Did you know that a performance horse has a greater than average chance of acquiring ulcers? Stress, training, trailering all can affect the horses sensitive digestive system. And, horses with ulcers have a higher incidence of colic and digestive upset. Here are some tips on feeding performance horses.
- Feeding needs to be age appropriate. A young, growing horse needs a higher protein content in its feed as growing bodies require protein. 14% is a good average until the horse turns two. At that time, he can go on a mature horse protein level of 10-12%. Once the horse become a senior (and when the need arises can vary with individuals) the protein requirement rises again due to poorer digestive functioning. Too much or too little protein can be very damaging, especially to growing foals.
- Metabolism comes into play and varies across individuals. Some breeds are known to be easy keepers and some hard keepers. Fat content, protein and starches need to be altered to the individual, as do feeding amounts, types and frequency of meals.
- The actual use of the animal is also important to take into consideration. A back yard trail horse does not need the calories, fat and starches that a four star eventer needs.
- The quality and amount of hay and pasture is an important factor. Some farms have great grassy pastures, others a dirt lot with hay. So the feeding requirements of those horses will greatly differ. Vitamins, minerals, fat content and fiber contents all need to be considered.
A few things to keep in mind when feeding the performance horse:
- Too much starch in a feeding program can cause ulcers or colic. Starch is digested in the small intestine. If too much is consumed at once, the small intestine can not keep up with the digestive process and the excess spills over into the large intestine where it ferments. This fermentation can cause gas or change the PH of the system causing ulcers or colic. Starch is needed by performance horses for energy, but in small amounts that the small intestine can safely digest.
- Too much protein in the feed can case decreased renal function, or kidney problems. Unused protein is broken down by the body and releases nitrogen and becomes ammonia. Before the body can excrete the ammonia in the urine, it must be filtered out of the blood by the kidneys. This can lead to renal failure at worse and at least a very wet and unhealthy stall environment.
- Everyone has heard the saying “feed little and often”. Small meals numerous times a day keep the horse’s small stomach full. That food filling the stomach, as well as the saliva created while eating, buffers the stomach lining and decreases the chances or ulcers forming, thus decreasing your chances of colic episodes.