A Practical Guide to Sales Prep – Feeding

The aim of yearling sales preparation is to produce an athletic, well-mannered, sound individual in good body condition to shine in the sales ring. Nutrition plays an important role in preparing yearlings for the sales ring, helping to ensure they achieve their maximum potential.  Planning is critical, from selecting the most suitable forage and hard feed to tailoring supplements to the individual needs.   

When to adjust the hard feed is one of the main questions asked about preparing yearlings. For most studs ‘sale preparation’ starts between 90-120 days before the sale. Although, prior to this, many individuals will have already been accustomed to regular handling and perhaps even been introduced to a horse walker. This gives enough time for smaller, less developed youngsters to build up muscle tone, without having to put too much pressure on them. A typical feed intake in the first few weeks prep for a yearling would be around 2-4kg per day.  As exercise increases the quantity fed can then be gradually increased according to the horse’s individual requirements. 

In some cases, the prep period may be much shorter, as little as six weeks. Whilst there is usually a justified reason for this, it can put immense pressure on the individual to gain weight and condition quickly and, unfortunately, this can increase the risk of problems such as Development Orthopedic Disease (DOD) and digestive disorders such as colic.  With a shorter prep period, you may want to consider a low starch, specialist ration such as Horse Care 14 Cubes or Mix, with the benefit that it will condition the horse without exacerbating excitability.  It also provides a package of ingredients to help maintain healthy digestive function and may be beneficial in reducing the risk of certain developmental issues. 

The amount of hard feed youngsters being prepared for sale will require is extremely variable depending on their age, size, growth history, individual metabolism, amount of exercise they undertake and quantity and quality of forage.  

As a guide, yearlings in full prep will usually require between 4-6½ kg a day, whereas intakes of 3-5kg would be typical for a foal. However, these are guidelines only and you should always feed according to the horse’s individual condition. For example, some yearlings can gain weight quicker than others, so they may not require as much hard feed. On the other hand, late foals might need to be fed more to achieve the right look. Obviously, the daily ration should be divided into several small meals, ideally no more than 2kg/ meal for a yearling and 1.5kg/ meal for a foal. 

It is worth bearing in mind that if you are feeding less than the recommended level of hard feed, for instance if you have an individual suffering from epipysitis, you will need to top-up the horses micronutrient intake by adding a nutrient-dense feed balancer such as Connolly’s RED MILLS Grocare Balancer to the ration.  Grocare Balancer is also a very useful inclusion for weak or backward horses that require a higher level of nutritional support. 

There are several options when it comes to choosing a feed for sales prep and each consignor will have their own individual preference. 

Many youngsters being prepared for sale are fed a stud cube/ mix (e.g. Connolly’s RED MILLS Stud Cubes or Mix) or a specifically formulated youngstock feed (e.g. Connolly’s RED MILLS Foal & Yearling Cooked Mix or Premier Yearling Cubes).  As well as providing an excellent source of calories and high quality protein to support growth, condition and muscle development, these feeds are fully fortified with all the essential vitamins and mineral needed for overall health and sound skeletal development. 

In recent years, specialist feeds specifically for horses begin prepared for the sales ring, such as Connolly’s RED MILLS Prep Mix, have become increasingly popular.  Prep Mix has been specifically formulated to support growth and promote condition in youngstock being prepared for the sales. This highly palatable muesli ration includes high quality protein, rich in essential amino acids to support muscle and topline development. Elevated levels of the RED MILLS Pro Balance vitamin and mineral package is included to support optimal skeletal development. Prep Mix includes high levels of oil and copper for superb coat condition, whilst added antioxidants aid immune function. 

In certain situations, a low starch or specialist diet may be required for horses during sales preparations, for example as those prone to anxiety/ excitability or digestive disturbances. In these cases we recommend Connolly’s RED MILLS Horse Care 14 Cubes or Mix. These feeds have been formulated to provide a conditioning yet low starch alternative. They also contain our unique Care Package which includes pure protected yeast and two prebiotics (MOS and FOS) to aid hindgut health and help maximise forage digestibility. A natural long-lasting gastric acid buffer is also included to help maintain stomach health. 

This is very much down to personal choice and several studs/ consignors solely use cubes, whereas others prefer a muesli ration. There are advantages to both; with cubes the horse is cannot sift through and leave any ingredients they dislike, on the other hand some horses prefer a muesli ration, plus mixes tend to have a higher oil inclusion compared to cubes. Regardless of which type of feed you prefer you should always ensure that it contains high quality ingredients. The main ingredients should include full fat soya, an excellent source of quality protein, high digestible super fibres such as sugar beet or alfalfa and wholegrain cereals. The feed should also contain good levels of essential vitamins and minerals, including the antioxidants Vitamin E and selenium, which will help to support immune function. For youngsters prone to anxiety, stress or digestive problems feeds containing added yeast, prebiotics and long-lasting gastric buffers, such as Connolly’s Red Mills Horse Care Mix and Cubes, can be immensely beneficial.  

It’s important not to make any sudden changes to the horse’s diet when they are at the sales.  However, the stress of the sales environment can mean that some horse will back off their feed slightly. Therefore, it can be useful to split their daily ration into 4 or more small feeds. This can also help to maintain a youngsters concentration levels, particularly if they are being pulled out of their box frequently. Plus the thought of few tasty mouthful of feed can help encourage the horse to go back into their box willingly and without fuss. 

When preparing youngstock for sale it’s important to plan carefully, considering all aspects of feeding (forage, hard feed and supplements). Obviously, over the course of an individual’s prep modifications may be necessary to suit their needs or address any concerns. Undoubtedly, taking time and paying attention to detail will pay dividends in the ring.  

Find out more about feeding forage during sales prep in our Practical Guide to Sales Prep – Forage.

If you’ve got any queries on feeding your youngstock or sales prepping, get in touch with our expert team.

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In 1999 Louise qualified with a BSc (Hons) in Equine Science, during which she specialised in breeding science and went onto graduate with an MSc in E ...

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