Competition Horse Feed: What to Feed

ArticleHow to -FeedingWednesday 10 August 2011
by Caroline Wood

With the competition season well under way you may want to take some time thinking about what you are feeding your horse which can ultimately affect his performance and to make sure what you feed does not make your horse misbehave.  We all know horses naturally roam vast plains, grazing a variety of forage including grasses and some herbs.  Through domestication our horse's diet has changed.

Feeding high levels of cereal starch in some compound feeds can cause excitable behaviour. Nothing is more frustrating than having weeks of preparation and training wasted when the stress and excitement of a competition boils over into over-exuberant behaviour that prevents the horse performing well.

Behaviour in horses is often affected by their diet.  In come case unwanted behaviour may simple be the result of feeding excessive amounts of energy.  Cereals which are the traditional source of energy for competition horses my well contribute to 'fizzy' behaviour and reducing the amount of cereal based feed  such as course mix in the diet may help limit excitable behaviour.

In early stages of your fitness programme for the competition season fibre sources such as hay or haylage should make up the majority of the diet with a low energy feed.  Feeding the competition horse can seem a daunting task, as the horse needs enough energy to perform but at the same time needs to be sane. The type of feed you provide your horse will dictate what type of energy is supplied.  Cereals such as oats provide horses with fast release energy which in needed for a show jumper.  However horse needing plenty of stamina, such as eventers, endurance horses or driving horses need more slow release horse feeds.

When choosing a horse feed it is important to bear in mind your horses temperament.  If you have a forward going horse he will need a feed that provides energy from fibre and oil (which is low in starch).  On the other hand if you have a very laid back horse who needs a bit more 'oomph' he may well need a feed with a bit more cereal in it, but be careful when giving feeds that contain lots of cereal (high in starch).  It is much better for split your horses feed into at least two feeds per day. My big horses in hard work will have four small feeds a day. Adding extra oil to the diet is a good way of boosting calorie intake. Oil can also improve stamina levels.

Although adult horses do not need huge amounts of protein in their diets, some is needed especially for horses that are working hard for repair and renewal of cells and tissues within the horse and for the production of muscle tissue.  All horses require vitamins and minerals, but competition horses may benefit from extra anti oxidants. If you are already feeding a competition type feed it is a good idea to check the amounts of vitamin E as many competition feeds do not contain elevated levels of vitamins and minerals for the hard working horse.  As most competition horses will be sweating when they are worked, and certainly at competitions, it is vital to provide extra electrolytes in the diet to counteract any losses through sweating.

The importance of clean, fresh water is a must; an adult horse consists of approximately 70% water.  The competition horse should have access to water at all times.

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