On warm days a good nose can tell which stall the smell of ammonia is coming from. Today it’s in T-man’s and Moke’s. We’ve had spring-like pasture all summer and I just got a load of new hay. The combination tipped the scale on protein. For once my mind didn’t hang around grazing with the horses, instead it shot to the container of protein supplement I just sent my soldier son in Iraq. His unit is always working out and trying to build muscle so he bought out the store when he came home for his two weeks R & R.
His unit is stationed in the south of Iraq and has lived the summer in 120-130 degree heat. Add in 50 pounds of full battle-rattle and their socks are soaked with sweat running down their body before they walk out the door. Dehydration is a serious enemy where they are.
And do you know what your body does with most of the excess protein you eat? It gets rid of it, washes it right down the toilet. So I’m concerned about my son taking a protein supplement in the heat and becoming dehydrated. I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to educate him about protein and heat and that brought me back to the horses.
Because they handle protein a lot like we do.
Some excess protein goes into fat, but most excess protein is broken down in the kidneys and excreted in the urine. One of the elements protein breaks into is ammonia. Anytime you get a strong ammonia smell in the barn, someone is most likely gobbling more protein than they need. It’s a pretty effective indicator.
Normally I don’t obsess about that. But thinking of my son made me realize I need to do a better job of regulating my horses’ protein through the hot summer months. The Army can and does mandate how much water my son needs to drink each day in the field. But I can’t do that with my horses. Unless I syringe the water into them, I am at the mercy of their thirst indicator and urinating doesn’t always trigger the idea to drink more water.
My guys lose buckets of water in sweat during the summer. Being Icelandics with thick skin and deeply embedded veins, there are weeks when they are drenched in sweat just standing still in the shade. I rinse them off, put them under fans, elect not to work them on “Bermuda High” days, ride in the cool of the day, ride in shady routes, and ride in the river. I do everything I can to cool their body–– yet I never think about the excess protein they are eating and how much liquid they are urinating because of it.
I’ll keep it simple. Just imagine their body as a big bag of water. If water is oozing out through microscopic pores AND through a small hole in the bag, the end result is less water in the bag at a faster rate. Now the bag needs a certain volume of water in it to make it function at its maximum. All that water loss compromises the bag’s function. Not even going to think about the way that changes the concentration of electrolytes and blood ph.
I don’t know of too many riders, aside from the endurance folk, who even think about dehydration as a contributing factor to a poor performance in the ring or on the trail. A number of riders add electrolytes when their horses are sweating. I sure do, and do you know how I add those electrolytes? I add them with a cup of high protein grain so the boys will eat it. I feel my head molding to the shape of Homer Simpson’s –– DOLT. I just gave them a supplement to help them keep and retain water in a supplement that will make them eliminate water. ( for the science bent- I am well aware of the other functions of electrolytes- I’m just dealing with hydration at the moment.)
We are heading into our cold months here in Jersey. Indian Summer will keep the grass strong and growing for another 2-3 weeks and then the rich green will die off and the smell of ammonia will dissipate. I’ll have the whole winter to ponder the problem. A lot will depend on the climate. Another great growing season means I really have to do something. If the rains stop early and the sun dries up the grasses, I’ll be able to skate by. Whatever the outcome, I am putting “Hydration” on my list of suspects next time my guys just aren’t “right.” I hope my son does too.