In comparison to the other major disciplines, nutrition for dressage horses requires just the right amount of energy to execute intricate manoeuvres whilst staying relaxed, keeping the rhythm and being supple.
Too much energy can cause the horses concentration to be lost and is then harder for the rider to control. Not enough energy, the horse may look like it is lacking in power and impulsion. These factors could make a difference when being scored by the judge.
At any level in this discipline, it is important for horse owners to manage appropriately what is going in according to your horses body condition score.
Energy and calories are the same, and a horse or pony maintaining a healthy body condition score will be attaining the right amount of calories for their workload.
Equines receiving excess calories that aren’t being expended through exercise will gain weight and too little calories could lead to weight loss. For horses that are overweight it could have a detrimental effect on their joints and their capability in dealing with the heat.
Remember there is energy in forage. A common misconception is that energy will only come from what you feed in their buckets. For digestive health, forage is key to keeping the hindgut moving and buffering any excess acid that is present. It also equates to a large proportion of where equines get their energy from.
What are the main energy sources?
Fibre, oil, starch and sugar are the four main sources of energy.
Best known as ‘slow-release’ energy are the fibre and oil sources. For more of a quick energy burst or ‘quick-release’, sugar and starch should be provided.
For the average horse, forage will be the biggest contributor for sugar in their diet – as they consume so much if they are out grazing for most of the day and/or provided with ad-lib forage.
All feeds will contain sugar including molasses free, so it is important to understand how much sugar to determine how much your equine requires.
We already know that forage is good for our equines digestive health; fibre also works in the same way to buffer any excess acid. The added benefit is that it lowers the risk of excitability.
Some horses by nature may have a ‘sharp’ temperament and managing nutritionally can be a challenge, possibly affecting their behaviour.
There are two main ways that contribute to excitability:
1) over-supplying energy and
2) feeding high levels of cereal starch.
If you are looking for a low starch feed, avoid mixes. As a guide when looking at the starch content, find feeds that are between 15%-10% or less than 10% for sensitive horses.
For higher level dressage horses that require more energy, oil is a great alternative to cereal based feeds. The beauty of oil is that it is starch free and is around two times higher in energy.
Some oil products also have added benefits like aiding coat and skin etc.
What about starch?
Starch doesn’t have to be demonised and can be fed to help horses that need more of an energetic response. There isn’t enough science to understand why and it is always best to seek the advice from a nutritionist.
In some cases feeding more starch doesn’t always mean it will up energy levels, it may just increase their spooky nature.
If owners are feeding high starch feeds like cereals, it is important to couple it with a fibre base, cereals don’t act as a buffer to the acid. In some cases undigested cereals are moved through the digestive tract quicker than normal which can cause other problems such as colic and contribute to other clinical issues.
Consult your vet for veterinary advice & contact the British Horse Feeds team for feed advice.