Magnesium: The Mineral Superhero

September 15th, 2011 8:43 PM | No Comments

by Performance Equine USA

Very few people are aware of the enormous role magnesium plays in a horse’s body. After oxygen, water, and basic food, magnesium may be the most important element needed to maintain health.It is vitally important, yet hardly known.Magnesium is by far the most important mineral, activating over 300 different biochemical reactions all necessary for the body to function properly.Magnesium supplementation has been shown to improve performance and allow human athletes to reach exhaustion later in their exercise routine. It increases oxygen delivery to muscle tissue; it promotes muscle strength, endurance and relaxation. Magnesium also activates enzymes necessary for the metabolism of carbohydrates and amino acids which lead to protein synthesis.

Magnesium is often the most neglected mineral in horse feeds.Spring grass is typically deficient in magnesium due to the fast growth rate and at this time of year many horses seem hotter and more difficult to ride.Owners often attribute this to too many carbohydrates in the grass. While this may be part of the story,is often overlooked is that these horses may be deficient in magnesium.Magnesium deficiency has varying effects on the horse population. Some horses do not suffer any signs while others are almost un-rideable due to their apparent wariness and hyperactivity.Adding magnesium to their diet may have a dramatic calming effect. To understand why magnesium affects the horse in a calming manner, it is important to know what is happening in your horse’s body on a cellular level when there is a magnesium shortfall.

Calcium and magnesium work closely with each other, calcium requiring magnesium for balance.Calcium is in charge of contracting the muscle and magnesium looks after the relaxation or release of the muscle much like a gas pedal and a clutch work required for proper nerve and muscle function. When a muscle cell is triggered, the cell membrane opens, letting calcium in and raising the calcium level in the cell setting off a reaction and the muscle contracts.When the contraction is done, the magnesium inside the cell helps to push the calcium back out of the cell releasing the contraction.This happens very rapidly.When there is not enough magnesium in the cell, calcium can leak back in causing a stimulatory effect and the muscle cannot completely relax. This can put the body into a continually stressed state. Low magnesium makes nerve endings hypersensitive thus exacerbating pain and noise.

The use of magnesium today is often incorrect.needs magnesium in order to assimilate into the body. However, when too much calcium is consumed, it inhibits the body’s ability to absorb and utilize magnesium efficiently.To maintain proper levels in the blood, the body will borrow magnesium from bones and soft tissue to make up for the shortfall in order to assimilate the calcium.Over time, this creates an accumulative negative reaction in the body that actually triggers the body to release adrenaline adding to the excitatory behavior we see in deficient horses.To correct a deficiency, magnesium needs to be offered by itself, not with calcium.Only approx 1% of magnesium is stored in the blood, the rest is stored in soft tissue and bone and the body is very efficient at maintaining that level in the blood stream to facilitate organ function.This is why blood level magnesium tests are rarely indicative of an animal’s true magnesium status.A horse would be severely deficient and would be very ill by the time a blood test would indicate a shortfall.

Horses with magnesium deficiency may have all or only a few of these signs so it is important be aware of them.They may be borderline and only exhibit signs during competition or stress.For instance, horses with magnesium deficiency often have very sore tight backs in spite of excellent saddles and pad, proper fit, conditioning and training.They don’t respond well to chiropractic adjustments and massages or these treatments don’t last more than a couple days and the tension and soreness return. They often resent or even act afraid of being touched leading the owner to ask themselves, ‘Is someone abusing this horse when I am not around?’ Their response to outside stimuli is over reactive and they tend to become fractious, worried, fearful or resistant to training.

Other signs:

  • Unable to relax physically or mentally
  • Muscle tremors, twitches, flinching skin, or all over body trembling especially after exertion (not related to outside temp)
  • Body tension and muscle hardness even at rest
  • Does not tolerate long periods of work– often becoming more excited instead of working down
  • Has difficulty with collection or picking his back up under saddle, moves hollow
  • Random spooking, running through the bridle, inconsistent from one ride to the next
  • Angry or worried about being brushed, blanketed, saddled or touched or palpated on either side of spine
  • History of tying up
  • Fatigue
  • Painful heats in mares
  • Bucking or rearing 20-30 minutes into a ride for no apparent reason
  • Requires long periods of lunging before being able to focus on work
  • Would be described as ‘thin skinned’ or over sensitive to sound or movement
  • Massage and chiropractic adjustments do not have lasting affects
  • Teeth grinding
  • Resents bath time especially cold water
  • Irregular heartbeat or pounding heart- endurance horses often experience this at vet check

Magnesium is assimilated quickly in times of stress, such as traveling or heavy training.Horses lose magnesium through sweat and urine.Many performance horses can become deficient as the show season progresses as they are using the available magnesium more rapidly due to stress, travel and competition. Horses with low magnesium status will often crave salt, which exacerbates the shortfall.Calcium-rich diets can create an imbalance.Calcium supplements, especially those designed to be calmative can contribute to imbalance.

These horses are often difficult to work with, so riders tend to over exercise in an effort to manage behavior.They are worked harder and for longer periods of time in an effort to wear them down which only ads to the shortfall thus creating a vicious cycle.This causes more sweating and muscle cramping while contributing to fatigue, soreness, post competition pain and a negative association to work. Behavior gets worse with more work and exposure to stress, not better. Subsequently, horses begin to resent the show arena often developing gate issues.

The daily magnesium requirement for maintenance has been estimatedto be 13mg of elemental magnesium per kilogram of body weight.There are 1000mg to a gram, so the total daily magnesium requirements of a 500kg horse would be 15.5 grams of magnesium for a non-working horse.Please keep in mind that these are baseline estimates.Many horses require much more than 15 g daily.There are many factors that effect magnesium absorption and utilization. Working horses require 10-30% more magnesium for light to moderate exercise, respectively, due to sweat losses.Horses who sweat heavily will lose magnesium at a more rapid rate as well. Horses working in extreme heat will lose magnesium at a rapid rate through sweat.

Magnesium toxicity is rare because excess is naturally excreted.Magnesium should be split between morning and evening feedings to increase absorption and decrease its occasional laxative effects. Once a horse becomes low on magnesium, it is very difficult for them to catch up without supplementation. The very existence of the magnesium deficiency perpetuates the deficiency due to the constant state of anxiety, fear and discomfort.

What kind of magnesium should I use?There are injectables, oral supplements and trans dermal applications.The most popular is oral magnesium oxide.It is not the most bio-available form of magnesium to use but it is the most available and inexpensive to feed.Some horses do not like the powdery texture so picky eaters may turn up their noses to it.It can also act as a buffer in the horses stomach which can help horses who tend to develop ulcers.For some horses, Magnesium Oxide is therapeutic and can bring magnesium status back to normal.  The best form is Di-magnesium malate in MagRestore by Performance Equine. .It is highly absorb-able, bio-available and has the least potential laxative effect.Horse owners need to be aware that magnesium is in different forms such as citrate, oxide, ascorbate, which is the secondary ion.Horse owners should avoid magnesium sulfate because of its laxative effect.Horse owners should also avoid Magnesium glutamate and aspartate.

It’s important to note that magnesium is not 100% magnesium.  It’s only 20% magnesium in higher quality forms and less in lesser expensive forms.  Studies range from only 20% to 50% absorption.:  to get 20 grams of actual magnesium, one would need to feed 100 grams by volume.  One has to feed a seemingly large volume to attain the desired dosing.We recommend feeding 20 to 30 grams (by volume) daily or up to bowel tolerance, for working horsesexhibiting mild to moderate signs of magnesium deficiency.Horses showing severe signs of deficiency respond well to 20 grams, twice daily for up to 2 weeks, then taper the dosage off according to the horses level of improvement.Every horse is different and will have it’sindividual maintenance dose. This will also fluctuate depending on times of stress, showing, weather and pasture content. When signs of deficiency begin to subside, the dosage can be tapered off to a dosage that maintains balance.  Horses with reduced kidney function should not be supplemented with magnesium without vet supervision.Make sure your horse has access to water.

Trans dermal magnesium (delivered through the skin) is an efficient way to deliver magnesium to muscle tissue as it bypasses the digestive system all together and can be taken up by the muscles rapidly.Owners can safely increase magnesium levels faster by using oral and transdermal therapies together.  Trans dermal application can be very therapeutic prior to athletic competition especially for the nervous horse and also post work out helping the body to recover, decrease lactic acid, decrease inflammation and relax muscles.It replaces magnesium lost through exertion and sweat.  It is available in sprays, lotions and a magnesium chloride bath salt form sponged on the horse and rinsed off after 20 minutes.This is the most economical of choices.

How do you know how much magnesium your horse is getting?It’s very difficult without analyzing every bale of hay. Many feed supplements only give you a percentage of mineral content, not a gram total.One thing you can do to insure your horse is not deficient is to familiarize yourself with the signs of possible deficiencies in your horse.If you think you may have a shortfall, it’s a very safe mineral to give in any case.  Toxicity is extremely rare.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this article is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience. We encourage you to make your own health care decisions for your horse based upon your own research and in partnership with a qualified veterinarian.


Copyright © 2009 Performance Equine

Performance Equine USA.


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