SPILLERS – Feeding the young event horse

By India Thomson, SPILLERS® Care-Line Nutritionist

At the top level of every sport there are very small margins between winning and losing. Ensuring your horse has the best diet to enable them to perform at their best could give you the winning edge and that journey starts with feeding the young event horse. When choosing a feed for young up and coming equine athletes it’s important we provide them with the nutrients and energy to support their development. Each horse has its own individual needs however the basic requirements remain the same for every horse, to maintain a healthy body condition and have a nutritionally balanced diet.
The demands on the three day event horse are huge. They have to remain focussed and obedient in the dressage, be brave and bold during the stamina testing cross country and then be careful and accurate during the final show jumping phase. Feeding a horse to perform at its best during all three phases can seem a daunting challenge however the basic principles of feeding remain the same whether they are learning the ropes or a seasoned 4* campaigner, some of the following tips may be useful.

• Base as much of the diet on fibre as possible, good quality forage should make up the bulk of a performance horse’s diet. This is not only vital for gut and digestive health but will also satisfy the horse’s physical and physiological need to chew. Forage should ideally be fed ad lib.
• Forage should be supplemented with an appropriate feed to provide extra energy, protein and vitamins and minerals to support a performance horse’s requirements.
• Daily feed rations should be divided into meals no larger than 2kg, any more will overload the digestive capacity of the small intestine and may not be utilised fully.
• Feeds should be chosen based on the individual horse’s workload, body condition, temperament and any clinical conditions they may have.
• Providing as much turnout as possible is both physically and mentally rewarding for the horse.
• Access to a salt lick should be sufficient for horses in light work. Additional salt may be necessary for those sweating regularly.
• Water should be freely available at all times.

Choosing the right type of feed for your horse

Energy in a horse’s diet comes from carbohydrates such as fibre and starch as well as fats and oils. Contrary to popular belief protein is not actually a main energy source for healthy horses, it is used to provide building blocks for growth, muscle development and repair of damaged tissues. Choosing feeds that are high in fibre and low in starch will be most sympathetic to the digestive system for any horse and also less likely to cause unwanted excitability. This type of diet will also help to reduce the risk of clinical conditions such as gastric ulcers, colic and tying up. So for horses that can be nervous or excitable or are prone to clinical conditions it’s advisable to choose feeds that have low starch levels. Following are some other things to consider when choosing feeds:
• Look for feeds that contain slow releasing energy sources such as fibre and oil
• Avoid feeding mixes or feed containing whole cereal grains due to the higher starch content.
• Don’t be afraid to choose feeds outside of a ‘competition’ range. Some feeds may not be marketed as competition feeds but can be ideal to meet an individual’s nutritional needs . For instance from our sister brand WINERGY Equilibrium, ‘Growth’ is marketed as a stud feed however its an ideal conditioning/ high energy feed for competition horses needing a high fibre and low starch feed.

When to change the feed

As the demands of training and competing increase the nutritional requirements of the young event horse will increase as well. Regular body condition scoring will help to keep track of any gradual changes and subsequently whether any adjustments to their diets may be necessary. A visual assessment of the horse is the best way to determine whether they are getting enough energy in their diet. It is important to remember that energy and calories are essentially the same thing. Here are some tips as to when to consider adjusting your horse’s diet:
• If your horse needs more fat coverage – gradually increase your horse’s calorie intake by providing a higher calorie/energy diet.
• If your horse needs to reduce their fat coverage – gradually reduce your horse’s calorie intake and if you’re feeding less than the recommended daily ration of feed containing added vitamins and minerals add a full or half ration of a feed balancer to top up the nutrients in the diet.
• During rest periods or holidays gradually reduce your horse’s feed to a low energy high fibre feed or for good doers a feed balancer fed alongside good quality forage.
• On days off reduce the concentrate ration to reduce the risk of tying up.

Training a young horse encompasses many elements and feeding is just one of those. However if you can get the feeding right it will only help to enhance your horse’s performance. Remember to try and keep feeding simple and if you’re ever concerned or unsure about anything you can speak to a SPILLERS® Nutritionist by calling 01908 22 66 26, contact us via email or visit www.spillers-feeds.com for more information.

Take home top tips
• You cannot feed specifically for topline and there is no quick fix. Correct and consistent work will help build muscle and topline and must be supported by a nutritionally balanced diet that includes good quality protein.
• Management can have an enormous impact on a horse’s mental well-being and ability to perform at its best. Ensuring each horse has a varied routine to suit its individual temperament is vital.
• Don’t under estimate how important a horse’s environment is. Ensure your horse has clean dust free bedding, good ventilation and clean quality forage.

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