A Breakthrough in Equine Nutrition
By Joell Brewster

Susie Hutchison, international Grand Prix rider and instructor, A.O. Norcal Champion 2000, Liz Currie, NRHA Reserve World Champion, Non-Pro Division, Rick Rose, FEI dressage and USET Developing Riders Member, Lynn Roberts Johnson all have one thing in common… they all use adaptogens to help their horses achieve world-class performance.

Never heard of adaptogens? You're not alone. But with more and more horse owners looking to advances in nutrition to help keep their horses healthy, the science of equine nutrition is getting more detailed and our knowledge is getting broader. Still, much of the precedent for the use of nutrients in equine sports nutrition comes to us from human sports. Currently, an area of considerable interest in human sports nutrition is the use of unique plant substances called adaptogens. New to us, adaptogens have actually been used for thousands of years in Eastern Europe and Asia. Now, as Western science "rediscovers" them for elite human athletes, adaptogens are also presenting a completely new way to look at equine sports nutrition. At the forefront of this investigation is Michael Van Noy, DVM, an equine practitioner in Woodside, CA who first began using adaptogens in his practice nearly seven years ago.

"Back then, no one had heard of adaptogens - and I got a lot of funny looks. But the research I'd seen supported my curiosity. I was initially interested in the clinical studies that showed their effects on energy metabolism and regulation. I believed that they could be useful in managing myositis or tying-up syndrome. My first opportunity to evaluate this theory was in a mare owned by Jennifer Wooten of Buellton, CA. Jennifer was competing at a horse trials in Woodside when her mare, Plain Jane, tied-up. After treating the horse aggressively with traditional therapies, I suggested she begin the mare on a dietary program of adaptogens to help manage future episodes. I kept in touch with Jennifer after that to follow her mare's progress and was pleased to hear that Plain Jane not only had no further episodes of myositis while using the adaptogens, but also began to increase both muscle and stamina.

"Since then," notes Van Noy, "I have had similar successes using adaptogens to manage myositis in even the most difficult cases."

Not long after, Van Noy was approached by long time friend and international event rider, Noel Parker Ortiz. Noel had a very ambitious event schedule planned in an attempt to make the Atlanta Olympic 3-Day Team.

"My first comment when I heard what she planned to accomplish in one season was, 'you're going to need some help!'" Dr. Van Noy recalls.

As a first step in her bid for the Olympic Three-Day team, Noel had accepted an invitation from the USET to ride for the United States at a CCI** in Mexico City. Since she was going as part of an American team, she was required to meet the other riders at the departure point from the U.S. - Miami, FL. This meant that instead of trailering down to Mexico from California, she had to first trailer to Miami, then fly into Mexico City to participate in the competition. Her return would be with the team as well, back through Miami and then trailering across the U.S.

Noel was skeptical of Dr. Van Noy's recommendation to use adaptogens. "Remember, no one had ever heard of adaptogens. In fact, probably only one in a hundred of the top horsemen today know about them. But Noel and I had known each other for years and she was looking for advice on how to manage the stress load she knew her horse would encounter. I insisted, and she relented," he laughs.

Noel was glad she did. She reported back that her horse made the trip without any ill effects, competing brilliantly in Mexico City to finish 5th. Noel was delighted to note that on the evening after the cross-country test, her horse was the only one on the U.S. team that required no special attention. "While all the team horses did well there, Noel's horse didn't require I.V. fluids, which are becoming standard fare," Van Noy recalls, "All in all, Noel's horse handled the extensive travel and an international 3-Day better than anyone's best expectations. Granted, it was a one-rat study at that point, but I was convinced that the adaptogens had provided a measure of nutritional support that was important."

Over the next several years, Dr. Van Noy used several different formulations of adaptogens, refining the dosage and application, and continued to achieve significant results. "What we find with these herbs is, that when used correctly as a daily nutritional supplement, they provide numerous benefits which are impossible to get through any other source. Adaptogens have powerful anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulatory properties, as well as providing very unusual protective benefits to cellular function disrupted by stress."

The clinical research that Dr. Van Noy relied on in refining his use of adaptogens in sport horses is from perhaps the largest body of research on herbal supplements ever amassed. While we are only now learning about adaptogens here in the United States, research has been on going for over forty years in Russia, Germany, Japan and numerous other countries. Now scientists in the United States have become interested in the unique properties of adaptogens, reports Dr. Van Noy.

Only this year Van Noy and others have spearheaded a study on the effects of transport stress in horses. The study was designed to help determine the effects of 24 hours of road transport on the immune system of a population of healthy horses. Ten horses served as controls, and ten were given adaptogens daily for 28 days before transport. Other indices of stress measured were weight, cortisol levels and muscle enzymes. While the study has been completed, data is currently being analyzed. Results are expected within the next few months.

"We know transporting horses is extremely stressful for them, both physically and psychologically. One study recently done in Japan showed that when horses were transported for more than 38 hours, 41% developed a fever. Another study showed that changes occurred in the immune system in horses transported for as little as 12 hours, and that these changes persisted for at least 36 hours after being transported.

"Now remember, most performance horses being transported are going to competitions, so we don't just want them to arrive well, we want them to arrive able to compete at their best. Unfortunately, we are learning that trips over 10 to 12 hours will keep most horses from performing at their best for several days. For many competitors, their horses are back home by then."

Adaptogens may offer a nutritional safety net for horses on the go. "We can study why transportation is hard on horses, and look at questions like whether to tie the head up, what is the effect of noxious fumes from surrounding traffic, how tiring it is to sustain the bumps and jolts of roadways for hours on end, the build-up of ammonia in the trailer from urine, and many other obvious factors, but very few of these things can actually be changed to any significant degree. What we can do is enhance the horse's resistance to these stresses by using adaptogens, so they don't effect him as severely."

"Stress - particularly prolonged stress - can literally starve the cells of energy," explains Dr. Van Noy. "But with adaptogens, the body has an increased capacity to withstand stress - any stress - without suffering from adrenal exhaustion or a reduction in energy level."

Stress is best understood by looking at the stress response model characterized as the General Adaptation Syndrome or GAS. This GAS is actually a three-stage process. The first stage is alarm. It is important for this stage to function normally as it generates a number of critical metabolic responses that are valuable to any athlete, human or horse. The second stage is resistance. This is the stage where adaptive changes in the athlete appropriately take place. Increased fitness is a perfect example of an adaptive response to physical stress. But each individual's capacity to adapt is limited and completely unique. Overwhelm the individual's adaptive capacity, and you risk illness or injury. That's when you enter the final stage - exhaustion.

"With adaptogens, stages one and two are handled differently. In stage one, the alarm reaction is completely intact, but because adaptogens help the cell under stress maintain its sensitivity to the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol are not over produced. It is a much more economical reaction. This results in a more efficient use of energy. This is important because the horse now has that energy to use for resistance and adaptation in stage two."

After years of applying this nutritional technology in his practice, Dr. Van Noy developed his own formulation and began marketing it last year through his company, Auburn Laboratories LLC. Called APF (Advanced Protection Formula) it has earned the loyalty of numerous top riders and trainers who have discovered the benefits of adaptogens for their horses.

FEI dressage rider and instructor Lynn Roberts Johnson has been using APF for the past year. "I saw immediate results in all my horses, including my FEI mare, Wacarra. Every one developed better muscle, a better coat, more stamina, and a better attitude toward the work. As the season went on, APF kept Wacarra and all my horses competing at their very best. In fact, my horses got noticeably better as the show season progressed, instead of wearing down, as one typically sees. Wacarra's improved stamina and resistance to stress was obvious when she would give me the same brilliance on the fourth day of a show as she did on the first."

In summary, Dr. Van Noy says, "We know that what we ask of our horses is demanding. Training to fitness, competing, stabling, trailering, these are all known stresses. Obviously, everyone who competes wants to do whatever possible to insure that they will have a healthy horse throughout the show season. APF provides important nutritional protection to help your horse do what is asked of him and stay healthy. I believe that knowledgeable horsemen will continue to discover the benefits of adaptogens over the next several years until they are considered to be a standard part of a well-designed feeding protocol."

©All Rights Reserved by the Author, Copyright 2001

About the author:
Joell Brewster is a freelance writer based in Half Moon Bay California. In addition to fitting custom saddles for JRD International, Joell enjoys rehabilitating Thoroughbreds from the racetrack for productive careers in the show ring and on the beautiful trails of the Northern California Coast. She can be contacted at

For more information:
Auburn Laboratories LLC

What are Adaptogenic Herbs?
There are literally hundreds of herbs studied and used for various nutritional and medicinal applications. However, the category of adaptogen includes fewer than two dozen. The following is a list of some of the herbs categorized as adaptogens:

Eleutherococcus senticosus Commonly referred to as Siberian ginseng, Eleutherococcus senticosus is not a ginseng at all. Considered to be the "King of Adaptogens" by Russian researchers, it exhibits a wide range of beneficial and protective actions in the body. Numerous clinical studies have shown E.S. has a proven ability to help cells absorb glucose. E.S. has also been shown to be a powerful immunomodulator, strengthening the immune system significantly when used on a daily basis.

Schizandra chinensis (Chinese Magnolia Vine) Schizandra chinensis has been shown to assist in the utilization of oxygen within the cell. Another interesting effect of Schizandra chinensis is the ability to suppress excessive stomach acid. This may be shown to have a beneficial effect on the management of horses prone to ulcers.

Rhodiola rosea (Golden Root or Artic Root) Rhodiola rosea has no biological relation to the "common rose", but due to its similar fragrance, has been used as a substitute for Attar of Roses. Used for centuries to enhance mental and physical function, it has been shown in clinical studies to increase the blood supply to the muscles and brain, and also to increase protein synthesis. Cardio-protective, Rhodiola rosea improves heart rate recovery immediately after intense exercise. Perhaps just as importantly, it has also been shown to increase the body's ability to access lipids (fats) as an energy source.

Echinopanax elatus (Asian Devil's Club) As its name implies, this plant is a relative of Panax ginseng, but with very different qualities. Unlike true ginseng, which can have side effects with long-term use, Echinopanax elatus exhibits a more indirect effect. It is particularly effective in regulating blood sugar and protecting cardiac function.