Ensuring your horse receives a fully balanced diet will help him perform to his best.
Forage to Start
The basis of every horse’s diet, forage will supply sufficient calories to fuel the work of many a good doer but is likely to be lacking in other nutrients. Indeed, horses who are “sluggish” or lack stamina sometimes feel this way because their diet is deficient in vitamins and minerals (not calories), so ensuring their ration is fully balanced often gives them back their zest for life. Rather than a reduced amount of mix or cubes, the recommended quantity of a low calorie balancer is the most effective way to give a good doer what may be lacking in forage, without supplying any additional calories.
Those who need more calories than forage alone can supply, in order to perform and maintain their condition, should ideally receive the correct amount of a fully balanced compound feed selected to suit their workload. Workload is often over estimated so the table below gives an idea of workload and what sort of energy level to be looking for in a feed.
You should be comfortable feeding your chosen feed at recommended levels so that your horse is not missing out on essential nutrients. If you need to feed less than it says on the bag, find a lower energy feed which you can feed at recommended levels, or top up your horse’s ration with a balancer or broad spectrum supplement to make sure he is still getting the vitamins and minerals he needs.
A feed for horses in light work however, may provide sufficient additional calories for a good-doer but its vitamin and mineral profile will not be enough for a harder work so supplementation may also be necessary. Look out for minerals which have been “chelated”; these should be included in competition feeds and are more easily absorbed and utilised by the horse’s body.
All compound feeds are formulated to supply a balance of energy sources and supporting nutrients to suit different horses’ temperaments and performance requirements. Digestible fibre from forage is fermented by bacteria in the hindgut to release low levels of energy slowly over a period of time. Other fibre sources include sugar beet pulp and soya hulls, both rich in “super fibres” which are more easily digested by the horse and yield more energy than cellulose.
Included in some competition feeds, their “slow release” energy is unlikely to exacerbate excitable temperaments and useful where stamina is required, as is oil which is used by the muscles at low work intensities allowing glycogen (“muscle fuel”) to be saved for times when work intensity increases.
“Quick release” energy provided by cereals comes from starch and is much more readily available to the horse than that from fibre so can help “liven up” the laid back horse. It is digested by enzymes in the foregut and absorbed into the blood stream as glucose which, as well as being used by muscles during intense work, is the main source of fuel for the brain and other organs. An exclusion of all starch and sugars from the diet is therefore not necessarily a good thing. Micronising cereal ingredients optimises digestibility and maximises the chance that the starch content will be absorbed in the small intestine, reducing the risk of any reaching the hind gut and causing problems, like crabby behaviour or digestive upsets.
Exploding the Protein Myth
Riders are often concerned about the protein content of feeds – mostly for the wrong reasons since this nutrient is rarely used by the horse’s body as a source of energy so is unlikely to “heat” a horse up. Feeds that contain higher levels of protein are usually coincidentally higher in calories and it is these that can affect temperament not protein. Protein is important however, and a good quality feed will contain sources that supply essential amino acids, the building blocks of body tissues, including muscle fibres, helping to build top line so that a horse can be lean and fit but still be rounded and well-muscled.
Keep it Balanced
So selecting the right feed for your competing horse will depend on those deciding factors that apply to any horse; suiting the blend of energy sources to your horse’s temperament and ensuring it is formulated to suit his workload. If workload increases, his calorie and nutrient requirements may increase so be prepared to change your feed rather than piling in more of a lower energy one.
This helps keep meal sizes small to ensure his system is not overloaded and leaves plenty of appetite for consuming all-important forage. Equally, if his season is interrupted and feed needs to be cut back, make sure the diet remains balanced so that he receives the nutrients his body tissues need to repair and rebuild. If you are ever unsure, contact Baileys' Nutrition team on 01371 850 247 (option 2) or fill in our Ask The Experts form to explore your options and help you formulate a diet to suit the requirements of you and your horse.