Balancing the feed needs for busy show season

Show horses need to look well-muscled
Show horses need to look well-muscled

Anna Welch

The right combination of feed and exercise helps achieve the ideal condition for showing horses, while a top-specification feed balancer will provide the perfect basis for a high-fibre conditioning diet.  Horses have evolved to eat a forage diet.

They are 'trickle' feeders and would usually graze for around 16 hours a day. Most show horses will benefit from forage, providing at least 70pc of their daily dry matter intake. Highly digestible fibre is also very important in providing stamina and maintaining sparkle at the end of a long day.The most natural and efficient way to feed is to provide ad-lib forage and small volumes of hard feed.

For example, a 15.2hh show hack should not receive more than 2kg (dry weight) of feed in one meal, and a 12.2hh show pony should not receive more than 1kg (dry weight) of feed in one meal.A highly-concentrated feed, such as a top specification feed balancer, is ideal.

It will improve your horse's ability to utilise nutrients from everything he eats (including grass, hay/haylage) in three waysThe micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and amino acids) in a good balancer will balance the forage and straights in a ration, improving their utilisation, thus reducing the need for additional cereal-based products.

Yeast products improve the digestion of fibre in the hindgut, allowing a horse or pony to gain more benefit from the forage they are consuming;l Feeding a nutrient-dense product which allows for a reduction in the quantity of concentrates or blends added, will allow for a greater intake of forage, therefore, improving the forage to concentrate ratio. Show horses need to look well-muscled and it is protein which provides the building blocks.

A high ratio of protein to calories is needed and the quality of protein is important.  Soya is the highest quality vegetable protein and will be the highest ingredient listed in a good, conditioning feed balancer. A supple skin, healthy coat and strong hooves can be achieved by ensuring therapeutic levels of biotin plus optimum levels of methionine, calcium, zinc, iodine and Vitamin A are supplied. Reputable top specification feed balancers will include these alongside other supplements, including those which promote good bone development and strength, healthy joints, good blood quality, efficient energy metabolism and a healthy immune system.Antioxidants such as vitamin E and selenium are very important, especially if oil needs to be added to the diet to help with condition and stamina.

Many feed balancers are low in sugar and starch and cereal-grain free and are therefore, 'Non-Heating.' Combined with the yeast products and other micronutrients, this can benefit your show horse or pony by achieving a relaxed outlook, providing presence without fizz.

Feeding forage-based diets with a high specification of micronutrient support and a diet which is low in sugar and starch and cereal-grain free promotes an optimum environment within the hindgut.

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This helps to support a horse through the stresses of competition, travel and staying away from home.Feeding in this way can also help to avoid problems such as loose droppings, colic, laminitis, 'tying-up,' stereotypical behaviour, gastric ulcers and Developmental Orthopaedic Disease (DOD).

Anna Welch is a nutrition specialist with TopSpec

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