Horses today are living longer and well into old age and many older horses are continuing to event and compete well into their late teens and sometimes beyond. If you are lucky enough to own an experienced older schoolmaster, then you’ll probably want to know how to provide the best diet and nutrition to keep them eventing and competing to a high standard.
Lisa Elliott (MSc), nutritionist at Castle Horse Feeds, shares some essential dietary tips to keep your veteran eventer healthy and performing well throughout their golden years.
- Supply good-quality, easily digestible fibre
Fibre should always form the foundation of your eventers diet and making sure this is the best quality you can find will be extremely beneficial for your older eventer. The better the quality of the forage the better digested it will be, enabling your horse to get much more energy for improved performance and condition. Consider offering haylage, short fibre chops, and highly digestible soluble fibres like unmolassed beet pulp, and soya hulls. These highly digestible fibres are much better digested by microbes in the hindgut so help add essential calories to support optimum performance and condition in your veteran.
- Feed oil to boost condition and performance
Oil contains nearly three times more energy than the same weight of cereals and is therefore, a useful calorie source to promote optimum condition if your older eventer is prone to dropping weight. Oil is known as glycogen sparing, and is utilised at sub maximal exercise like trotting and steady canter. This is useful because it means the energy stored in the muscles as glycogen can be saved for more intense, faster periods of work, and if energy is saved, this will help delay the onset of fatigue and enhance performance in your older eventer. Linseed meal can be an excellent choice as a source of oil and is also rich in Omega 3 fatty acids which have anti-inflammatory properties to help keep older joints healthy and help negate the effects of wear and tear. Linseed is also known to boost the immune system, which is great for veteran horses who may have decreased immunity.
- Provide good-quality protein
Recent research has indicated that older horses can have a lower rate of muscle protein production, meaning that they need improved quality protein for muscle maintenance and repair. Amino acids provide your veteran with the building blocks for making good-quality protein. Linseed and soya have an excellent amino acid profile, so look for feeds containing these to help facilitate the production of muscle protein for good muscle tone and integrity in your older eventer.
- Use controlled amounts of cereals
Insulin sensitivity generally decreases as horses get older, which could result in metabolic problems if higher levels of cereals are fed. However, older eventers who are in regular work can still benefit from controlled levels of cereal starch in their diet, to provide additional energy. Cereals should be micronised for optimum digestibility, but to prevent behavioural problems, metabolic conditions and digestive upset, feed should ideally contain no more than 20% starch.
- Ensure regular access to water
Older horses are normally more prone to impaction colic, and can be inclined to drink less as they get older, so it’s important they are drinking regularly for the best health and performance. Dehydration can be more common, which becomes more important if your older horse is eventing regularly. Allowing your veteran to drink what they need following exercise and competition and make sure they have constant access to fresh, clean water is, therefore, vital. Adding tempting flavours to water or placing apples in water buckets can help encourage regular drinking for good hydration and in the chilly winter months, adding to hot water to warm up drinking water can also help increase water consumption.
- Provide essential vitamins and minerals
Correct levels of micronutrients are essential to fully support the performance and condition of your older eventer. Antioxidants such as vitamin E, for example, may help offset the effects of age and boost immunity. Feeding a wholesome, nutritious balancer, or the recommended levels of a fully fortified compound feed containing readily available vitamins, and minerals which have been designed for optimal absorption is the best way to deliver what your veteran needs.
- Enhance Digestion
Yeast based prebiotics have been shown to enhance fibre fermentation in the hindgut so feeding a balancer or feed containing these can help your veteran get the most out of their fibre to promote better health, performance and condition.
Along with correct feeding, regular dental care is essential for older eventers and some may need visits from the dentist every 6 months. Additionally, body condition scoring, and regular use of a weigh tape is a good idea to help monitor your veteran’s condition throughout the season.
There are a number of feeds ideal for veterans available under the Castle Horse Feeds brand, all of which combine excellent nutrition with exceptional value for money.
For further information on the Castle Horse Feeds range, see www.castlehorsefeeds.com. And if you have any questions about creating the best diet for your horse, please contact our nutritionist Lisa Elliott (MSc) at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01497 570345.