Feeding the Competition horse
Feeding the competition horse can seem to be a daunting task, the horse needs to have enough energy to perform to the best of its ability but at the same time needs to remain level headed. However it is important to remember that all horses are individuals, your horse’s energy and nutritional requirements need to be taken into account as well as temperament and workload.
In the early stages of your fittening programme fibre sources such as hay or haylage should make up the majority of the diet and quite often a low energy feed is all that is required, however as your horse’s workload and energy requirements increase so will the need for extra energy in the diet.
The type of feed you provide your horse with will dictate what type of energy is supplied. Cereal sources such as oats provide the horse with fast release energy which creates ‘oomph’ type energy which is needed for short bursts of activity such as showjumping. However, for horses requiring plenty of stamina, such as eventers, endurance and driving horses fast release energy on its own will not provide the horse with enough stamina. This is where using slow release energy sources such as fibre and oil are very useful. Slow release energy provides the horse with sustainable energy that is ideal where stamina is required.
When choosing a feed it is important to bear in mind your horse’s temperament, if you have the type of horse that tends to be naturally very forward going or can become excitable choosing a feed that provides most of its energy from fibre and oil (and is low in starch) will help to avoid making this behaviour worse and at the same time will provide plenty of stamina type energy. On the other hand if you have a very laid back horse who perhaps needs a bit more ‘oomph’ choosing a feed that contains some fast release energy sources will help to create some instant energy. However caution is needed when giving feeds that contain lots of cereal (high in starch) that meals are not too large, as a rule of thumb no more than 2kg of concentrate feeds should be given per meal. Giving meals larger than this can mean that some of the feed passes into the hindgut undigested where it can alter the pH leading to digestive upsets such as colic or laminitis. If possible it is much better to split your horse’s daily ration into at least two feeds per day, or ideally three or four meals per day, particularly if your horse is receiving large quantities of concentrate feed. Adding extra oil to the diet is a good way of boosting calorie intake, particularly with poor doers or horses that do not tend to eat much and of course being a good source of slow release energy it can help to improve stamina levels too.
Although adult horses do not need huge amounts of protein in their diets, some is needed especially by horses that are working hard for repair and renewal of cells and tissues within the horse and for the production of muscle tissue. The horse can synthesise some of its own proteins, but others known as essential amino acids have to be supplied by the diet. It is not the quantity of protein that is important but the quality. High quality proteins such as those found in alfalfa and soya have a similar amino acid (the building blocks that make up all proteins) profile to those that are naturally occurring in the horse.
All horses require vitamins and minerals, but competition horses may benefit from extra anti oxidants. As the horse is working the muscles the horse uses are creating waste products such as free radicals that need to be removed, anti oxidants act to ‘mop up’ free radicals. Vitamin E and selenium act as anti oxidants. If you are already feeding a competition type feed it is a good idea to check the amounts of vitamin E as many competition feeds do contain elevated levels of vitamins and minerals for the hard working horse.
As most competition horses will be sweating when they are worked and certainly at competitions, it is vital to provide extra electrolytes in the diet to counteract any losses through sweating, and a loss of electrolytes can affect muscle function.
The importance of clean, fresh water is all too easy to overlook, an adult horse consists of approximately 70% water. The competition horse should have access to water at all times, even as little as 2% dehydration can affect your horse’s performance. Often horses can be reluctant to drink away from home, using water taken from home or disguising the taste with a little sugar beet or fruit juice will often encourage a horse to drink, alternatively a small feed with lots of water added to it will increase water intake and often is a lot easier to give to horses while they are travelling.
Our Nutritional Team are always on hand to help if you have any questions on any feeding topics and are happy to discuss your individual horses requirements. You can write to them at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Helpline on 01362 822 902