The new competition season is upon us, and no doubt there are several dates already pencilled in the calendar for competitions and outings in the months ahead for you and your four legged friend to enjoy. However, in order to make the most of the season ahead and ensure your horse or pony stays happy, sound and healthy, it is very important in the run up to this exciting period to nutritionally prepare them for the changes that will occur in their workload and routine.
What do we have to consider?
Matching your horse or pony’s diet to their workload is primarily based upon supplying the correct level of calories and nutrients they need on a daily basis to maintain the level of condition that you desire, whilst fuelling their increased exercise regime and keeping their diet balanced at all times. Sounds tricky? Not when you know how to utilise the correct dietary components and feed them effectively!
The first principal that must be taken into consideration is the fact that horses have a limited appetite and can only physically consume the equivalent of 2-2.5% of their bodyweight per day in feed. Due to this factor, when increasing workload, it is important to ensure the diet is more energy and nutrient dense in order to provide ‘more per mouthful’ to meet increased nutritional demands. For this reason, it is typical that when we are asking more of our horses and ponies, to include a greater proportion of concentrated feed alongside less of a more nutritious form of forage to increase the Digestible Energy available in the diet without increasing its volume.
Fibre as Fuel
Forage is the main component of an equine diet and is highly important to maintaining correct function of the digestive system, as well as acting as a major source of slow release energy following its digestion in the hindgut. Because energy released from fibre occurs over a period of time, it is available for use hours after your horse or pony has consumed it, allowing him to maintain stamina levels over a prolonged period. But how do we increase the levels of energy that he can use immediately? That’s where feeding additional carbohydrates and oils becomes beneficial to your horse or pony as they provide the quick-release energy needed required for harder, faster work.
The starch that is contained in carbohydrates from cereals is made up of tightly packed glucose molecules, which when broken down, provide a readily available source of energy that can be used immediately to provide hard working muscles with the energy they require, or be stored as glycogen in the liver to be used when required at another time. Modern carbohydrate based concentrated feeds are developed to have easily digestible forms of starch to ensure that no undigested cereals pass into the hindgut, minimising the risks of digestive upsets and colic.
As well as feeding carbohydrates to increase energy levels, the use of oils is becoming more popular as they are approximately 2.25% more energy dense and increase the overall energy content of the feed without significantly increasing the volume. Oils are very useful for horses that are in hard, fast work as their breakdown within the body is purely aerobic, meaning they can only be metabolised during low intensity work. This means that when your horse is exerting itself and unable to supply plentiful oxygen levels to sustain aerobic respiration, their stores of glycogen have remained full and can be quickly broken down anaerobically to provide a boost of energy as the energy provided by the oil has been utilised effectively in their slower work.
Never Neglect Nutrients!
Whatever level of work any horse or pony is in, they still require specifically balanced levels of vitamins, minerals and nutrients on a daily basis in
order to maintain optimum health and well-being, alongside quality sources of protein to promote correct muscle tone and development, tissue repair and cell regeneration. An easy way to include all these vital dietary components is to feed a precisely formulated high quality feed balancer, which also includes a probiotic to promote a healthy gut environment whilst ensuring your horse or pony is receiving all they need on a daily basis to thrive. Top quality feed balancers are specifically tailored to differing needs of horses and ponies and may include a calming supplement within the balancer to reduce stress and anxiety, or mineral compounds to assist with stomach acid balance to help maintain a healthy gut environment and avoid the incidence of gastric ulceration so it is important to choose the one that suits your horse or pony best.
Make the Change
In order to correctly implement changes to your horse or pony’s diet, they must be introduced gradually in order to avoid digestive upsets and behavioural changes. Dividing the total concentrated feed ration into several meals throughout the day proves highly beneficial and avoids both over loading the digestive system whilst ensuring motility for maximum nutrient absorption. Some Feed Balancers are formulated to be super concentrated highly nutrient dense which decreases portion sizes, making changes even easier to incorporate into the diet.
Finally, it is always important to accurately assess the current weight of your horse or pony and feed to the manufacturer’s recommendations in order to provide the best diet you can and achieve those competition goals this summer!
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