Exercise Physiology

Frequently Asked Questions

cranberry barrel
Can taking vitamins help horses exercise?
That’s something the Equine Science Center is studying. There is a kind of stress that oxygen causes in the body, called oxidative stress. Oxidation is one way that energy is obtained from a diet. During exercise, the rate of oxidation is elevated because the body is rapidly breaking down nutrients to produce energy. Oxidative stress causes a large amount of circulating molecules called “free radicals.” But it is thought that certain vitamins and minerals, and even chemicals in food, can work as antioxidants, and help reduce the bad reactions that oxygen can cause in our muscles.

Are “free radicals” harmful to horses?
In reasonable amounts, they’re necessary for proper function of the immune system. Larger amounts of circulating free radicals are harmful. When horses exercise and use a lot of oxygen, the oxidative stress causes them to get tired and may damage muscles, nervous tissue, and skin.

What kinds of food products might reduce soreness in muscles?
The testing isn’t finished, but it’s possible that such things as cranberry and black tea extracts might help decrease muscle soreness in horses. And orange peel extracts might help a horse recover from exercise more quickly. The U.S. Army is interested in what the Equine Science Center learns because it might someday help soldiers recover from exercise.

heart rate
Why is oxygen important during exercise?
Oxygen is always important - you need it to breathe! The oxygen we breathe goes into our blood and helps break down our food and convert it into energy. It’s called oxidation. During exercise, there is a lot of oxidation going on inside the body. Oxygen is breaking down protein, carbohydrates and fat. Oxygen molecules are also changing into a form called “free radicals”. Free radicals help to keep horses healthy. But sometimes – like during exercise, the balance of free radicals in the blood can get “out of whack”. This is called oxidative stress, and the wrong balance of free radicals can hurt the body’s cells.

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