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Does my horse have a magnesium deficiency?

Magnesium is an incredibly important mineral for horses. It is important for muscles, bones and the nervous system. Often owners notice magnesium deficiency quite late. While a magnesium deficiency is quite common and can have a significant impact on horses' mood and performance. How do you know if your horse is magnesium deficient? And what can you do about it?

Signs of magnesium deficiency

Sometimes the symptoms of magnesium deficiency fall somewhat into the category of 'vague complaints'. They usually only show up when your horse has been deficient in magnesium for a while. It is therefore easy to overlook a shortage. Signs of a magnesium deficiency include:
  • Fatigue, poor sleep
  • Stress, nervousness
  • Muscle cramps or muscle tremors
  • Hard muscles, muscle pain
  • Difficulty concentrating, very distracted in riding
  • Difficult cantering or cantering at will
  • Injury prone
  • Demineralisation of bones
  • Insulin resistance, EMS
  • Lameness
In case you are wondering how you can tell if your horse is sleeping badly: just look at how dirty he is at his neck and head. If your horse never lies completely flat, you usually don't need to brush very hard there....

Why do horses get magnesium deficiency?

Some horses have a higher magnesium requirement than others. They need to get magnesium through their diet. Much of our Dutch roughage is very poor in magnesium because the soils are quite acidic. Consequently, very little magnesium gets into the grass. Horses that sweat a lot, work a lot, are pregnant or nursing a foal need more magnesium. Horses that are naturally very nervous or hot also often have a higher magnesium requirement. The roughage usually does not supplement the required magnesium sufficiently and concentrate often does not contain enough absorbable magnesium either. A mineral balancer is usually better, but may still be insufficient for sport horses. In that case, a magnesium supplement is needed.

What does magnesium do?

Magnesium plays a role in about 300 body processes. Roughly speaking, the mineral helps keep bones, muscles and the nervous system healthy.
  • Magnesium has a positive effect on focus and mood.
  • Magnesium plays a role in bone formation.
  • Magnesium helps energy delivery through metabolism.
  • Magnesium has a role in normal muscle and nerve function.
  • Magnesium is involved in electrolyte balance.
  • Magnesium is involved in the cell division process and protein production.
A horse that gets enough magnesium can concentrate, has supple muscles, plenty of energy and recovers easily from athletic exertion.

Is my horse getting enough magnesium?

An adult 600 kg horse needs about 9 to 18 grams of magnesium per day. Part of this comes from roughage. Important to know, is that calcium and magnesium have the same absorption route in the body. If you feed very calcium-rich feed, it can reduce magnesium absorption. The ideal ratio of calcium - phosphorus - magnesium in a horse's total ration is: 2-1-1. For example, if you feed a lot of alfalfa, which is high in calcium, you should probably also feed more magnesium.

Good absorbable magnesium

It is also important that you give a well absorbable form of magnesium. There are cheaper forms that are quite poorly absorbable. So you have to give (much) more of those before you notice results. Organic forms of magnesium, such as magnesium citrate and magnesium chelate, are best absorbed by horses. Magnesium chelate has another advantage, as it is seen by the body as an amino acid and therefore absorbed in a different way. This bypasses competition with the mineral calcium.

Conclusion: many horses with magnesium deficiency

Many horses develop a magnesium deficiency unnoticed. This can be recognised by, among other things, nervousness, muscle stiffness and, for example, difficulty cantering or cantering at cross purposes. If you want to give your horse extra magnesium, it is important to give an easily absorbable form (chelate). In addition, check that your horse does not have too much calcium in its diet. Unfortunately, a blood test does not say everything either. The blood test is a snapshot of the minerals currently in the blood. But magnesium is also stored in other tissues. This means that magnesium may also have just been released from other tissues into the blood at the time of the blood test. Therefore, take blood tests as a guide. Indeed, despite a good blood test, magnesium deficiency may still be present.

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