feeding the performance horse

Feeding the High Performance Horse, Things to consider when choosing forage and grain for your sport horse - by Lisa Clyne

When it comes to performance, starting with a healthy horse, it can be a case of getting out what you put in. In relation to the modern sport horse, reliable quality forage is of utmost importance when you want results that equate to the best from your equine. With a wide choice of grains for today’s athletes, from ‘straights’ to complicated mixes, it can be confusing when choosing the perfect meal for your best friend. But we must never forget the huge importance of roughage, the staple of every stabled horse's diet. The extensive range of hay and haylages (haylage is grass cut earlier than hay then sealed in plastic at 35 to 50 percent moisture) on offer also require extensive consideration when taking into account your animals’ temperament, weight gain requirement and daily routine. We’d like to hear your thoughts on this, get in touch here.

Considering financial implications

Performance horses command high prices to purchase and to keep up to a standard that wins horse shows and races. Your horse probably means the world to you and considering his or her health will be of paramount importance to you. Considering your horse's well being and safety means vet bills can sometimes be large. In fact the cost to keep your horse in top level condition can involve huge outgoings of money. A sudden vet bill as a result of an accident or sickness is something that should always be prepared for no matter how careful you are about your horse's care and feeding.

Nutritional requirements

Take into account first your equines’ disposition; temperament, breeding and for what purpose he/she is used. A performance horse’s protein and energy requirements depend on age, stage of development and workload. Getting to know your horse and his quirks, and having a good account from a previous owner can help cut out the ‘hit and miss’ approach sometimes adopted when choosing the best possible grain and hay for his or her safety and performance.

As grazing animals, horses need to eat little and often in order for their gut to perform at optimum level. Hay; the best source of roughage for the stabled mount, mainly comes in two categories: grasses and legumes. Legume hay is higher in protein, energy, calcium and vitamin A than grass hays. When approaching hay merchants, a purchase should be based on how the hay looks, smells and feels. Ask for one or two bales to be cut open and grab a handful of hay. It should be fine-stemmed and soft to the touch, the smell should be ‘sweet’, not musty or moldy. Top quality hay has been harvested when the plants are in early bloom for legume hay or before seed heads have formed in grasses. Avoid purchasing hay that has a lot of weeds, dirt or trash.

feeding the performance horse

Deciding quantities

When loading your trailer or unloading it back at the barn, remove any bales of hay that seem overly warm or excessively heavy as these can contain moisture and mold. Those investing a lot of money in their equine friends should also consider, when purchasing large amounts of hay, having it analyzed by a certified forage laboratory to discover its nutrient content. Consult your veterinarian or a qualified equine nutritionist when deciding your horse’s ration. They can help you put together a balanced diet that is nutritious and cost-effective.

Additional needs

For equine athletes required to perform at the top of their game, roughage alone will rarely be enough. A careful and studied approach to feeding grains should be applied. The range of horse feed today is vast and varied and every man you approach will undoubtedly give you a different response to the question; "What should I feed my horse?” The feeding of ‘straights’ such as unprocessed cereal grains like oats is a practice long outdated by modern research and feeding trends. Cereal grains do not contain a balanced nutrient profile; they must be paired with additional fortification to provide a healthy and fair meal.

Your veterinarian should be the first port of call when formulating what and how much to feed your steed. But inevitably knowing your horse best and spending the most time with him/her, you should take the time to assess strengths and weaknesses, weight gain and loss and use for which said equine is intended. In terms of quality, expense doesn’t always equal success or suitability. Every bag of horse grain contains a label much like human food, with ingredients and vitamin/mineral analysis. Study this, read the packaging and take advice from those already using certain brands. In many cases top riders are supported by brands of specialist sport horse feed companies. Perhaps you admire the horses ridden by that rider, and maybe they’ve had a great season and accumulated a lot of wins; if so consider the brand of feed they use, it might be the one for you!

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