Eventing at all levels requires a horse that possesses athleticism, concentration, agility and stamina. It makes sense then that providing the right nutrition in his diet is key to help him perform at his best. Here’s our top tips covering the basics of feeding the event horse.
Top Tips for Feeding The Event Horse
- Feed your horse specifically for his level of work or competition and continually re-assess. This will help ensure he’s getting everything he needs to be successful – don’t overfeed.
- Eventers will still need a minimum of 1.5-2% of their total body weight in fibre. Eg ad-lib forage over a 24hr period. Maintaining and optimizing digestive health is key for any competition horse.
- Ensure your eventer is receiving a good quality source of protein. This is vital to help with muscle development and repair when training and competing at an event. However, don’t overfeed protein.
- Split high starch meals into several smaller meals. This avoids starch overload of the digestive system.
- On extra hard days at the competition, feed an electrolyte to replace the minerals lost through the sweat.
- Event horses should also be treated as non-event horses and be turned out for some time during the day.
Feeding the Event Horse Prone to Ulcers
EGUS (equine gastric ulcer syndrome) is common in eventers. Many are off-the-track TBs and have never been treated properly so problems can be ongoing. Flare-ups during the competition season due to stress is all too common. However, managing the diets of ulcer prone horses can be a little tricky. The main reason is that horses prone to ulcers should ideally be on a grain-free diet. This often leaves people scratching their heads as to what to feed. Especially at higher levels of competition when fast-release energy from carbohydrates is required. In this situation, you’ll need to look at alternative sources of energy. Find more info about feeding ulcer prone horses here…https://www.fibregenix.com.au/feeding-a-horse-with-ulcers/
The Benefits of Legumes (pulses)
Mention legumes and most people think of Lucerne. However, lupins are another legume or pulse that can be fed as a useful source of energy (calories) and protein. Lupins contain approximately 28 – 32% crude protein, 4 – 12% oil and up to 15% fibre. They’re generally used in the diet when extra protein is needed. However, they’re also a low starch/sugar feed (average starch level of 3.7% and water-soluble carbohydrate level of 8.5%). And this, therefore, makes them a safe energy and protein supplement.
The Benefits of Oil/Fats
Research has shown that feeding too much feed in one meal increases its rate of passage through the digestive tract. This in turn increases the risk of digestive upsets, so keeping volumes low is much better for the horse’s health. A horse’s natural diet doesn’t contain very much oil but the horse can utilise it relatively efficiently. Oil contains lots of calories – about 2.25 times more than carbohydrates provide. This is useful for the grain-intolerant event horse as only a small volume is required to provide lots of calories.
Oil is an energy source that can be utilised when the horse is working at low intensities. When a horse is working at low intensities he is said to be working aerobically. This means there’s enough oxygen available to break down energy. At high intensities, the horse moves into anaerobic respiration (without oxygen). In this instance, it can only use glucose or glycogen to produce adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP). ATP is the only form of energy that a cell can use for a process or activity that requires energy. However, if conditioned to use oil for energy, this spares the stores of glycogen (from cereals) for high-intensity work. This is referred to as a ‘glycogen sparing effect’ and is useful for improving stamina.
There are considerable differences between the efficiency of aerobic and anaerobic respiration. For example, anaerobic respiration provides energy rapidly, but only for a limited amount of time. It produces 3 molecules of ATP per molecule of glycogen, or 2 ATP from 1 molecule of glucose. By contrast, aerobic pathways produce about 13 times more ATP.
The Role of Fibregenix Balancer Supplements in Feeding the Event Horse
Fibregenix balancers supplement can play a valuable role in supplying top quality, absorbable nutrients to your event horse.
For The Beginner Eventer
Fibregenix Prime Original conditioning is the perfect balancer supplement for event horses up to Pre-novice level. With optimum level of vitamins, minerals and nutrients it’ll provide your eventer with the right amount of energy and strength.
Fibregenix Prime Original includes a high level of live yeast probiotic and added nucleotides. Studies have shown this specific yeast can double the digestibility of fibre in your event horse’s diet. Purified Nucleotides play a valuable role in ensuring optimum nutrient absorption and correct gut PH. This keeps the gut microbes happy and working effectively. Feeding Fibregenix Original alongside ad-lib forage means you should be able to reduce the amount of additional hard feed. So as well as benefiting the event horse’s digestive system, you can also potentially reduce your feed bills.
For The High Level Eventer
Fibregenix Platinum Pro performance balancer s ideal when work becomes more demanding. It incorporates a blood-building formula, a gut health package of FOS and MOS prebiotic, live yeast probiotic and Purified nucleotides. It additionally includes performance benefitting levels of vitamins, minerals and nutrients to support the higher level, equine athlete. You should also continue to feed Fibregenix Pro if your event horse is injured and needs stable confinement. This will help maintain muscle tone and condition and reduce the length of time taken to bring him back into full work.
Joint Protection For The Eventer
An event horse needs suppleness and joint and bone protection. Your event horse will be faced with jumping over fences during show jumping plus the arduous cross-country phase. A liquid joint supplement such as Fibregenix’s Liquid Joint & Bone RLF is a great long term insurance. It combines rosehip extract (Rosa canina), Hyaluronic acid (HLA), Organic MSM, glucosamine HCL, vitamin D3 and calcium chelate. These ingredients aid in protecting and conditioning the joints, ensuring optimum flexibility and promoting strong, dense bone.
The Spooky Eventer
Many eventers are TBs and can be quite highly strung. Travelling and arrival at a new venue can mean a spooky event horse. Not ideal when it comes to the time your event horse needs to perform! For better concentration and a calmer temperament, try the non-swabbable Fibregenix Liquid Karma. Karma contains a superior, water-soluble form of magnesium that can be quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. It’s combined with other beneficial natural nutrients noted for their anti-stress properties. Liquid Karma can help your event horse to focus and give you his very best.
Feeding for energy can be a confusing prospect. Providing your horse with the ideal balance of energy for his needs requires some consideration of both diet AND workload.
In this blog, we take a closer look at the main energy-providing nutrients. We look at how to decide what your horse needs and provide energy to young horses for sparkle without fizz.
It seems that energy itself, even though it’s a relatively simple concept, can be quite hard to grasp. So first of all, what do we really mean by energy?
Fact – Energy cannot be created or destroyed
Yep, you read correctly. Energy is simply converted from one form to another. The easiest way to think about its origin is that it’s released from another nutrient upon its breakdown. The main energy source nutrients within your horse’s diet are proteins, carbohydrates and fats and oils. Each differs in their energy content.
Feeding your horse for energy – Where does energy come from?
Different nutrients provide different amounts of energy when metabolised by the horse during digestion. As far as how much each nutrient provides, you can think of it as a pyramid, with proteins at the tip, fats below and carbohydrates filling the bottom tier (see diagram below):
The Energy Triangle of Nutrients
Proteins – Proteins are primarily used by the horse for muscle growth and development. Proteins are actually inefficient and furthermore an expensive source of energy. Protein as energy is only used when carbohydrates and fats are not available or in short supply.
Fats and Oils – Both are energy-dense containing 2.25 times the amount of energy that’s stored in the same mass of carbohydrates. What separates them, however, is the type of fatty acids they contain. The healthier and better quality oils come from expensive crops such as linseed (flaxeed) and contain a higher rate of anti-inflammatory Omega 3 fatty acid than Omega 6. By comparison, the more common and cheaper fat products eg rice bran or canola, provide higher levels of pro-inflammatory Omega 6 than Omega 3. Any feeds high in fats are very conditioning and should, therefore, be fed with caution.
Carbohydrates – Carbohydrates come in several forms and are the main energy source in the equine diet. Simple sugars, such as glucose, are water-soluble forms of carbohydrates found in cereal grains. These provide a quick-release source of energy. Complex carbohydrates, eg those found in fibre, make up the greater proportion of the diet. Fibre contains structural polysaccharides such as cellulose and hemicellulose. Due to their properties and method of breakdown, they release energy over a longer period. This makes fibre an excellent source of slow-release energy.
Feeding your horse for energy – Weight Gain or Work
Energy for work and energy that causes weight gain is essentially the same. So if your horse gets more energy than he can use through exercise and metabolic processes, he’ll store it as fat. Obviously, this will contribute to weight gain. This fact can be exploited and implemented in a positive way when feeding thin horses that need to gain weight. But it’s also a no-brainer that horses who struggle with being overweight shouldn’t be fed energy to excess.
When considering energy for work, horses that are training harder will, of course, require a higher calorie input. Therefore, they should be fed to accommodate the additional exertion their bodies will undergo during exercise. This diet, however, wouldn’t be suitable for a horse in light work as it could contribute to weight gain. That’s why it’s so important to strike the correct balance between energy provided and energy being utilised by the horse.
What is Digestible Energy?
The Digestible Energy of a feed component is the Gross Energy minus the energy lost in the faeces. It’s not actually a legally recognised measure of energy for horses, so it doesn’t have to be declared on feed bags. Having said that, it’s a really helpful way of indicating the energy content of a given feed. It’s also very useful when calculating overall digestible energy intake and fortunately most feed companies detail it anyway.
The table below shows the DE differences in some common feedstuffs. Digestible Energy is one of the first things you should check to assess its suitability for your horse,
Table of common feeds
Look at the Digestible Energy (DE) per kg of the fibre. It’s quite low, so it can’t provide too much energy per gram of dry matter. This would correspond with the volume at which you would feed it. After all, fibre should be making up the largest proportion of the diet. However, look at the conditioning mix. Whilst fed in much smaller quantities, it has a much higher DE per kg. Therefore feeding too much of a high DE feed in the incorrect quantity could affect your horse’s weight and condition!
Feeding your horse for Energy – How do we measure it?
Energy is measured in the same way as it is for humans – in Calories (cal) and Joules (J). One Calorie is 4.2 Joules, however, the energy levels of horse feeds are usually measured in Megajoules (Mj), (one million Joules). This may seem like a lot, but horses require a higher level of energy input than humans to sustain vital metabolic processes.
Why does my Horse lack Energy?
Here are 6 reasons why your horse might be lacking in energy.
- You’re not feeding him enough energy
- He has a naturally laid-back temperament
- There’s an electrolyte imbalance
- He may have worms or a reduced digestive function
- He’s had a high starch diet within 4 hours before competing
- Underlying illness
Common Scenario Question 1:
My competition horse needs more energy – can I add some oats before he competes?
Here’s the thing…An abrupt dietary change can a) increase the risk of colic. b) This ‘instant’ energy will disrupt the digestive microbes causing ‘acid’ guts resulting in behavioural issues in some horses. This is the last thing you want before a competition! c) Notwithstanding that, during exercise, horses, like humans, use stored energy sources, not energy directly from their previous meal.
This means he’d need to be consuming oats daily to safely receive the full energy benefits they provide. Not just on or before the competition day. Oats are useful for adding quick-release energy into the diet for horses that are lethargic or lacking energy. But this shouldn’t be seen as a substitute for ensuring adequate fitness.
Another common misconception is that feeding ‘high energy’ feeds can help improve energy levels without causing weight gain. You need to remember that calories are just units of energy, so high energy feeds are also high in calories. Whilst feeds such as competition mixes or straight oats can work to an extent, they’re best used as part of a fully-balanced diet. And in combination with a suitable fitness regime.
Common scenario Question 2:
Your young horse is ridden four to five times a week but you’re finding he lacks energy. Though he’s getting fitter, he lacks that drive you think could be to do with him lacking energy from his feed. So how do you feed him to provide more energy without making him ‘fizzy’? And also, will it promote muscle build-up for his topline?
Finding the right balance of condition and ridden energy can be tricky for horses of any age, particularly youngsters. However, remember the rules of feeding for energy before you go about changing too much.
Basically, energy and calories are the same thing. So you can’t supply energy for ridden work without supplying calories that might fuel weight gain or vice versa. One way of assessing whether your horse is receiving the appropriate level of energy is evaluating his condition.
Body Condition Scoring
The best way of doing this is by body condition scoring. It’ll give you an idea if his diet is providing sufficient energy to cover his energy needs. Remember, body condition scoring only evaluates external fat coverage not muscle development. Bear this in mind, as feeding alone won’t increase muscle tone or topline. This is more influenced by appropriate schooling and making sure the diet has adequate levels of quality protein.
On a scale of 1-9, you’re looking for your horse to be a 5 as this is described as the ‘ideal’. If your horse is carrying too much fat you’ll need to reduce his energy intake. At the same time, you should maintain an adequate supply of vitamins and minerals to keep his diet balanced.
If he’s not carrying enough condition, you’ll need to increase the calories in his diet. This can be achieved by feeding an oil, preferably one high in Omega 3 fatty acids. Alongside this, a quality fibre-based diet will provide non-heating calories. Try and avoid high quantities of cereal-based feeds which can cause digestive issues. If feeding less than the manufacturer’s recommended daily serve, provide a boost of nutrients and protein with an appropriate balancer. The best balancers will contain digestive enhancers to increase fibre digestibility. This, in turn, helps maximise the nutrients and calories he gets out of his diet.
If your young horse is an ideal weight, changing feed is unlikely to be the answer for more ridden energy. It’s his fitness level or ultimately his temperament that’s more likely to influence this. Remember, some breeds are more ‘laid-back’ than others, lacking that natural ‘oomph’, so they’ll often seem to lack energy.
Feeding high starch feed to gain instant energy can increase the risk of many digestive or metabolic conditions. Eg gastric ulcers, colic, tying up and laminitis to name a few. In many cases, it won’t provide more ridden energy, and more often than not contributes to excitability or ‘fizzy’ behaviour.
The best strategy is to work on your horse’s fitness levels and provide a balanced diet. Ideally, one which maintains him in an ideal body condition. This will allow your horse to make the most of his diet keeping him in top condition all year round.
Feeding off the track thoroughbreds.
Many off the track thoroughbreds find new careers as riding and competition horses. When they first come to a new home, a new diet is one of the first major changes they face. So it’s important to ensure when feeding off the track thoroughbreds you pay attention to detail.
Straight out of Training
A Thoroughbred straight out of training will have been used to high energy, low fibre diet. He’ll have been consuming large amounts of concentrate feed and often only fed relatively small volumes of forage. This means when coming off the track, he must become accustomed not only to his new home but also to quite different feeding practices.
The first hurdle to tackle nutritionally for any off the track TB is to reduce the amount of energy (calories) he gets. In training, he may well have been fed in excess of 7kg of a high energy racehorse mix providing plenty of fast release energy. This is the last thing that’s needed at his new home! It’s important for any horse to have a balanced diet that meets its needs for energy, protein, fibre vitamins and minerals. The diet should also suit temperament, workload and age, and feeding off the track thoroughbreds is no exception.
Whilst you need to reduce his energy intake, it’s still important that the nutrient levels aren’t compromised. Offering a handful of basic pellets and chaff just won’t be enough. A typical Thoroughbred, weighing 500kg at rest or in light work will need 2% of his body weight daily in dry matter intake. Most of it should be forage plus initially, some hard feed.
Turnout on Grass
For those turned away on good grass, a balancer, such as Fibregenix Lami Low-Cal, will bridge nutrient gaps in the pasture but with no associated calories. Balancers provide a concentrated source of nutrients in a small volume which can be beneficial when feeding at pasture. Just 500g per day is required for a 500kg horse at rest so Lami Low-Cal can easily be fed once a day. Where grass quality isn’t good or the horse needs more condition, you can provide extra calories with a small amount of hard feed or beet pulp. When feeding off the track thoroughbreds you can also feed Fibregenix Prime Original conditioning balancer.
After bringing horses in after a long period of “downtime” in the paddock, adjustments to diet must be gradual. Grass provides more calories, protein, vitamins and minerals than hay, so when substituting grass with hay, adjust the nutrient content accordingly of any other feed given. A high-spec Fibregenix balancer provides a boost of quality nutrients whilst ensuring a healthy gut environment during the transition period
Whatever your off the track racehorse is doing, if he needs condition, look for a high fibre conditioning feed eg beet pulp. This provides a concentrated source of non-heating calories and keeps meal sizes manageable. It also ensures feed is utilised efficiently with a smaller risk of digestive upsets or “crabby” behaviour. The specific yeast probiotic in Fibregenix Prime Original Conditioning balancer can double fibre digestibility and improve the calorie and nutrient yield of what’s being fed. This will increase condition without needing large amounts of hard feed.TIP: If your Thoroughbred is prone to being a bit fizzy, feed a pellet rather than a mix. Pellet feeds (cubes) contain less starch than a muesli mix of a similar nutrient specification.
Conditioning for Excitable Types
Oil is a useful addition to the diet if you need slow-release, non-heating energy. It provides 2¼ times as many calories as cereals. However, not all horses can tolerate high levels of oil in their diet so be careful when feeding. Introduce slowly. If the manure starts to look greasy or greyish in colour, it can indicate your horse isn’t digesting it properly. In this case, back off the amount you’re feeding and re-introduce again more slowly. Oil can be fed alongside beet pulp, forage and Fibregenix. This keeps the diet cereal free, which is important where there may be ongoing ulcer issues. A common occurrence in the ex-racehorse.
Why Fibre for Digestive Health?
Research suggests that 90% of horses in training suffer from gastric ulcers. This is due to the low fibre, high starch diets they receive during training. So it’s even more important to ensure that an off the track racehorse is returned to a high fibre diet ASAP. Forage is important in any horse’s diet as they’ve evolved to consume large amounts eaten over an 18-hour period. The physical bulk of fibre is also vital for maintaining regular bowel movement. Furthermore, it helps push out any excess gas that may be accumulating in the gut, which can become distended when it builds up. Excess gas can lead to considerable pain and often results in colic symptoms.
Fibre is also important for counteracting acidity throughout the digestive tract. Fibre takes longer to chew than grain-based hard feeds. When the horse chews, the resulting saliva produced helps neutralise the acidity of the stomach contents. Long periods of chewing helps avoid gastric ulceration to the upper region of the stomach which is vulnerable to ulcers.
Fibre is fermented and broken down by bacteria in the hindgut. The breakdown of fibre produces acids that are much weaker than those from the breakdown of starch (cereals). This results in a hindgut environment that is far more hospitable to the bacterial population. Therefore, with bacteria being particularly important to overall health, it’s vital to maintain fibre levels.
Fibre helps keep the gut and mind healthy. Always provide your horse with plenty of fibre either in the stable or field to prevent boredom and relieve stress. All horses are herd animals, so try and provide company to prevent anxiety and stress.
Previous thinking was that boredom was the main reason horses receiving very little fibre started to develop stereotype behaviour. However, recent research suggests some stereotyped behaviour is a response to increased acidity in the digestive tract. If a horse isn’t receiving much fibre, his chew time will be reduced and the gut may remain very acidic. Therefore, the importance of fibre can never be under-estimated. Feeding more fibre and keeping the volume of concentrates down, will reduce the risk of digestive upsets occurring.
Creating a healthy gut
If your Thoroughbred has come from a retraining/rehabilitation centre, the gut should be healthy and already adapted to the feeding regime. However, moving to a new home or adapting from life in racing can still take its toll on the digestive system. When stressed, beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract can become disrupted resulting in an unhealthy gut and loose droppings (scouring). Feeding a prebiotic should mean that harmful bacteria aren’t able to take advantage of the compromised condition of the digestive tract. The two specific prebiotics in Fibregenix Platinum Pro and Lami Low-Cal can help to reduce the incidence of scouring caused by the stress response or bacterial infections.
Probiotics and prebiotics help enhance the health of the bacterial population. These are particularly beneficial when the digestive tract is under stress. Prebiotics work by providing ‘good’ bacteria with a food source and maintain a healthy environment for them to reproduce. ‘Bad’ bacteria are then expelled by competitive exclusion as they then have no room to develop. By maintaining the natural bacterial balance of the gut, efficient feed utilisation is promoted. This is highly beneficial for the ‘poor doer’ and for overall good health.
A Successful Transition
With attention to detail and a little care in the early stages. There’s no reason why your ex-racehorse shouldn’t thrive where the ratio of forage to hard feed is a healthy balance. Once settled into their new life, most Thoroughbreds simply need treating like any other individual horse. Some even become laid back good-doers!