Nutritional advice from Senior Nutritionist – LIZZIE DRURY MSC RNUTR
Feeding management affects a number of different aspects of equine health and performance, including gastrointestinal function, hydration, electrolyte status, and substrate selection during exercise. We would like to highlight some of the important strategies that could ensure that you have a successful season. Feeding performance horses can be a challenge.
Requirements for individual horses will vary according to factors such as body weight, condition score, discipline, environmental factors and rider ability. However, the common factor for all performance horses is that they will train and compete under a variety of stressful conditions that can adversely affect health and performance. For these reasons there are important feeding and management strategies that can be implemented, which are of critical importance to reduce many of these problems, whatever level a horse is competing at.
Fibre (hay, haylage and pasture) should ALWAYS form the basis of any horse’s diet. It is often overlooked and a lack of fibre will increase the incidence of gastric ulcers, wood chewing, loose droppings, loss of weight and irritability. Additionally, fibre in the hindgut traps water and electrolytes and helps to combat dehydration and research shows that diets high in fibre resulted in increased water uptake.
It is currently recommended that performance horses should receive a minimum of 1% of their bodyweight (BW) per day of forage to satisfy its requirements for long stem fibre and to minimize digestive upsets, although ideally forage intake should be in the region of 1.5 – 2% of BW and more if you are feeding haylage. For example a 550kg horse should ideally be fed 8.25 – 11kg of hay and at least 11kg haylage per day.
I also recommend that for a period of time that you weigh your forage and also any leftovers to establish what your horses actual fibre intake is. This can often help to answer any problems related to loss of body condition or loose droppings.
PERFORMANCE HORSES, TRAVELLING AND GASTRIC ULCERS
Travelling and competing can mean that horses go for prolonged periods without anything to eat. This leads to a build-up in gastric acid in the stomach and increases the incidence of gastric ulcers, which will reduce performance.
When travelling and competing allow your horse to regularly graze or pick at a haynet to stimulate saliva production. Alfalfa is a natural antacid, so frequent bites of alfalfa-chaff will help to neutralize excess stomach, especially if fed 15 minutes before riding.
If gastric ulcers are a concern ask your veterinarian about the use of equine digestive supplements such as KERx Rite-Trac™.
WHAT DOES YOUR HORSE WEIGH?
Regularly monitor and record your horse’s body weight and body condition score. This enables you to accurately calculate your horse’s nutritional requirements for performance and can help you to achieve optimum competition body weight or ‘fighting weight’.
There are now increasingly more performance diets available to meet the nutritional requirements for horses performing in specific disciplines, such as Enduro-Performance for endurance horses or event horses.
For power based exercise such as show jumping and dressage, feeds will often need to have more emphasis on providing energy from starch based ingredients, such as oats and barley etc.
For stamina work such as endurance or eventing, there will be a greater reliance on digestible fibre sources, such as soya hulls, sugar beet and oil, balanced with enough cereal and starch to ensure that muscle glycogen stores remain ‘topped’ up.
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