Equine nutrition basics

by Tina Field

Champions are not only born, they are fed to win. Whether you are a serious competitor, a breeder, or simply ride for pleasure, balanced nutrition of your horse is vital to any training programme - it is the basis upon which the horse's fitness is built on.

Many years ago feeding your horse was easy. Oats, chaff, hay and grass seemed to provide everything they needed and the horses performed well and looked great. However, as we have advanced technologically and more research has been carried out in the field of equine nutrition, it seems that the more information we have the more confusing feeding our horse has become.

With a marketplace full of scientifically formulated premixed feeds now available, there is the dilemma of choice suitability, and cost-effectiveness. Whether or not you choose to use a premixed feed or mix your own feed there are some basic rules that should be considered as part of any management programme.

Start with a healthy horse. No feeding programme will work successfully if a proper parasite prevention programme is not being followed. Consult with your local vet regarding a regular worming and vaccination programme - it will save you money in the long run. You horses' teeth are also of the utmost importance. If you hard-feed your horse all year round, his teeth should be attended to by your vet or a qualified equine dentist every six months as they can wear unevenly, causing discomfort and feed wastage. At least, their teeth should at checked once a year.

Provide plenty of fresh, clean water. Horses generally drink between 20 and 50 litres of water a day. Horses on dry feed will require more water than those on grass, and those who are in regular work will require more water than those in the paddock, to replace what is lost in sweat.

Do not over-feed. Make sure you feed to your horses' requirements. Horses who are ridden occasionally will require less feed than those in training programmes for competition. If your horse is nervous or spooky, then choose a "cool" feed or slow-release energy feed, for example non-heating horse and pony pellets or copra meal.

If you are competing in a high energy-demand sport such as eventing or endurance, your horse will require a higher energy feed such as barley, corn, or oats, to meet the demands of his training programme. Remember that your horse's recovery from exercise is just as important as the performance itself, and it is the recovery that will reveal any problems in his diet.

To maximise the health and performance of your horse, you must feed a balanced diet. This means avoiding excesses, deficiencies, and imbalances, and the subsequent resulting problems, by creating the ideal nutritional programme for each horse as an individual.