Feeding the National Hunt horse

National hunt racing has been a European pastime for centuries. Racing has advanced since the first ever meet – the fixtures are held on course, the jumps are safer, the horses are faster, but the concept remains unchanged, the first past the post is the winner. Getting into the winner’s enclosure is usually a long and winding road which requires a fine balance of management, genetics, and patience!


Feeding the national hunt horse is just one piece of the puzzle and one which comes with many challenges. Connolly’s RED MILLS nutrition team strive to formulate feeds which meet the demands of performance horses during training and competition.

The national hunt horse must have enough stamina to stay a distance and also enough speed to accelerate in the final furlong. Slow work is supported primarily by aerobic respiration. This means the muscles use oxygen to produce energy. Faster work is fuelled mostly by anaerobic respiration (without oxygen). Our Horse Care Range provides the horse with a balance of carbohydrates to support glycogen replenishment after fast work and oils to encourage glycogen sparing during stamina work.

Thoroughbred racehorses have high skeletal muscle mass which can increase and adapt in response to exercise. Racehorse diets high in protein help to support an increased rate of muscle protein synthesis and thus improves both muscle mass and strength. The Horse Care Range contains high quality protein ingredients and amino acids to support recovery and muscle development throughout training and conditioning.

Hail, rain or snow; the national hunt horse trains through the toughest of conditions. These horses need enough calories in their diet to fuel exercise and will also use up calories just keeping warm during the bleak winter months. Calories come mainly in the form of starches, sugars, digestible fibres and oil. A racehorse is unlikely to consume more than 2.5% of its bodyweight in food every day. A minimum of 1% (ideally 1.5%) of this intake should be coming from forage to support gut function. The remaining 1-1.5% of the national hunt horse’s intake should come from highly digestible, calorie dense feedstuffs. Oil is a welcome addition to a performance horse diet as it contains three times as many calories per gram compared to oats. Oil is added to all the feeds in the Horse Care Range, ensuring a high calorie content. The addition of steam cooked wholegrains and highly digestible fibre also help to maximise digestibility.

Racehorses in training often suffer from sore muscles following an increase in exercise or post-race. Damage to muscles may be recognised by physical symptoms such as stiffness and cramping or detected in blood work by analysing circulating muscle enzymes. Gradually increasing exercise intensity in key to muscle health. Antioxidants including vitamin E and organic selenium in the Care package work to support muscle cell function following hard workouts and racing.

National hunt horses will race into their teenage years providing they are sound and enthusiastic. Bones and joints are put under massive pressure while galloping and jumping. Supporting these structures through diet and management is key to a long racing career. The Horse Care Range contains added bone support package including vitamin K, which is key to bone formation but is naturally low in common winter feedstuffs such as hay, haylage and stored grains. The Care Package also contains chelated copper, zinc, and manganese, all of which play a key role in the maintenance of healthy joints.

Feeding a horse prone to digestive issues is an ongoing challenge and should be done in consultation with your vet. Keeping meals small and frequent, offering plenty of clean forage, and limiting starch intake can help to reduce acid build up and support gastric health. All our Care feeds are lower in starch and high in digestible fibre to support gut health. The Care Package also includes a natural gastric acid buffer, prebiotics, and probiotics to support digestive function.

Apart from the often-poor weather, wintertime brings another set of challenges in the form of stable confinement. Fields are wet and horses may get little or no turn-out. A racehorse’s immune and respiratory systems are tested daily. Horses living in close quarters allow bugs to spread easier, and bedding and hay can increase dust inhalation. Vitamins A, E and C are included in our Care package to help to support immune function during challenging periods.

Training daily on wet gallops will often impact negatively on a horse’s hoof condition. Exposure to wet conditions on the gallop following dry conditions in the stable can cause changes to the hoof’s moisture content which can weaken the hoof wall structure. Supplementing with 15mg of biotin daily has been shown to increase hoof growth and hardness. Horse Care feeds contain 3.75mg of biotin in every kilo so even when fed at lower feeding rates hoof care will be provided.

A horse that does not eat well will not thrive. Poor appetite can be caused by several factors including dental issues, gastric ulcers, hindgut acidosis, injury, and illness. Poor appetite may also simply develop when horses are stressed or in very hard work. Offering fresh, palatable feeds in small meal sizes can counteract poor appetite and encourage horses to eat up.  Our Care Range feeds provide a wide variety of raw materials, processed in-house from natural ingredients to ensure the feed that reaches your horse is as fresh as possible. Rest assured all our raw materials and finished feeds are tested for quality and safety in our on-site laboratories.

For more information get in touch with one of our equine nutritionists today.

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