Muskelaufbau beim Pferd

Muscle building in horses

For the horse as a flight animal, the muscles play a key role when it comes to health, well-being, joy of life and performance. About 45% of a horse's body weight is muscle. Horse owners often ask themselves how they can support their horses' muscle building.

This question arises not only in special situations, such as after the winter break or after an illness, but especially as people age. In this article we explore the question of how targeted training and conscious nutrition complement each other.

You should make sure to combine your horse's diet and exercise in the right way. Certain amino acids play a special role in horses' nutrition.

The horse's muscles - anatomical basics

In general, horses have a highly developed muscular system. Certain muscle groups have different levels of intensity. Dressage and show jumping horses have a slightly different muscular structure than endurance horses or gallopers.

A riding horse also has certain muscle groups that give the animal the strength to carry the rider's additional weight. What is important here is the precise cooperation of certain muscle chains. The greater development of certain muscle fibers is partly genetically determined.

Gesundheit und Wohlbefinden für Pferde mit gesunden Muskeln

Different muscle fibers and muscle types

There are two different types of muscle fibers in the skeletal muscles of horses. These muscle fiber types perform differently and also contract at different speeds.

The proportion of different muscle fibers is generally genetically determined. Certain horse breeds are therefore particularly predestined for certain performances. Gender can also influence the proportion of certain muscle fibers.

Basically, every muscle consists of the muscle fibers mentioned below, the proportions vary. Red muscle fibers or slow twitch - these fibers owe their red color to a particularly high proportion of the muscle pigment myoglobin.

The dye is responsible for oxygen transport in the muscle cell. Experts refer to this as aerobic muscle metabolism. Red muscle fibers are characterized by slow contraction. On the other hand, they work very persistently over a longer period of time.

The typical endurance athletes among animals such as endurance horses have a particularly high proportion of red muscle fibers.

White muscle fibers or fast twitch - these fast-twitch muscle fibers provide power and high speed in a very short time. These performance peaks only last for a short time.

White muscle fibers represent anaerobic muscle metabolism because they burn energy sources such as glycogen and ATP present in the cells without oxygen.

Compared to the red muscle fibers, these white muscle fibers contain very little of the muscle pigment myoglobin. This is what makes them pale in color. Racehorses have a high proportion of white muscle fibers.

Some experts differentiate between a subtype in the area of ​​white muscle fibers that is described as explosive and particularly powerful. Muscles are not only differentiated according to the different muscle fibers.

Rather, the muscles are generally differentiated into 3 different areas:

  • Cardiac muscles as the engine of the entire animal circulation.
  • Skeletal muscles as the basis of all motor skills. This is often referred to as striated muscles.
  • Smooth muscles are important for all internal organs such as the vascular system and digestion.

The internal structure of muscles and their dynamic structure

The smallest building blocks of the muscles in horses form the so-called fibrils . They consist predominantly of the proteins Atkin and myosin. The fiber bundles that shape every muscle are made up of the fibrils.

From the largest to the smallest unit, the muscle strand is divided into the fascia, the muscle fibers, the blood vessels and, via the sarcomere, the smallest functional unit of the fibers, into the fibrils.

What is interesting is how the two proteins Atkin and myosin behave when they are bent or stretched. When a muscle shortens with a flexion, the two proteins slide over each other. When they stretch, they move apart again.

Another division concerns the differentiation between dynamic and static muscles . The dynamic muscles set limbs in motion. Long, superficial and flexible in their contraction and expansion, they are all about movement.

The static muscles shape the animal's posture and stability. They are short and primarily designed for constant load. These muscles can be found in the deeper layers of the horse's trunk area and neck.

The distinction between static and dynamic muscles is particularly important for building a balanced and varied workout that challenges all muscle groups.

Die Dynamik der Muskeln bei Pferden

Muscular energy metabolism and skeletal muscles

When we talk about muscular metabolism, we are talking about the metabolism within the muscle cell. Like other cells, muscle cells also have their own energy source.

ATP or adenosine triphosphate is the cell's own energy source and is used up most quickly during stress. It cannot be directly influenced by diet either.

In addition, the animals' muscles and liver store additional energy in the form of sugar. These so-called glycogen stores are next used when the ATP in the cell itself is used up after stress.

Glycogen stores can be controlled via the training status and the intake of carbohydrates. If glycogen stores are also empty, energy is obtained from fat stores.

Fat storage can also be influenced by the appropriate intake of fats in the diet.

At the origin and insertion of each muscle there are ligaments and tendons. They serve to fix the muscle to the skeleton. The muscle belly is very elastic and well supplied with blood. First is very stretchy because it also has a large number of blood vessels.

Tendons are much less elastic and also have less blood supply. This anatomical peculiarity of the tendons is important when it comes to loading and training a horse.

The transition from muscle to tendon and also the transition from tendon to skeleton are sensitive areas of the anatomy. Injuries can occur in these areas if the muscles are inadequately trained.

Especially in young animals, the slower development of tendons and ligaments must be taken into account when building muscles. For horses of all ages, it is important to plan enough time for muscle building training so that all parts of the anatomy can support the building processes.

Building muscle in horses: designing it correctly and sustainably

Nutrition and exercise are the two main pillars for building muscle in horses. We have already seen that muscles are predominantly made up of protein.

Consequently, protein and amino acids play a major role for horses when it comes to building muscle. Not all protein is the same here. There are also a few things to consider when training and exercising in order to find the right balance between demand and rest phase when building muscle.

The role of amino acids and proteins in muscle building in horses

Since the horse's muscles consist predominantly of protein, protein intake is particularly important for building muscles. Protein or proteins are made up of amino acids.

The animal organism can produce some of these amino acids itself from other amino acids or carbohydrates. Others cannot be produced by animals and must be continually supplied with food.

In horses these amino acids are in particular:

  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Threonine

These amino acids play a special role in horses. They are also referred to as first limiting. If one of these amino acids is not present in sufficient quantities, the other two cannot be utilized by the animal organism.

Unlike many other mammals and unlike humans, it is not just essential amino acids that play a key role in horses. In addition to lysine, threonine and methionine, these building blocks that must be supplied with the diet are also leucine, isoleucine, valine, histidine and phenylalanine.

The intake of the first-limiting amino acids requires special attention because deficiencies here have such a major impact on the overall supply of protein and jeopardize the supply of several essential amino acids.

Ausreichende Proteinzufuhr für Pferde gewährleisten

Requirements for protein

If you don't give your horse enough protein, it can lose muscle mass because there isn't enough protein in the muscle. In this case, muscle loss can result due to the deficiency situation.

If the animal receives too much protein from its diet, excess protein can build up in the intestines and liver. This can lead to, among other things, severe digestive disorders and other health problems.

For an adult horse, a daily protein intake of 0.5 grams to 1 gram per kilogram of body weight is recommended . This assumes an average weight of around 600 kg and a medium performance level.

In this context, the question often arises as to whether the protein requirement can be covered by hay alone. There is no easy answer to this question. It really depends on the quality of the hay.

On average, 1 kg of meadow hay contains around 77 grams of digestible protein. An average animal could generally cover its protein needs with around 4-8 kg of hay.

Here, separate supplements with amino acids can make a big difference when it comes to health, performance and muscle building in horses.

You should note that the stated protein requirements are average values. An animal's individual protein requirements can fluctuate, particularly with regard to age.

An older animal can often be expected to have a higher protein requirement and a potential protein deficiency. Especially with these older animals, it's about maintaining muscle and, if necessary, building muscle again after periods of weakness.

Supplements like amino4u could make a reliable contribution to keeping older animals fit and strong.

Studies on protein supply and amino supplements

Various studies have addressed the question of what importance protein supply has for horses and what effect an additional supply of supplements can have, for example.

Amino acid supplements increase muscle mass. Apparently, the separate and orderly supply of amino acids specifically ensures the development of muscles.

Overall , protein deficiency has a growth-limiting effect even in young animals .

This underlines the importance of a sufficient and, above all, well-composed protein supply.

Muscles grow when demands are made. However, these requirements must not follow each other without a break. Rather, an intense stimulus must be followed by a period of rest.

For example, if an animal has been trained very intensively on one day, it should be followed by a day of light exercise. Light movement during rest is also important. It can ensure increased blood flow to stressed muscles.

This can lead to cell renewal. In addition, intensively stressed muscle groups can build up. These muscle groups are then optimally prepared for the next intensive training stimulus.

As for energy metabolism in the muscle , let's remember that there are aerobic and anaerobic training areas. When dealing with intense stimuli, it should be noted that long periods of work in the anaerobic area can be particularly stressful for the horse's organism.

Small micro-tears in the muscle fibers can occur during these training sessions. The blood then has a higher urea content that must be excreted.

Due to this metabolism-related mechanism, intensive training phases and rest phases must alternate.

Abwechslung zwischen Trainingseinheiten und Ruhephasen des Pferdes

Train the right muscles in the right order

The back muscles are particularly important during movement. Riding forwards and downwards has proven useful for construction. Riding forwards and downwards is considered the optimal basic training.

For us humans it corresponds to a warm-up training with light weights. Horse owners can use this to lay the foundation for the animal's overall muscle building. The prerequisite is that this basic training is never carried out for too long.

If the training period is too long, the forehand can become overloaded. You should also be careful with animals that have tendon injuries or joint diseases in the front extremities.

The horse's back plays a key role when it comes to stabilizing the horse. It determines that the animal is stiff, flexible and flexible at the same time. Before moving on to other muscle groups, the animal should be stable.

Otherwise, compensatory movements will lead to tension and possibly joint damage. Injuries can also result. The entire core muscles are connected to the back muscles.

If the animal is not trained enough in this area, injuries to the limbs can occur. Therefore, it is important to pay attention to the correct sequence when training and the demands on the horse's muscles.

Variety in the movement units

Training to build muscle in horses should consist of different movement units. How to maintain the balance between a stress phase and a rest phase, different forms of movement should be trained alternately.

Here, for example, you can combine gallop training, climbing and mountaineering in a sensible way. Once the foundation for well-developed muscles has been laid, you can quickly find out which muscle groups should be trained more intensively by varying the movement units.

Horses not only benefit from stimuli with alternating intensity phases, but also from varied exercise. Muscle building for horses consists of individually tailored units of exercise and individually tailored nutrition.

Building muscle requires special attention to protein and, above all, to the adequate intake of first-limiting amino acids such as lysine.

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