Feeding competition horses can seem very complicated, but two feed experts here explain that to provide both energy and stamina for a variety of sports, once again fibre is key.
It is not a cliché that you get out what you put in, whether this is effort, or fuel, it is absolutely true and important to remember if you are a competitive rider needing to gain the edge. Dodson & Horrell company vet Chloe Bristow says “As a competition rider you need your horse to be at the top of their game when it counts. For this, your horse needs to be fit, healthy, in good condition with toned, strong muscles – all of which will be influenced by what you feed.”
But there are so many feeds out there to chose from, with balancers, supplements and treats too, that it can be difficult to know what type of feed to give your horse. There are almost innumerable variables based on your own horse’s personal needs, your preferences and the type of competing you do. However, feeding too much or too little can cause problems. Being even slightly overweight can be a major cause of poor performance; for every extra 10kg of weight your horse has to work 3.3% harder.
Different types of competitive riding require the horse to perform in different ways – for instance, to complete a long endurance ride the horse clearly needs huge stamina and plenty of slow release energy. But a show jumper requires more explosive power in short bursts – therefore fast release energy could be better. Eventing needs a balance of both stamina and explosive power and Chloe explains more: Stamina is defined as the power to endure fatigue, but when we ask for stamina from our horses we really mean sustained performance over long distances or periods of time. It goes without saying that in order to have stamina, a horse needs to fit and healthy with an appropriate training regime, but diet plays a crucial role in promoting stamina.
The main way to promote stamina through feeding is to provide slow release energy and ideally this comes from fibre and oil, which release their energy over 4-6 hours or longer. Fibre is the most important feed ingredient, a high fibre diet is essential for any horse but has added benefits for horses working over long distances, fibre in the stomach can help protect against acid splashing caused by fast work. Fibre in the hindgut acts as a store of electrolytes and water, helping to protect against dehydration. Fibre in the form of concentrate feeds is fine, but for competition horses it is also important not to neglect the forage part of the diet. If turnout is restricted to protect the horse and manage performance, then alternatives to grazing must be provided, with good quality hay and haylage alongside high fibre feeds. As long as plenty of fibre is in the diet, extra energy can come from fat, either in a prepared equine feed product containing high levels of oil, or it can simply be adding a good quality oil directly to your horse’s feed.
Stamina is not just about energy; it’s also about muscles and the work they have to do. There are ways to support muscle stamina through diet and lysine is the important amino acid for this: providing the correct amount of lysine during training will help ensure muscles are developed and maintained throughout the season. Endurance is the sport that requires the most stamina from a horse, and it is as much about recovery as fitness and performance. However, the horse needs to be allowed to adapt to higher than usual levels of fat in the diet so introduction should be gradual over time. Water is obviously a critical component of the diet as well. Water is not as often considered in the diet of competition horses, but it must not be ignored and dehydration can severely impact performance. Electrolytes are often used with horses that are competing but actually should be used in more situations than they usually are. For example, some horses respond to electrolyte supplementation without having been worked hard. Adding electrolytes to water or feed in the run up to a competition or even just when training can help the horse to perform better.
How can correct feeding help horses reach their potential?
Dr Helen Warren from Alltech answers:
“A healthy gut equals a healthy horse. When there are disturbances in the gut problems such as reduced performance, weight and conditions loss, increased susceptibility to disease and infection, inflammatory disorders, colic and laminitis are all possibilities.
The functioning of the gut has a huge impact on the overall health and well-being of the animal and this is particularly important with regards to the hindgut. The delicate microbial ecosystem provides a substantial energy source for the horse but is easily upset resulting in compromised growth and ultimately death of the beneficial fibre-digesting microbes and growth of undesirable micro-organisms and damage to the gut.
“When horses are asked to perform, there is increased stress on the gut meaning appropriate diets and feeding management is even more crucial.”
How does D&H ensure feeds are free from banned substances and suitable for competition?
Chloe Bristow from Dodson & Horrell answers:
“Substances that are banned in competition range from certain veterinary drugs to some chemicals that occur naturally in the environment. These naturally occurring substances include morphine and caffeine. For horse feed manufacturers, reducing the risk that these naturally occurring prohibited substances (NOPs) are present in feed is of utmost importance.
Dodson & Horrell conforms to the UFAS BETA NOPS Code. This code is an assurance scheme introduced by the British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA) and requires manufacturers to identify and reduce any risk of NOPs being present at any stage of production.
This means that all raw materials used to make Dodson & Horrell feeds are grown by approved, audited suppliers and every single load of raw materials that arrives at our mill is tested for quality and for NOPs. We also test every batch of feed once it has been made; all our staff undergo rigorous training to ensure they comply with the code – even making sure that no coffee or chocolate is allowed in or near the mill!