Although the horse is born as a sprinter, as a trainer you are looking to strengthen this talent to sustain optimum performance, enhance stamina and delay the onset of fatigue and rate of lactate production. The aim for you is to have the racehorse that can maintain the same speed while other racehorses are slowing down!
Every racehorse will require a degree of stamina to complete what is being asked of it on a day to day basis during training, but also to ensure that it remains able to perform to the best of its ability throughout the season, however, we also need to be able to fuel and support the high acceleration and high speed nature of a race.
Feeding to achieve this level of performance may appear to be quite a challenge but with the correct selection of feeds these targets can be met, as well as ensuring that the horse looks in fit condition throughout the racing season.
The first and main aspect of a feeding regime to consider is the forage. Good quality and high energy forage should form the basis of a racehorse’s diet (7-9Kg grass or Timothy hay and 0.9-1.8 Kg Alfalfa). Apart from contributing digestible energy and protein etc, it is essential to maintain good nutrition related health. Forage in the hindgut has a great water and electrolyte holding capacity, this reservoir can be used to replace fluid and ions lost in sweat.
For racehorses with poor appetites the use of a time released hindgut buffer maybe of use to help maintain an optimum pH in the hindgut and reduce the effects of acidosis caused by high concentrate intakes and low forage intakes. One of the primary signs of subclinical acidosis is inappetence, decrease appetite and reduced performance. Recent research by KER (Kentucky Equine Research) has shown that the use of a protected sodium bicarbonate buffer (EquiShure™) helped to maintain optimum hindgut function enabling lactate-utilizing bacteria to thrive and convert lactate into volatile fatty acids.
Concentrate feeds will need to contain a variety of high quality raw materials to support the requirement for energy that is generated for acceleration, speed and glycogen replacement and energy that is generated for stamina.
Readily available sources of carbohydrate such as oats, micronized barley and maize will provide circulating blood glucose and ‘top up’ muscle and liver glycogen energy stores during the race and post-race. Glucose provided in this way helps to support power and high intensity based exercise.
Correct feed management needs to be considered when feeding rations that contain high levels of cereals due to the horses limited capacity to digest starch in the small
intestine. Undigested starch reaching the hindgut will increase the risk of hindgut acidosis, colic and laminitis. Individual meals should not exceed 2.2Kg per meal.
Horses use glycogen in each training session and the harder and longer that they train, the more glycogen is used up and so starting the season and race with sub-optimal glycogen stores will compromise performance and lead to premature fatigue. Hence the ‘trickle feeding’ of a readily available source of carbohydrate will help to maintain optimum energy stores.
Utilising alternative energy sources to support stamina and lower intensity training is also important and raw materials such as digestible fibre sources including beet pulp and soya hulls, as well as fat sources such as vegetable oil or fat supplements such as rice bran. A balanced combination of these alternative energy sources helps to decrease the rate at which muscle glycogen stores are used up, thus enhancing the horse’s overall stamina and helping to delay the onset of fatigue.
Management of a racehorse before a race is important if you want to maximise performance. As already mentioned muscle glycogen stores can be dramatically affected by exercise during training so if you give your racehorse a short but hard gallop the day before a race, you will have compromised muscle glycogen concentration and so be starting the race with a ‘fuel tank’ that is not full. Training should be reduced 3-4 days prior to the race and horse gently exercised and stretched.
On the day of the race you want to avoid starting exercise with elevated blood glucose levels and so it is good practice to feed the last concentrate feed meal 4-6 hours before the start of the race and then allow smaller but frequent meals of hay with ad-libitum access for water.
After a race it is important to replenish the glycogen stores and it can take up to 48-72 hours post-race to fully restore and this process is enhanced if horses are properly rehydrated and exercised lightly and continue to have access to a source of carbohydrate, which will usually be provided in reduced quantities of the horses usual training and racing feed.
Alternatives to liquid fat supplements are now available in the form of pelleted rice bran, e.g. Equi-Jewel. Rice bran has four to six times more fat than maize or oats. Fat supplements such as these are cleaner and easier to use than oils and are usually fed at between 1-2 pounds per day (6-8lbs of Equi Jewel would provide the equivalent energy level of 750 ml of oil!). In its natural state rice bran is abundant in phosphorous, so it is essential to use rice bran products that have a balanced calcium to phosphorous ratio. Fat supplements such as Equi Jewel; also have added vitamin E and selenium, so helping make feeding easier.