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Some horses struggle to handle the stress of competing, whether it be the travel or the competition environment itself. This can lead to weight loss, but what can you do to help your horse hold condition without making them too fizzy to ride? Nutritionist Jo Palmer shares her expertise.

Your horse needs a feed to support their body condition and energy to help them work — but without too much of the fast-release energy that can cause fizzy behaviour.

Feeds to look for are those that contain quality protein to support their muscle development, oil to help with condition and stamina, and specialised fibre to support a healthy digestive system, energy for work and body condition.

A high-calorie conditioning feed would be appropriate for your horse as it will provide slow-release energy to fuel their workload, help them gain weight and maintain an ideal body condition score, while not adding to their natural excitability.

Boost digestion

Always remember that energy and calories are the same thing, and it is not possible to feed a high-calorie feed to promote weight gain without giving your horse more energy. It is however the ingredients within the feed that are important when it comes to determining the type of energy that is provided and whether the feed could add to their stressy nature.

Look for a feed that is free from ingredients that can cause fizzy behaviour, such as whole cereal grains and molasses, and instead contains fibre and oil-based ingredients to provide slow-release energy — ideal for horses with a tendency to be fizzy and excitable.

Feeds that contain a high proportion of cereals should be avoided for your horse as they will have significantly higher starch levels and will supply fast-release energy.

Not only can a high starch diet cause fizzy and excitable behaviour, but it is also more difficult for the horse to digest and can increase the risk of problems such as colic, laminitis and Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS).

Little and often

To help your horse maintain their condition when they are prone to weight loss due to stress, make sure their routine of workdays stays the same and spread their feed and hay throughout the day into several small meals and another when they go in at night.

Along with their feed and hay, using a warm soaked fibre feed each day can help them to maintain body condition. There are partial fibre replacers on the market that will help boost fibre levels each day, helping to maintain body weight.

Going to a competition?

Make sure your horse is fed early on the day of travel and offer a warm mash, such as your choice of partial fibre replacer, to help maintain high fibre levels in their digestive system. Adding salt to their feed will increase the flavours, so help them to eat, and will also help replace some of the lost electrolytes if they are prone to become sweaty when travelling in the lorry.

Meet the expert: Jo Palmer has a BSc (Hons) in agriculture with animal science and is a member of the Allen & Page nutrition team. Her experience as a nutritionist helps guide horse owners on feeds and feeding.

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