Travelling and competition do place greater stresses on the horse but careful management should help to reduce the risk of nutrition related problems occurring. Contrary to popular belief, there is no need to change the horse’s diet on the days leading up to a competition. In fact, a sudden change in diet may adversely affect performance and gastrointestinal health.
Although disruptions should be kept to a minimum it’s inevitable that some changes to routine will occur on the days of competition. Ideally, try to keep your routine on a competition day as close to normal as possible. If travelling to a competition later in the day, provide your horse with his normal breakfast well before they are due to travel. Forage should be available ad lib, including on the lorry if the journey will take a reasonable time. Similarly, water should be available up until loading and, depending on the length of the journey, offered at regular intervals, especially during warm weather.
At the competition, forage and water should be offered regularly, including between classes, to help maintain optimal gut function and prevent dehydration. If the horse can be a fussy drinker when away from home you can try flavouring the water with a little apple juice, use apples in the bucket to encourage ‘bobbing’ and/or soak your hay and feed. Interestingly, several studies have also found that feeding small amounts of forage prior to exercise, helps in maintaining hydration, plus is creates a mat in the stomach to minimize ‘acid splash’. Whilst horses can have free access to forage, feeding concentrates within three to five hours prior to competition is generally not recommended and may result in reduced utilization of carbohydrates and fats as energy sources during exercise.
If your horse has sweated heavily during travel or after exercise, they will require electrolyte supplementation (e.g. Foran Equine Equi-Lyte G or Refuel). Depending on how much the horse has sweated, electrolytes may need to be fed for 2-3 days to aid recovery. Finally, if returning home the same day, you can feed your horse his normal evening meal, forage and water when he is back in his own stable. However, if you are away for multiple days remember to make sure that you bring, or have access to, enough food, supplements and forage for the entire trip.