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Beetroot: Superfood for Horses

by Michelle Holtmeyer
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Many horses love munching on root vegetables such as carrots and beetroot. The great news is that in the right quantities, these tasty and succulent vegetables make a valuable addition to the horse’s diet, especially in winter. Beetroot is particularly rich in essential vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre and protein. What is it that makes this apparently unassuming root vegetable such a superfood?

The vivid red colour of the beetroot provides a clue. This is due to a substance known as betanine, which is an antioxidant that has protective qualities for cells and organs. Beetroot contains essential iron and folic acid, which means it is hematopoietic. That is, its constituents assist in the creation of haemoglobin in the horse’s red blood cells. This is vital for the transport of oxygen throughout the body, which in turn is the key to optimum fitness.

Essential vitamins and minerals for performance

In addition to supporting the quality of the horse’s blood cells and circulation, the range of essential vitamins, including provitamin A, works to keep the whole body healthy and functioning.

Provitamin A in the beetroot converts to vitamin A in the horse’s body. It has antioxidant properties and is critical for the development and maintenance of bones and teeth, as well as cell regeneration. It offers support to the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems as well as the skin and mucous membranes. It plays a key part in the health of the cardiovascular system. In summary, the essential all-rounder provitamin A gives the horse’s immune system a powerful boost.

The B vitamins, including niacin and folic acid, form a complex group which assists in converting carbohydrates into energy. Some are necessary for keeping the mucous membranes, eyes and central nervous system healthy. Others are vital for a well-functioning digestive system.

Vitamin C is another essential for health and well-being, since it has both antioxidant and antibacterial qualities. It keeps the connective tissues healthy, assists in fighting infections and is essential for the uptake of iron in the body. It’s also water-soluble, which means it has to be absorbed on a daily basis.

Many horse-keepers have noted the positive effects of feeding beetroot. Not only has it helped with heart conditions, but also eczema and kidney problems. It’s readily available, inexpensive and many horses enjoy eating it.

What’s the best way to ensure horses get the beetroot boost?

Like many root vegetables, beetroots store well over the winter, making them a good option for providing the essentials at this time of year. They are best fed whole, and definitely uncooked. That way they retain all their health-giving properties, many of which are stored in the skin of the vegetable. They should not be fed frozen, however, since that can lead to colic.

Eating the roots whole, especially when fed in imaginative ways such as in a net, can keep the horse occupied at times when there’s little nourishment in the grass or when boredom is an issue. Regarding quantities, as a general rule you should not feed your horse more than 1-2 kilograms of beetroot per day. Feeding the root whole is not the only way to get the fantastic benefits of beetroot, however.

Beetroot is now available in dried form, usually as chips but sometimes as powder. This means it can easily be added to feeds. Bear in mind that a kilo of dried beetroot is the equivalent of 12 kg of the whole root and feed accordingly. When receiving additional feeds over and above their basic grazing or forage, horses are always better fed on a “little and often” basis rather than in one or two big meals. This is good for maintaining appetite and enthusiasm too.

Many healthy treats for horses now contain beetroot. While treats should be seen as a supplement to the horse’s diet rather than an essential component, this can be a good way of ensuring that when horses get a treat it’s good for them rather than a sugar- or fat-packed indulgence! Finally, don’t forget that beetroot is as good for human hair, skin and cells as it is for horses.

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