Eventing at all levels requires a horse to be extremely versatile. The horse must possess athleticism, concentration, agility and stamina. It is essential to make sure that your eventing horse is getting all the nutrients he needs from the diet to allow him to perform to the best of his ability. Each performance horse requires the following essential nutrients: water, energy (calories), protein, vitamins and minerals. Nutritionists and horse owners spend a great deal of time choosing feeds and supplements in an effort to balance the diet for these essential nutrients. As a three-day eventing horse progresses in training and level of competition the requirements for these essential nutrients increase and may exceed 1.5 to 2 times their requirement for maintenance. The following is a discussion of how feeds and feeding management can help three-day eventing horses to meet their nutrient requirements.
Small decreases in the amount of water contained within the body (dehydration) can lead to serious health consequences as well as a decline in performance potential. Performance horses must maintain proper hydration to transport materials to and from the cells within the body and to synthesize and repair body tissues. The amount of water required by a performance horse depends on the amount of water lost from the body. For performance horses, water is lost from the body primarily in sweat.
Eventing horses cool themselves by dissipating heat through sweat, especially during the most intensive phase of cross-country. This results in both loss of water and electrolytes. Electrolytes are charged particles, including sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium and magnesium. These particles control among other things nerve and muscle function in the body. Loss of electrolytes causes fatigue, muscle weakness and decreases the thirst response from dehydration. Therefore, it is vital to replace both water and electrolyte losses in eventing horses.
To replace the water lost from the body, performance horses should have free access to fresh, clean water. Ice cold water should be avoided for horses still hot and sweaty from exercise, since cold water may cause shock to their system. Electrolyte supplements, such as HYGAIN REGAIN should be added to the diet of the eventing horse the night before and the morning prior to exercise. Avoid adding electrolytes directly to the water as some horses may not drink the water and therefore will become more dehydrated. Following exercise, electrolytes should not be given to a horse that is dehydrated; instead the horse must be re-hydrated before electrolytes are provided.
It doesn’t matter what the discipline or breed, all horses should consume at least half of their diet as roughage (hay, pasture and other processed forage). Good-quality roughage is a source of each essential nutrient. High-quality grass hay is usually adequate for the eventing horse; however, young horses should have mixed grass/lucerne hay or the addition of a lucerne product to their meals. This will increase the amount of quality protein in the diet along with calcium, phosphorus, and other nutrients. Horses that suffer from ulcers may benefit from the addition of lucerne especially prior to exercise as it contains a high amount of calcium, which acts to buffer the stomach acid and negate the splashing effect of stomach acid that occurs during exercise. If weight gain is desired, adding Lucerne to the diet would be beneficial as it has more calories than regular grass hay. Further, HYGAIN MICRBEET the unmolassed micronized beet pulp flakes providing energy ranging between that of good quality hay and grains in form of soluble fiber may assist weight gain, too.
The typical recommendation is that horses eat 1.5 to 2% of their body weight in roughage per day. For a 500 kg three-day event horse this equates to 7.5 kg – 10 kg of dry hay per day.
The main component of any horse’s diet should be forage, however, three-day eventing horses require additional supplementation in the form of high carbohydrate and fat feeds to meet the increased nutrient demands of training and competition. There are two basic metabolic pathways utilized by the horse to provide energy – aerobic and anaerobic. Eventing horses utilize both metabolic pathways during the course of a single competition. Aerobic metabolism simply means “requiring oxygen” and is the primary means of energy production when the horse is doing slower work such as the dressage phase of an event. At these slower speeds the horse burns dietary fat and body fat as the primary fuel source. The anaerobic pathway (without oxygen) is totally dependent on the carbohydrates from grains to produce energy. Carbohydrates from the diet are broken down and stored in the muscle as glycogen and provide quick bursts of energy to the horse. Anaerobic metabolism is used during the show jumping phase of an event and a combination of both metabolisms is used during the cross-country phase.
There is concern regarding feeding large quantities of grain to horses as it can lead to high quantities of undigested grain (starch) reaching the large intestines. Undigested starch that is fermented in the large intestine can cause several metabolic problems including: colic, laminitis, gastric ulcers or simply poor performance. To overcome this HYGAINâ uses a technology called “Micronizing” to process grains and make them more digestible by the small intestine of the horse and safer to feed. This process involves cooking the grains under an infra-red heat, which causes the starch molecules to rupture. The digestibility of micronized barley and wheat is above 90% compared to 30% if the grains are rolled.
Fat (vegetable oil) is an extremely useful energy source for three day eventing horses for several reasons. First, vegetable oil is well digested (>90%) by horses. Compared to hay, fat is nearly twice as digestible. Second, vegetable oil contains more than 2.5 times as much digestible energy as an equal weight of corn and 3 times as much digestible energy as an equal weight of oats. The high calorie content of vegetable oil is very helpful in fueling the high-energy requirements of eventers. Adding vegetable oil products such as Rice Bran Oil (HYGAIN RBO & HYGAIN TRU GAIN) or a grain concentrate with a high fat content, such as HYGAIN RELEASEâ will safely increase the energy density of the diet. In addition, HYGAIN RELEASE further assists to combat conditions such as tying up.
One of the most frequently asked question’s regarding feeding the performance horse is when to feed before and after a competition. Several studies found that feeding small amounts of hay prior to exercise was beneficial in stimulating water intake and maintaining hydration. However, feeding grain concentrates to performance horses is not recommended within 3 to 5 hours prior to competition. Avoiding last minute meals of grain will allow horses to properly mobilize and utilize carbohydrate and fat during exercise. Feeding post exercise is critical to the recovery of the horses. Following exercise, horses should be immediately provided with hay and water. Once the horses have consumed hay and drunk water, a meal of a balanced grain concentrate should be provided within 1.5 hrs after exercise. This balanced grain concentrate should contain vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fat and branched chain amino acids, which can be found in the quality grain concentrate product HYGAIN RELEASE.
Remember that horses are individuals and vary greatly in their requirements for energy. Some horses become overweight when fed according to the guidelines while others lose weight. Therefore, monitor each individual horse’s condition constantly and feed each one accordingly. Working with a nutritionist is recommended to make sure the horse is provided with exactly the right nutrients to obtain the best performance possible.