Whichever your preferred discipline, many factors such as genetics, fitness, and training can influence performance. The correct nutritional support has a huge role in maximising athletic potential. When deciding on what and how much to feed your horse, their age, workload, body condition score, temperament and health must all be considered.
The main component of any horse’s diet should be forage, such as grass, hay or haylage. Ideally, forage should be offered on a ‘free-choice’ basis, allowing your horse access to roughage as needed. Feeding at least 1.5% of the horse’s bodyweight per day as forage will help to maintain a healthy hindgut and provides a good source of ‘slow release’ energy.
The physiological demands of competition will likely mean that your horse will require a diet that provides adequate calories, protein, and micronutrients. The most suitable feed will depend on the level of work your horse is doing and their individual temperament.
Cereals, which are digested relatively quickly in the small intestine, provide what is commonly known as ‘quick’ or ‘fast-releasing’ energy. Cereal based feeds, such as Connolly’s RED MILLS Competition 12 Mix, can be helpful for horses that tend to be laid back and those competing in shorter-duration disciplines such as show-jumping. However, for horses that tend to be overly excitable or suffer from tying-up or gastric ulcers low starch feeds such as those in our Horse Care range of feeds are more appropriate. These feeds have been specifically formulated to be lower in starch and provide energy from more ‘slow-releasing’ energy sources such as fibre and oil.
Protein is another important nutrient needed by the performance horse. The horse continually uses protein to build and repair tissues including muscle. Of the protein the horse needs around half are known as essential amino acids which must be supplied in the diet. You can find out more about protein for horses here.
The quality of protein in the diet is extremely important; a lower quantity of high-quality protein feed can perform better than low quality, high protein feed. Equally, oversupplying protein should be avoided as this will lead to excess urine production, excess ammonia in the stable and inefficient heat removal. All Connolly’s RED MILLS feeds contain balanced levels of high-quality protein including good levels of the essential amino acids lysine and methionine.
For weak or backward individuals and those that struggle to maintain topline it can also be immensely beneficial to feed a hydrolysed protein supplement such as Foran Equine Muscle Prep. Muscle Prep contains readily absorbed essential and non-essential amino acids from a hydrolysed plant protein source; these amino acids support rapid muscle development to promote topline. Muscle Prep also provides vitamin E to support muscle health, as well as a range of B vitamins to promote appetite and optimise protein and energy utilisation, allowing your horse to get the most out of its diet whilst achieving quick and striking conditioning results.
Meeting the micronutrient requirements of the sport horse is also imperative as vitamins and minerals are essential for energy metabolism, bone strength, and recovery. All Connolly’s RED MILLS feeds contain a unique Pro Vitamin & Mineral package containing all the essential micronutrients, including added antioxidants such as vitamin E, which are important to help neutralise the increased free radical production associated with exercise.
However, if you find that your horse is maintaining sufficient body condition on less than the recommended amount of a mix or cube, it is advisable to add a nutrient-dense balancer such as Connolly’s RED MILLS Performa Care Balancer to the diet. Horses that are travelling regularly, working in hot or humid conditions and those in hard work, would benefit from the inclusion of a specific electrolyte and anti-oxidant supplement in the diet, for example Foran Equine Equi-Lyte G, to aid hydration, performance, and recovery.
Sport horses often have stress placed on their joints, such as when jumping, and over time this can result in arthritis. Maintaining joint health through supplementation not only can improve performance but it can also prolong the athletic life of the horse. Foran Equine’s Ost-O-Flex is a palatable, highly effective syrup, containing Glucosamine, a key component of cartilage, MSM to promote joint and ligament health as well as a bioavailable source of Calcium Chondroitin Sulphate, plus Hyaluronic Acid to help maintain join mobility and health.
If you have any queries about what to feed your horse, get in touch with our expert team.