Feeding the Event Horse
Eventing is recognised as one of the toughest equestrian sports due to the complexity of the three disciplines involved. Nutrition plays a major role in optimising performance, directly inﬂuencing speed, strength, stamina and temperament plus delaying the onset of fatigue and improving post-exercise recovery times.
One of the biggest challenges in feeding the event horse is balancing the need for sufficient fibre whilst providing enough energy for performance.
The main component of any horse’s diet should be forage such as grass, hay or haylage. Feeding at least 1.5% of the horse’s bodyweight per day as forage will help to maintain a healthy hindgut. Forage also provides a good source of ‘slow release’ energy, as beneficial microbes in the hind gut gradually ferment the fibre it provides.
Hindgut microbes are also involved in the production of B-vitamins which play an important role in energy metabolism. In addition, the hindgut of the horse also functions as a large ﬂuid reservoir as fibre binds water. Each kilogram of forage holds 6-8kg of water and electrolytes in the gut.
The physiological demands of eventing mean that the horse will require a suitable hard feed to ensure adequate calories, protein and micronutrients are provided in the overall diet.
The most suitable feed will depend on the level of work your horse is doing and their individual temperament. Cereals, which are digested relatively quickly in the small intestine, provide what is commonly known as ‘quick’ or ‘fast-releasing’ energy.
Cereal based feeds, such as Connolly’s RED MILLS Competition 12 Mix, can be immensely useful for horses that tend to be too laid back and those competing in shorter-duration disciplines such as show-jumping. However, for horses that tend to be overly excitable or suffer from tying-up or gastric ulcers low starch feeds such as the Connolly’s RED MILLS Horse Care Cubes are more appropriate.
These feeds have been specifically formulated to be lower in starch and provide energy from more ‘gradual’ or ‘slow-releasing’ energy sources such as fbre and oil. Regardless of what type of hard feed your horse needs it is important that the daily ration is divided into several small meals (i.e. no more than 2.5kg for a 500kg horse), this will ensure optimum digestion and minimise the risk of digestive disorders.
Another major nutrient needed by the performance horse is protein. The horse continually uses protein, which is made up of chains of amino acids, to build and repair tissues including muscle. The horse can synthesis around half of the amino acids they need in their body, the others known as the essential amino acids, must be supplied in the diet.
The quality of protein in the diet is extremely important; a lower quantity of high quality protein feed can perform better than low quality, high protein feed. Equally, oversupplying protein should be avoided as this will lead to excess urine production, excess ammonia in the stable and inefficient heat removal. All Connolly’s RED MILLS feeds contain balanced levels of high quality protein including good levels of the essential amino acids lysine and methionine.
Meeting the micronutrient requirements of the event horse is also imperative as vitamins and minerals are essential for energy metabolism, bone strength and recovery. All Connolly’s RED MILLS feeds contain a unique Pro Vitamin & Minerals package containing all the essential micronutrients, including added antioxidants such as vitamin E, which are important to help neutralise the increased free radical production associated with exercise.
However, if you find that your horse is maintaining sufficient body condition on less than the recommended amount of a mix or cube, it is advisable to add a nutrient-dense balancer such as Connolly’s RED MILLS Performa Care Balancer to the diet. Horses that are travelling regularly, working in hot or humid conditions and those in hard training, would beneft from the inclusion of a specific electrolyte and anti-oxidant supplement in the diet, for example Foran Equine Equi-lyte G, to aid hydration, performance and recovery.
If you would like to discuss your individual horse’s feed and management in more detail the Connolly’s RED MILLS Nutrition Team are on-hand to offer expert, practical advice.