Performance horse work hard. Are we wrong in thinking that the performance horse diet also needs to compensate for their hard work? They are expected to achieve high goals and be competitive machines for us. How do we know we are feeding them correctly to reach all that is expected of them, especially with so many unnatural factors. Lets face it, horses were made to eat small meals most of the day, sleep a little and, very rarely, run from a predator for a short distance. That’s very different from most of their daily lives and training schedules. No wonder they suffer from all forms of lameness, stress and ulcers.
So, then what can we do to help our equine friends be all that they can be?
Probably the most important thing to keep in mind is small meals often. A horse’s digestive tract is made to eat all day long…continually processing the mouthfuls of grass that they graze on. And, as far as ulcers are concerned, that eating all day long has an added benefit…saliva production.
Why should you care about saliva production? Well, equine saliva contains bicarbonate, which is a natural buffer to the stomach. It lowers the PH level and naturally combats against the acid in the stomach. Acid is produced constantly and without the saliva to buffer it, ulcers will form. It is known that horses should not go longer than 4 to 5 hours without a meal of some kind to help buffer the stomach. The best way to solve this problem is free choice access to grasses or hay. Dry hay will produce more saliva to chew and digest than grasses, so that can be a factor for the ulcer prone horse.
On the topic of hay, a tip for the ulcery horse is to feed Alfalfa, either in loose hay or pellets or cubes. Alfalfa has a naturally high Calcium content which helps in reducing the acidic nature of the stomach. Feeding a bit of Alfalfa before working is an excellent idea as it not only puts some food in the stomach but also buffers that acid that sloshes around during your ride.
Scratch the starch from Performance Horse Diet
Just as important as forage is the choice of what feed you are giving your horse. There are a lot of different feeds on the market, and they all have a different purpose. Probably the most important thing to keep in mind for the performance horse is the non structural Carbohydrate (NSC) percent of the diet.
What is NSC? It is the Starch and sugar in the feed. Performance horse diet needs starches and sugars….they are a super rich, easy to use source of energy that a performance horse needs. They are stored as glycogen in the horses muscles and liver and are needed parts of that extra “push” that is required in performance. The problem with starch is OVERLOADING it. When too much starch is fed in one meal, it gets pushed from the small intestine where it is digested and into the large intestine where it ferments. This can change the PH levels and cause ulcers.