Silicon’s role in building bone, giving strength to body tissue and joint health is a good reason for this often overlooked mineral to be considered in the overall aim to produce and maintain healthy horses. Supplementing horses with this often overlooked mineral may help support skeletal growth and decrease injuries in performance horses.
Prevention and treatment of skeletal injuries in performance horses is a constant battle for horse owners and trainers. Lameness is one of the primary reasons why a horse’s athletic performance either declines or never reaches its potential. Reducing the injury rate of horses is not only a major animal welfare issue; but it also represents a substantial economic concern. With these points in mind, it is understandable for horse owners, breeders and trainers to be continually searching for ways to keep their horses sound.
Silicon’s role in the horse
Maintaining sound bones and joints is a high priority. Contrary to most people’s belief calcium and phosphorus are not the only two components of quality bone as these are actually made from approximately 30% organic material (mostly collagen), 45% minerals, 25% water and the bone is constantly changing as it removes old or damaged components and replaces them with new healthy elements. Silicon is a mineral that has been reported to have a role in bone physiology and metabolism, by increasing bone building activity, and decreasing bone demineralisation activity.
Where to find silicon in the horse’s diet?
Over 90% of the Earth’s crust is composed of silicate minerals, making silicon the second most abundant element in the Earth’s crust (about 28% by mass) after oxygen. It is most widely distributed in dusts and sands as various forms of silicon dioxide (silica) or silicates.
Horse owners are faced with the problem that not all forms of silicon are available to the horse. Plants use silicon to provide rigidity and structure to some of their cell and, from these plants, horses are able to obtain small amounts of silicon in their diet from roughage and grain. The silicon content of grasses depends on the content of silica in the soil and the types of soil the grasses are growing, for instance costal grasses are higher in silica as they grow in sand. C4 grasses on average have about 3 times more silica particles than C3 grasses. However, forages high in silica are known to have decreased digestibility in horses.
Sodium zeolite A is a silicon source able to be absorbed by the horse (bioavailable) as it is converted into orthosilicic acid in the stomach, which can then be absorbed by the horse.
What it does and how it works
Silicon plays a role in the development of new bone and is involved in the calcification process. In the early stages of calcification silicon and calcium contents are low, but both increase as mineralisation progresses. However, as the bone becomes fully mature, the silicon content decreases while calcium remains high .
Silicon also appears to play a major role in the formation of collagen matrix, the substance surrounding bone and cartilage, which is necessary to prevent the bone and cartilage tissues from becoming brittle and susceptible to damage. It promotes firmness and strength in the tissues and is part of the arteries, tendons, skin, connective tissue, and eyes. Collagen contains silicon that helps to hold the body tissues together and is also present in the chondroitin sulfates that are found in cartilage.
When to use silicon
Researchers have shown supplementing horses with bioavailable silicon increased blood plasma and milk silicon concentrations in mares, plasma silicon concentrations in foals and altered systemic markers of bone metabolism in those foals. In yearlings that were supplemented with silicon greater rates of bone formation and lower rates of bone resorption were shown compared to non-supplemented horses, which suggested an overall increase in bone production. It was concluded that bioavailable silicon supplements may be beneﬁcial in enhancing skeletal health and aid in lessening bone-related injuries or diseases involving bone loss.
Feeding bioavailable silicon appears to be exceptionally critical in the young, growing horse when the skeleton is undergoing rapid development. Earlier studies found that supplementing approximately 150 g of silicon decreased the incidence of bone-related injuries in young racing horses. Although many factors regulate bone metabolism, supplemental silicon may provide a nutritional means of enhancing skeletal health. As horses mature and increase exercise load, bioavailable silicon supplementation continues to be effective at reducing injury. HYGAIN’s breeding feeds, such as HYGAIN TRU BREED, HYGAIN STUDTORQUE and HYGAIN PRODIGY are supplement with bio-available silicon.
Proper training and good nutrition cannot be replaced, but supplementing horses with bioavailable silicon may help to support skeletal growth and decrease injuries to equine athletes.