become too emaciated or would despair without a crib ration, cannot go wrong with low-grain mueslis (e.g. No. 20 Sonnenberg).


Here you can find detailed information about standing time for horses:Pit rest



Dr. Susanne Weyrauch-Wiegand © 2011 revised 2020