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Summer Feeding for Competition Horse

By Dr Tom Shurlock, Nutritionist at British Horse Feeds

British Horse feeds follow, and try to promote, the philosophy of Forage, Fibre, Feed. We recommend using forage, in whatever form, to provide the majority of nutrients required for any activity. Then feeding super fibres, such as Fibre-Beet or Speedi-Beet to supplement energy will, in many cases, be all that is necessary to fulfil the horse’s nutritional needs. If, however, activity levels are high, such as in the competition horse, or there is still nutritional imbalance (poor mineral levels, low protein or lysine in the forage) then hard feeds or min-vites can be introduced.

By optimising forage usage and supplementing with a super fibre, the majority of energy provided is achieved by hindgut fermentation of fibre as slow release energy. As super fibres are fermented far more rapidly than forage fibre, they have energy levels comparable to quality cereal such as oats. This is more than sufficient to power muscles for all but the heaviest activities; in which case sensible levels of starch, provided by a hard feed or cereals, can be fed.

However, whatever level of forage is fed – some people are happy to feed higher levels of hard feed to use fast release energy and, as some horses can cope with this, this is OK – it will have a large impact on the nutrient profile of the competition horse; and it will vary.

The nutrient profile of grass, as with any crop, can vary over a season and between seasons. The unpredictability of British weather impacts heavily on grass growth and the generation of nutrients. As spring turns to summer, the sugars generated convert to fibre or are laid down in seed heads. At the same time protein and energy drops. With preserved forages, time of cut can also affect nutritional quality. First cut hay/haylage will have a higher specification than second cut, whose arrival in the market depends on the weather. This may seem like an added complication, but sensible use of super fibres can overcome potential shortfalls.

Fibre-Beet has a fermentation profile of slow release energy (as the volatile fatty acids propionic, acetic and butyric) similar to that of grass but with an effective degradability 50% greater. It has also been shown that beet pulp – a major component of Fibre-Beet – acts as a prebiotic, enhancing fibre fermentation from other sources, such as grass, and so can boost energy intake. By replacing some of the daily forage intake with Fibre-Beet, not only is seasonal variation of the grass smoothed out, but it also gets a boost in terms of energy production.

For an animal such as a competition horse, where nutrient intake needs to be optimised, and precise, “standardisation” of forage with a third party fibre source is an easy and nutritionally sound way to achieve this. Simply by increasing the amount of Fibre-Beet to compensate for the reduction of forage quality during summer ensures a nutrient platform that can be added to when specific activity requirements are needed.