How do I build my horse’s muscle for eventing?

Tracey Hammond, a nutritionist at Dengie Horse Feeds, explains what to feed your horse to help him perform throughout the eventing season.

Regular training is also key to building your horse's strength 

Regular training is also key to building your horse's strength 

It’s important to understand that nutrition isn’t the only piece of the puzzle when it comes to building muscle.

You’ll also need to focus on fitness and training to build your horse’s strength.

When it comes to feeding, the main ingredient for building muscle is protein. Your horse will obtain protein from a variety of sources in his diet, including grass, forage and hard feed.

Some ingredients, such as alfalfa, are particularly abundant sources of protein.

Protein is made up of amino acids, some of which need to be taken in the diet. These are called essential amino acids.

Of these, lysine is particularly important as it’s a limiting amino acid. This means that if your horse has insufficient lysine, protein synthesis and subsequent muscle development will be limited.

Grazing and forage can go a long way to meeting a horse’s protein requirements. To top up his lysine, make sure you’re using a feed appropriate for your horse’s workload, fed at the recommended quanity.

Feed balancers are an excellent way to top up on vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids, including lysine.

It’s also important to ensure that sufficient energy is provided in the ration to ensure your horse isn’t diverting protein away from muscle development to fuel work.

The best way to determine whether your horse has sufficient energy for his work is by checking his condition, so use a body condition scoring system regularly.

The body condition scoring system

Poor condition (1-3)

1 - Very poor - the horse has no fatty tissue on his neck or withers. The skin is tight over clearly visible ribs and spine. The horse also has an angular pelvis and prominent tailhead. 

2 - Very thin - the horse has a minimal covering on neck. His ribs are clearly visible and the spinous progresses of the horse's spine are clearly defined. The horse's pelvis is also clearly defined. 

3 - Thin - the neck looks thin, the horse's ribs are visible and spinous processes can be seen. There's also minimal fat on his withers and over the spine. 

Moderate condition score (4-6) 

4 - Moderately thin - the horse's neck is narrow, but firm. Ribs just visible. Fat can be felt on tailhead. Spine well covered.

5 - Good - well-muscled in topline and shoulder. Shoulders and neck blend smoothly into body. Fat around the tail is slightly spongy. No hollowness in the quarters. Ribs are easily felt, but not seen. 

6 - Moderate to fleshy - some additional fat on neck, withers and shoulder. Ribs not easily felt, fat feels spongy. 

Overweight (7-9)

7 - Fleshy - the horse has a slight crest on his neck. His ribs are covered, but can feel individual ribs. Crease forming down the back. Slight apple bottom. 

8 - Fat - crest enlarged. Gutter along tail to root of tail. Ribs hard to feel. Area along withers fat. Pelvis covered, only felt with firm pressure.

9 - Obese - bulging crest. Ribs cannot be felt. Apple-shaped hindquarters. Deep gutter along spine to root of tail. Fat over withers and ribs. 

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