A horse is no different to any other living creature. In order to survive it requires food, shelter and fresh air. Performance horses require a different diet to prevent gastric ulcers. What you feed your horse however is largely dependent on the type of horse you have and the exercise it receives. By assigning them to 1 of 3 working grades (light, moderate and heavy) you can easily determine the energy requirements for your horse to keep them in peak performance when tackling their daily feeds.
Which working grade suits your horse’s diet needs?
Light work encompasses most non-performing horses. These horses are ridden occasionally but overall do not race, show or do farm work. Their main feed content is a forage only diet such as pasture or hay. You can also add feed substitutes such as oats. If you do add substitutes, ensure that you reduce the quantity of hay. An overfed horse can lead to health problems that are avoidable with proper diet management.
Moderate worked horses will require a similar diet to a light worked horse however, monitoring energy output will ensure that your horse is consuming the correct energy. Encompassed in this grade are horses that partake in jumping and dressage.
Heavy worked horses such as performance horses need to have a closely developed and monitored diet to ensure sufficient energy input and reduce strain on the animals system. Poor diet and nutrition can lead to an underweight horse with ongoing medical problems. Replacing a portion of a heavy working horse’s feed with a canola or soya bean oil during competition periods will ensure a calorie rich diet. Crucial to the success of race, polo and endurance horses is a closely monitored diet as well as a health wellbeing plan.
Are you on the right track?
Below we’ve outlined what a day’s food intake should ideally look like depending on your horses work grade. There are several online calculators that will help you work out the weight of hay and supplements. On average horses should consume 1-2.5% of their bodyweight a day. This percentage needs to take into account their workload.
An average sized horse would consume around 19lb of hay a day. If supplementing with 3-4lb of oats then reduce the hay amount down to 13lb. Monitor your horse daily to check their appearance and, by running your hands over their frame, you will know instantly if your horse is under or overfed, and can adjust diet accordingly.
A moderate worked horse will have much the same diet as a light worked horse. As they expend more energy around training and competition then increase the energy to suit.
Heavy worked horse will require a mixture of carbohydrates and fats. So as well as an average 13-17lb hay and 9lb oat mixture you will also want to include a cup of a vegetable oil such as canola, soybean or corn.
Horses, like people, lose and gain weight at their own pace. By monitoring your horse’s energy output you can ensure that they are consuming the correct amount of food.
When do I adjust their feed?
Any change to a horse’s diet needs to be done gradually. Shifts in their diet, as well as living conditions and travel, will all impact on your horse’s wellbeing. While some horses adjust quite easily to changes and new scenarios, it cannot be said for all of them. Conditions such as Colic and Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS) are all common grievances for horses.
By taking a proactive approach to your horse’s health you can eliminate long term issues. Abprazole (enteric coated omeprazole granules) can be used to prevent gastric ulcers and treat ulcers. Taking preventative measures such as this will allow your horse to more readily adjust to any changes in diet or environment without discomfort.
Tip from a Horse owner:
"We added soy oil to the feed - sticks nicely, won't sugar the horse up, and had the added benefit of improving coat and skin quality. Any oil that your horse likes would probably work well". - Kelly Murphy
What are the signs of EGUS?
Below is a simple list of common symptoms associated with gastric ulcers:
- Change in attitude
- Dull coat condition
- Decrease in weight
- Teeth grinding and,
- A reluctance to train or drop in performance
If you notice these symptoms then commence them on a treatment plan to prevent gastric ulcers Prevention is less time consuming and stressful for your horse. The longer your performance horse suffers from EGUS will affect the time out of training and competition.