FEED MANAGEMENT OF TOP PERFORMANCE HORSES IN THE 'OFF SEASON'
Q - It is common practice in most performance disciplines for horses to have a break in the off season. What are the advantages of this practice?
A - Resting has multiple physical as well as psychological benefits for the horse and they often return with increased energy and renewed enthusiasm for their work. Time off can also give any niggling injuries and digestive conditions such as gastric ulcers, hindgut acidosis and weight loss time to abate, therefore also improving physical health and soundness.
Q - What are the feed management needs for performance horses in the desert?
A - The priority for any performance horse in the desert, whether its an endurance horse or a racehorse, will be to ensure that these horses are eating optimum amounts of long forage and therefore fiber to help maintain normal digestive function. Although endurance horses and racehorses tend to be at opposite ends of the fiber allowance spectrum during training and competition, horses are likely to have finished the season with less than optimum digestive health due to the different feeding regimes and stresses that they are exposed to and so forage needs to feature high on the priority list during the resting period.
Q - Horses in the desert don’t have access to natural pastures may not consume enough fiber, exaggerating any underlying digestive issues that may have arisen during the season. How can this situation be avoided?
A – There are a few key points to be kept in mind-
· Offer plenty of a Timothy Hay but also offer a couple of alternative fiber products, such as Saracen Super Fiber Mix or Dengie Hi Fi. The horse should start to browse between the different forages and this will increase their total fiber intake.
· Provide feeds that are specifically formulated to be low in energy but nutrient dense with regards to the variety of ‘super fibers’ (Soya Hulls, Alfalfa, Sugar Beet Pulp), quality protein (Alfalfa, Soya) and oil sources Feeds such as Saracen Arabian Summer Mix are formulated to provide a source of ‘safe and non-heating’ calories that will help to restore overall body condition and replenish glycogen stores, as well as providing essential amino acids for cell renewal, tissue, and muscle repair.
· Horses that are more digestive-ly challenged additional supplementation may be of benefit. These supplements include live yeasts, pre-and probiotics. Gastric supplements such as KER Rite Trac™ and Equishure® can also help to restore a normal gastric environment.
Providing these feeds are fed at the correct daily intakes they will also ensure that each horse receives a balanced ration with respect to optimum levels of vitamins and minerals.
Q - What kind positive horse condition changes should be expected, when horses come back from their break?
A - Horses should have gained plenty of condition so that they are in the region of 4 (using the 0 to 5 condition scoring system). This means that the start of their work will play an important role in decreasing body condition, but also means that if feed and work are managed hand in hand that these horses stand a better chance of maintaining optimum bodyweight through the competition season, without losing too much condition very early on.
It is important that any diet and training programme is altered depending on the individual horse and their training adaptations, and changes made to accommodate setbacks such as injuries or illnesses.