Horse training can be exhausting for both the trainer and the horse involved, hence the reason why proper nutrition is so very important. Below is a quick breakdown of how best to equip your horse with the energy necessary to perform at optimal capacity.
Obviously, the more intense the horsemanship training regime and the exercise becomes, the more calories your horse will need to consume. However, it isn’t always the amount that makes the biggest difference – it’s the nutritional value of the food. So, what exactly should a trainer be feeding the horse, and how much?
- Generally, at least 60% of a performance horse’s diet should consist of some form of roughage, such as hay or oats. Most trainers opt to feed their horse’s oats because they are richer in calories and tend to keep them fuller for longer periods of time. Oats also contain a decent amount of natural oils, amino acids, and protein. A good rule of thumb is that a horse should consume at least 1% of its body weight per day as roughage. Doing so ensures optimized energy and digestion.
- Horses lose sodium, chloride, potassium, and magnesium when they exercise, and these electrolytes need to be replaced quickly. The best food sources for this purpose include hay and legumes to replace potassium and magnesium, and salt supplementation to replace chloride and sodium.
- Horses also require lots of fresh water to stay hydrated, especially when training rigorously. A horse at rest will require a minimum of 2-4 pints of water per pound of hay. If the weather conditions are particularly warm and the horse has been training hard, around 20 gallons per day is expected.
Pay attention to body condition
A good indicator of whether or not you are feeding your horse enough (or too much) is to keep a close eye on their body condition. The main goal should be to provide your horse with plenty of energy, all the while maintaining an optimal body condition score of 5 (scale of 1-9) and fitness.
If you notice that the horse is losing weight, increase the amount that you are feeding them. If they gain too much too quickly, you will need to reduce feeding gradually. Remember, a thin horse will have much lower energy reserves, while a horse that is overweight will struggle to keep up with training demands and has a higher chance of over-heating. The extra weight will also put a strain on their musculoskeletal system over time.
Most natural horsemanship professionals agree that concentrates are rarely necessary, and in some cases, may have an adverse effect on the horse in the form of hind-gut fermentation. Having said that, if the trainer believes that their horse is not receiving enough calories, they may proceed to feed concentrates in an effort to supplement. Remember never to feed more than two pounds at a time to avoid any health issues developing over time.
Here’s to maximum health and maximum performance.