- 28th August 2019 by Rowen Barbary
Optimising Performance for the Endurance Horse
Correct nutrition is one factor that contributes to a successful partnership when training and competing endurance horses, so it is vital that you take a horses level of work and competition schedule into account when trying to determine the best possible diet. This must be continually assessed throughout the season to ensure optimum performance.
- Forage intake should be at least l.5% of bodyweight per day e.g. 7.5kg per day for a 500kg horse and no matter what level a horse is competing at it is vital that quality hay, haylage or grass remains as the forefront of the diet. Fibre provides slow release energy that an endurance horse can rely on throughout the ride.
- Endurance horses have extremely high daily energy requirements and recent studies have shown that maintaining your horse at a body condition score of 4 - 5 is vital for health and performance. Thin horses with a condition score of less than 3 might be at a disadvantage because of low energy reserves, while over-conditioned horses could experience detrimental effects due to the insulating effect and weight of a thicker fat cover.
- Energy can be obtained from fibre, starch and oil to help the endurance horse maintain bodyweight and perform to the level required. For a horse with a limited appetite consider using oils as a source of slow release energy, providing twice the amount of energy as carbohydrates from the more traditional cereals.
- If feeding oil in large quantities it is important to further supplement the horses diet with antioxidants to meet the horses increased requirements. Oil will also help improve stamina, essential for the endurance horse who will be performing at a steady speed for the majority of the ride.
- Starch is the primary component of cereals such as oats, maize and barley. This is an important energy source for the endurance horse to help prevent blood sugar levels falling on longer rides which can result in fatigue, however it is important to feed small starch-based meals to avoid starch overload.
- B vitamins play a vital part in the metabolism of a horses energy and are naturally produced as a result of fibre digestion in the hind gut, but studies have shown that the stress of training and excitement of competition days can lead many horses to be deficient in B vitamin production. So if your endurance horse is feeling run down mid season consider supplementing the diet with B Group Vitamins.
- When horses undergo prolonged sweating for example during strenuous exercise or whilst travelling essential minerals are lost through sweat and can cause fatigue, decreased performance, dehydration, muscle cramping and other problems. Due to this many horses will benefit from additional electrolyte supplementation to help to maintain fluid and electrolyte balance.
- A horse can lose as much as 10-15 litres of water per hour in sweat so it is vital that plenty of fresh water is available at all times. During rides the horse must be offered water at frequent intervals, especially in hot weather. Succulents such as apples and carrots can be added to water, with specially prepared soaked feeds also helping to tempt a horse to drink.
- Having achieved the level of condition that is required, careful monitoring will help you make the adjustments necessary to ensure optimum performance is maintained. If your horse is given some down time at the end of the season be prepared to alter your feeding regime accordingly to ensure your horse remains on a balanced diet.