Spillers: Fuelling performance
Every rider, whether an aspiring amateur venturing out to do their first BE80 or a seasoned professional competing at international level, wants to ensure their horse has the energy required to perform at their best.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, even amongst those competing at the same level, but a basic understanding how the amount and source of energy in the diet can affect condition, health and performance will help you to choose feeds best suited to the horse’s individual needs.
Laying the foundations
Forage should be the foundation of every horse’s diet and the performance horse is certainly no exception to the rule. While most owners, riders and trainers are aware of the importance of forage in supporting digestive health and mental well-being, the contribution it makes to the horse’s energy intake may be overlooked. Just 5 slices of ‘average’ hay (from a small bale approx. 10kg fresh weight) could easily provide 70% of the published energy requirement for a horse in medium work.
How much energy does the event horse need?
Energy requirements can vary widely between individuals but ultimately, the amount of energy in the diet should be adjusted according to the horse’s body condition (fat coverage as opposed to muscle development), irrespective of workload. Even in hard work, good doers may continue to maintain weight on less than their recommended amount of feed and in these situations, feeding a balancer such as SPILLERS™ Original Balancer or SPILLERS Ulca Balancer will help provide the additional vitamins, minerals and amino acids needed to support optimum health and performance, while adding limited energy (calories) to the diet.
Tips for choosing the most appropriate source of energy
Feeds based on highly digestible fibre and oil as opposed to cereals such as SPILLERS Stamina+ Cubes are ideal for horses that need additional energy without high levels of starch, including those prone to excitability. Gram for gram, oil is approximately 2.5 times higher in energy compared to cereal but starch (and sugar) free. A high fibre diet that contains low or restricted amounts of starch also plays an important role in managing nutrition related clinical conditions such as gastric ulcers, tying up and colic. For those that don’t need a low starch diet, mixes that contain a balance of cereal grains, fibre and oil such as SPILLERS Performance Mix are more sympathetic choice than traditional options.
Feeding to support optimum health and performance is about more than energy delivery and requires appropriate levels of vitamins, minerals and protein/ amino acids. Vitamins and minerals play many essential roles including supporting bone, muscle, respiratory and immune health (although some are involved in energy metabolism too). Vitamin E for example is a powerful antioxidant and of particular importance in supporting muscle and immune health. Antioxidants help to prevent cell damage caused by free radicals. All living cells, including muscle cells, use oxygen leading the production of molecules called free radicals. When production of free radicals outweighs antioxidant capacity (this is called oxidative stress), cell damage can occur. Free access to green pasture may provide sufficient (although not necessarily optimum) amounts of vitamin E to meet maintenance requirements and in some cases, work too but levels in hay and haylage may be negligible.
Although not a primary source of energy or ‘fuel’, protein is a critical nutrient for the performance horse. Exercise increases the requirement for protein to maintain new muscle tissue, repair existing muscle, and replace nitrogen lost in sweat which is why you will find higher levels of protein in performance feeds. However, the quality of protein in the diet is equally as important as the amount. Protein is made up of building blocks called amino acids and it’s the profile of these amino acids relative to requirements that determine quality. Ensuring the diet provides appropriate amounts of essential amino acids will provide the nutritional building blocks required to support muscle building and maintain topline.
The importance of hydration
Hydration is key to health and performance. Allowing horses to drink immediately after exercise won’t cause colic but withholding water may delay re-hydration which poses a number of health risks and may impair performance in those competing again the following day. During high intensity exercise, horses rely heavily on muscle glycogen (stored glucose) for energy metabolism. Although it takes up to 72 hours for glycogen stores to be fully restored, replenishment will be slower in dehydrated horses.
Mashes for hydration
When soaked at a typical ratio of 1 part feed to 1.5-2 parts water, feeding a mash will result in the horse consuming 3-4 litres of water for every Stubbs scoop (dry volume) of mash fed. However, feeding a mash may increase voluntary water intake (drinking) in some horses too. Some horses enjoy smaller amounts of mash soaked to a ‘soup-like’ consistency, so even in smaller amounts, can help to support hydration (feeding the mash in a separate bucket may be useful in these situations). Adding a small amount of tasty mash such as SPILLERS Perform & Restore Mash to the horse’s normal feed may also help to tempt those reluctant to eat away from home and in turn, may help to support hydration too. Horses tend to drink around mealtimes and particularly after eating which means if they stop eating, they may stop drinking!
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