The demands of performance place stresses on the horses body that would normally not occur if the horse was just turned out to pasture. The energy requirements of a horse in work increase according to their work load. The body of the horse is well adapted to storing and mobilising energy from various types of nutrients such as fibre, sugar, starch and fat. There is a significant increase in energy requirement for horses in intense versus moderate exercise.

In addition to energy provided by good quality pasture, hay or haylage a horse or pony at competition level will require energy, trace minerals and antioxidant support from a concentrate diet. Starch, found mainly in grains such as oats, barley, wheat and maize are one of the most common sources of energy for horses. The toasting/flaking/micronising of these cereals improves their digestibility. However, feeding excessive high starch and sugars can lead to complications in the digestive system and ‘modern’ Equine diets contain a combination of energy sources including dietary fat in the form of an oil or stabilised rice bran and ‘Super fibres’ such as soya hulls and beet pulp. The advantages of adding fats and fibres to the diet include the slower release of energy over a period of time.

Excess protein in the diet can also be used as an energy source by the body, but this is not desirable. The harder a horse works and the more testing the performance, the more vitamins and minerals it requires. The stress of intense exercise on bones may slightly increase the need for calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, copper and zinc. Concentrates designed for performance horses take these requirements into consideration: Gain 14% Equine Cooked Mix, Hi-Grade Horse and Pony Cubes and Elite 10 cubes are all targeted at horses and ponies with a high energy requirement and contain excellent sources of trace minerals and vitamins to ensure optimum performance.

Good feeding practices mean a healthy digestive system

  • Feed by status – by age and function
  • Feed according to weight – it is recommended that horses received between 1.5-2% of body weight in dry matter per day
  • Feed according to body condition
  • As much good quality roughage as possible should be offered to the horse
  • A balanced diet is essential
  • Feed concentrates by weight not by volume
  • Try to split daily feeds into 2-3 meals
  • Avoid abrupt dietary changes
  • Ensure clean, fresh water is available at all times All horses should have access to salt Only feed high quality, clean feeds
  • Do not feed too soon before or after exercise
  • Keep an eye on teeth – essential for a healthy digestive system
  • Operate a regular worming programme

Joanne Hurley is a nutrition specialist with Gain Horse Feeds. She holds a Masters in Animal Nutrition and Production from UCD. She is based at Gain Horse Feeds Office in Bridge Street, Portlaoise, Co Laois and can be contacted on 087-7958573 or by email at jhurley@glanbia.ie 

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