Nutrition for the Competition Horse

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We all want our competition horses to be fit and well but that doesn’t mean it’s all about fizz and no stamina. Here we take a look at nutrition for the competition horse.

The season can be a long one and is very much 12 months of the year now in disciplines such as dressage and show jumping so keeping the competition horse in peak performance all year round takes some doing.

Feeding is very much about balance and making sure they have enough energy for when competing but they don’t spend all their time when stabled barging at the door, unsettled and raring to go 24 hours of the day.

Competition horses need controllable energy and to stay focussed both when at competitions and training at home.

Energy that is too hot simply makes horses uncontrollable and leaves riders having to exercise them for hours on end in order to just keep them calm and trainable, but this equally puts strain and pressure on their joints and limbs.

There is such a fine balance between horses and ponies that run out of steam and petrol and those that appear about to explode at any moment.

Energy without the Fizz

The term energy without fizz is well used in the horse world and for this to be achieved horses require slow release energy and a feed plan that consists mainly of energy sources that are slow release in their formula.

Such a diet should be high in fibre and include super fibres, as well as oil, but bear in mind that the feed should be lower in cereals and therefore starch.

Super fibres are found in beet pulp and alfalfa, and for those horses prone to fizziness a cube is generally seen as containing a lot less cereal whereas mixes tend to be higher in cereal so that in general they will not suit this type of horse or pony.

What is Best for my Horse?

When looking at nutrition for the competition horse, feeds are usually referred to as either fast release or slow release. This means how the energy in the feed is metabolised by the horse.

For horses that need a supply of energy for short sharp bursts of speed, look for fast release energy feeds. Typically this would be horses competing in show jumping at a high level.

At the other end of the spectrum, horses used for endurance riding require slow release energy where it is provided for a sustained period of time.

Ideally all working horses need a good balance of both types of energy, and it is the balance between the two that needs to change depending on the type of horse and activity.

It goes back to the well-known saying that horses should be fed as individuals. As we know what will suit a thoroughbred will not suit an Irish Draught or cobby type.

For competition horses ensuring their protein requirement is met is crucial for the growth and repair of muscles, as this then develops strength and topline which leads on to prevention of injury.

Research has shown that horses can make about half of the amino acid ‘building blocks’ of protein in their body, but the rest must be supplied by their diet.

Lysine and methionine are important for recovery and can be found in most competition horse type feeds.

Equally oils in feeds for competition horses are important for a number of benefits including the fact that there is a glycogen sparing effect when high oil diets are used.

This means that the fat stores are used up when the animal is performing aerobically at slower speeds and the glycogen stores in the muscles are reserved for the fast anaerobic sprint work.

By feeding a high oil diet there is more fuel in the tank and so less muscle damage, after hard exercise, thanks to lower levels of lactic acid accumulation in the muscles.

Most competition horses do need some cereal content in their diet to provide the fast release energy we discussed earlier and this also helps to ensure good glycogen reserves in the muscles.

Competition horses that are fizzy should be fed on a high oil, high fibre and low starch diet while the more laid back horses and ponies can benefit from a diet with fast release type energy sources, such as a mix.

Vitamins and minerals are also important for all aspects of competition horses from calcium for bone strength to energy utilisation and hoof quality. Antioxidants such as vitamin E and selenium help to ‘mop-up’ free radicals produced when your horse exercises while B-vitamins stimulate appetite.

To work at their best, today’s competition horses need to be powered to perform at their optimum levels to stay ahead of the game.

Contact the British Horse Feeds team for any feed advice.

Read more about our feeds here.

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