A sport horse must be fed according to the discipline that he competes in and his workload. Basically, a horse can only work if the chemical energy provided by the horse’s feed is transformed into mechanical energy by the muscles.
For this to occur, two different types of respiration processes can be distinguished:
*aerobic respiration, which occurs when oxygen is present, brought by the blood stream, results in energy, CO2 and water.
This type of respiration takes place mostly in dressage and lengthy efforts, such as endurance.
*anaerobic respiration, which occurs when there isn’t any oxygen present, and results in energy plus lactic acid. This type of respiration generally takes place when the horse is exercised intensively, for short amounts of time, such as in show jumping, cross country, racing and during endurance riding on rough ground.
In order to obtain sufficient energy, horses principally consume three food groups:
A horse should obtain the majority of its energy from carbohydrates (starch).
Starch is transformed into glucose by enzymes in the small intestine. A proportion of the glucose becomes readily available in the bloodstream, whilst the rest is stocked in the muscles and the liver as glycogen.
The portion of glucose available in the muscles is quickly used, in the presence of oxygen, depending on what type of exercise the horse is asked to perform. Once the readily available glucose molecules have all been used, the muscles will start to use the glycogen without oxygen and produce lactic acid.
In the event of prolonged effort, the glycogen present in the liver allows the organism to keep up the level of glucose in the bloodstream and to continue to provide energy to the nervous system. Therefore, it is truly important to not exhaust the hepatic glycogen energy reserves.
In order to provide your horse with a sufficient energy intake, it is not always useful to increase the amount of food you are giving him. Indeed, excessive amounts of starch can have detrimental consequences. These may include digestive problems, colic, laminitis, diarrhoea, or a loss of general well-being (due to a “burnt out” intestine). Cereals contain between 50% and 70% starch!
It may be wise to replace some of the starch in your horse’s diet by high quality lipids, such as polyunsaturated fatty acids, omega 3 (linolenic acid) and omega 6 (linoleic acid), all of which have a high energy content and are easily digestible (2 to 2.5 times more than starch). This allows glycogen levels in the muscles to remain high without any risk of lactic acid production; this is due to the fact that fatty acid metabolism can only take place aerobically.
However, lipids cannot be converted into glycogen, and therefore one should ensure that the horse still receives sufficient carbohydrates so as to maintain the muscular and hepatic glycogen stocks.
For sports horses, the correct dietary balance is around 6-9% lipids to 32-35% starch and sugars. These figures can be subject to change, case in point being endurance horses whose intakes will be different depending on what distance they are expected to cover.
The increase in lipid intake will necessitate a similar increase in vitamin E. Introducing and increasing the amount of lipids in the horse’s diet should be progressive, in order to allow the enzymes in the digestive system to adapt to this change.
Lipids mix well with muesli mix type feeds or with crushed and/or wet barley.
3) Roughage (fibre)
This is the most important part of the diet for the horse, and should make up 75 to 100% of his total food intake, leaving only up to 25% hard feed. Fibre is broken down in the colon and caecum into carbohydrates and VFAs (volatile fatty acids), which are in turn converted into energy. As VFA digestion is very slow, if the horse has access to enough roughage, he will constantly have a steady source of energy. Also, VFA metabolism is only possible via aerobic respiration.
Within the muscles, we can find three sorts of muscle-fibre, which are distinguishable by the speed of their contractions and the way in which they use energy:
: endurance, dressage, hacking.
: high level endurance, eventing, driving, long distance racing
: show jumping, high level cross country, short distance racing, endurance on rough ground.
Properties of type 1:
: slow; energy
: aerobic; source of energy
: fibres; lipids; strength
: - - - ; endurance
: high; glycogen reserves
: average; lipid reserves
: high; oxygen capacity
: high; type of exercise
: light work, walking.
Properties of Type 2a:
: fast; energy
: (an)aerobic; source of energy
: lipids, starch;
: + - ; endurance
: average; glycogen reserves
: high; lipid reserves
: average; oxygen capacity
: average; type of exercise
: trot, canter;
Properties of Type 2b:
: fast; energy
: anaerobic; source of energy
: starch; strength
: + - ; endurance
: low; glycogen reserves
: high; lipid reserves
: low; oxygen capacity
: low; type of exercise
: fast canter/ gallop, jumping, strength.
Muscles never only use only one type of fibre, each effort calls upon a combination, but always with a dominant type.
Glucose and glycogen can be used by all three types, but are necessary for Type 2b.
You should start giving your horse lipids six weeks before the beginning of the season. Type 2a fibres need this time in order to adapt to aerobically producing energy from lipids.
These horses must aerobically produce a sustained effort over a long distance, and therefore need slow energy over a long period of time.
*They will need excellent quality hay, which should make up at least 75% of their diet.
*They should not receive large meals or meals containing high levels of cereals, in order to limit as is best possible lactic acid production. Instead, you can choose a feed which is high in lipids (up to 10%) and fibres, whilst being low in starch.
*In order to prepare your horse for a race, use Iodamine Equine
(but stop this cure 5 days before a competition), and 2 to 3 days prior to the race, give your horse electrolytes. If necessary, give your horse Equivital Paste
*After a race, give your horse Equi’drink Detox-muscle
, or Equi’drink Immunotonic
so that he can recover properly.
These horses must produce intense bursts of effort and have quick reactions and reflexes, so they need fast energy produced via anaerobic respiration, which then forms lactic acid.
They necessitate a feed that is high in starch and sugars, which contains at least 80% cereals. They will also need Vitamine E, Selenium & Lysine
, along with very high quality hay.
Dressage and driving horses
These horses must work over long periods of time, interspersed with highly accurate exercises. These horses will need to be supple, have stamina and have good concentration.
*They will need very high quality hay throughout training season;
*a feed containing between 40-70% of cereals and 5% lipids.
*They will also need a supplement, which will provide them with Vitamine E, Selenium & Lysine
, Equi’mix Mobility
and potentially magnesium (Biomag
Horses that compete in eventing must be fed similarly to both show jumpers and dressage horses.
*They must have access to very high quality hay,
*have a hard feed that contains up to 70% cereals, has a high lipid content (6 to 9%) and fibre content.
*You can also give an eventer electrolytes, 2 to 3 days before a competition, or instead prepare your horse by giving him Iodamine Equine
(stop the cure of this product 5 days before a competition), Equivital Paste
, a supplement that contains vitamin E, selenium and lysine.
*To help your horse recover afterwards: Equi’drink Detox-muscle
, Equi’drink Immunotonic
, Equi’mix Mobility
, Vitamine E, Selenium & Lysine
Bear in mind
*A meal that has a high starch and/or sugar content will make the blood glucose levels rise during 15 minutes. As a result the body will produce insulin in order to transport the glucose to other tissues in the body (liver, muscles). The blood glucose level will thus plummet, and on top of this, insulin slows fatty acid release. Consequentially, do not feed your horse a starch rich meal 2 to 3 hours before heavy exercise or training.
*During exercise, the muscles need blood flow, which will be taken from the digestive system, provoking certain negative effects.
*Always start by feeding your horse his hay and then feeding him his hard feed.
*The horse’s organism is mainly made up of proteins, but as a source of energy, they aren’t ideal. Each protein is made up of a special number and combination of amino acids. A deficiency of a certain amino acid, due to the chain reaction that such a deficiency can cause, can have a great impact on the health and well being of your horse. Amino acids are available within horse feed in the form of crude proteins but can also be given to the horse via supplements of balanced complexes, associated with vitamins and minerals.
The more a horse will be asked to work hard and intensively, the more proteins he will have to consume. In the case of a typical performance horse, the ideal protein intake will be around 10 to 14%.
Don’t forget that…
Good results are the outcome of many variables. One can provide one’s horse with a great diet, but this will never overcome the limitations due to the horse’s build, a lack of training or a bad rider!