LIZZIE DRURY MSC RNUTR
Firstly, it is important to highlight the importance of regular weight taping and condition scoring of your horses. This enables changes in condition to be picked up on far more quickly than by the eye alone, and allowing the necessary changes and a dietary adjustment to be made before a horse becomes too thin.
In order to put condition on a horse you need to increase his intake of digestible energy to provide more than that which is required to keep warm, active and maintain body condition. Horses lose large amounts of heat from their bodies, which is ‘wasted’ energy. When it is cold, wet and windy, a horse’s feed requirement may increase by up to 40%, so if your horse has a tendency to drop off condition or you currently wish to improve it, then it is worth making sure they are appropriately rugged in the day and at night.
Whilst it is important that your horse is warm, “over-rugging” can be detrimental to a horse’s respiratory health as well as potentially causing rubs and other irritations to the skin. Slip your hand under the horse’s rug at the front, and he should feel warm, but not hot.
FORAGE - THE FOUNDATION OF EVERY HORSE’S DIET
Initially I always recommend offering ad-lib forage to horses requiring extra condition. Not only does forage satisfy the horse’s natural desire to trickle feed and chew but it is essential to maintain a healthy digestive system.
Fibre, provided in forage, is fermented in the horse’s hind gut by millions of microflora. The health of these microflora and ultimately, the health of the horse, is dependent upon the quality and the type of diet that the horse is eating. Feeding plenty of good quality forage e.g. hay or haylage will help the microflora to flourish and increase the prospect of the horse gaining and maintaining optimum condition. The process of fermentation generates plenty of heat so feeding forage also provides the horse with his own internal central heating system.
When feeding haylage, as a general rule, you need to feed more haylage than hay on a weight for weight basis. This is because haylage contains more water than hay, so to ensure adequate fibre intake, you need to feed plenty of it! The majority of bagged haylage products are hygienically better than hay and also provide more digestible energy, which means that you will need to feed less concentrate feed. Check with a nutritionist if you are unsure about what quantity of haylage to feed. As a general rule, horses should eat a minimum of 1.5% of their bodyweight in forage.
There may be instances when forage alone is not enough to maintain healthy levels of microflora and it may be necessary to use a yeast supplement such as Yea-Sacc™ and or a pre or probiotic particularly during times of stress. Travelling, recovery from intense competition, illness or changes from summer to winter routines can cause an increase in stress levels. Yeasts and probiotics can be added to existing diets as a supplement or provided as part of a commercially formulated feed such as Saracen RE-LEVE®.
SO WHEN SHOULD YOU FEED A SPECIFIC CONDITIONING RATION?
- When forage alone is not sufficient to maintain body condition given the level of work being done or the type of horse
- When increasing the quantity of feed may compromise digestive function. A horse should not receive more than 2.0Kg of concentrate feed in any one meal
- More energy is required for the work being done and the horse is not overweight
Which conditioning feed is right for my horse?
Conditioning feeds are specifically formulated to promote weight gain and consequently, they have a higher digestible energy value than a typical cooling mix (13.0 MJ DE / Kg rather than 10 MJ DE / Kg). When choosing a conditioning feed you need to consider:
- how much time the horse will be spending in his stable?
- what is the horses temperament like? Laid back, excitable, nervous?
- what is the horse's work demands
- does the horse drop weight in the winter months?
Some conditioning feeds contain large amounts of micronised cereals and lower fibre and oil levels. These are usually extremely effective at putting weight on a horse but the fast-release energy provided by the cereals may not be suitable for horses that are naturally excitable, are in light work or are stabled for most of the time.
Which conditioning feed for an excitable horse?
If you have a horse that has a tendency to become ‘”hot” when fed a diet based on a high inclusion of cereals, look for a conditioning feeds that are high in digestible energy, but lower in starch such as Saracen Conditioning Cubes, Saracen Conditioning Mix or Saracen RE-LEVE®. These feeds provide energy by incorporating our highly digestible “Super-fibre” ingredients: sugar beet, alfalfa, and soya hulls, and they also contain a higher oil level.
Saracen Conditioning Mix & Conditioning Cubes also include EQUI-JEWEL®, a high fat stabilised rice bran, highly effective at muscle and topline development when fed in conjunction with a suitable exercise regime. The way in which these feeds are digested means that the release of energy is slow and this helps to manage more excitable temperaments.
Soaked sugar beet is also a good energy source for horses during the winter. The energy comes from digestible fibre and sucrose, so, again, is released slowly. Sugar beet contains almost the same amount of digestible energy as oats on a weight for weight basis but does not turn the horse in to an un-rideable monster! Soaked sugar beet is also very good to help re-hydrate horses. A change from summer to winter feeding routines will mean an increase in the horse's dry matter intake, so to prevent impaction colic, the horse’s water intake needs to be maintained.
Oil is an excellent way of providing additional calories required for improving condition without actually increasing the horse’s meal size. Oil is also a ‘cool’ source of energy and up to a quarter of a pint can be fed per day. However, because of the way in which oil is digested and metabolised it increases the number of free radicals that are produced in the body.
Free radicals can damage healthy living cells, so to protect the cells from oxidative damage, antioxidants, such as vitamin E, must also be included in the diet if high oil levels are used. High fat supplements exist in today’s market, which are pre-supplemented with anti-oxidants to take care of the increased requirement for extra vitamin E when feeding diets high in oil.
An example is EQUI-JEWEL®, a high fat stabilized rice bran formulated by Kentucky Equine Research (KER). Rice bran is the protective outer shell of rice kernels. It is a nutritious feedstuff for horses and can contribute fat, fibre, minerals and vitamins to the diet of any horse.The addition of fat supplements like this to a ration increases the energy density of the feed, thereby decreasing the amount of cereals required to fulfil the energy requirements of horses during growth, weight gain, lactation and athletic performance.
Furthermore, feeding oil reduces the risk of associated conditions such as colic, diarrhoea, metabolic laminitis and exertional myopathies which are often associated with excessive concentrate intake and reduced forage consumption.
EQUI-JEWEL® can be fed at a rate of 500g-1kg per day to achieve appropriate body condition, up to a maximum of 1.5kg per day when extra conditioning is required. The degree of supplementation required is dependent on the desired calorie intake.
FEEDING PROTEIN, IT’S ABOUT QUALITY NOT QUANTITY!
Improving a horse’s condition and muscle/topline development also comes from providing sources of quality protein and ensuring correct trace element supplementation. This means that it is very important to check that you are feeding a compound feed at the manufacturer's recommended feeding levels to ensure provision of a fully balanced diet.
It is a common miss-conception that horses requiring more condition or more energy should be fed rations that provide elevated levels of proteins. This is actually not the case, and in fact, the only horses that require elevated levels of protein are lactating mares, growing young stock and veterans. Performance or competition horses, convalescing horses and those requiring more condition require QUALITY protein sources for tissue and muscle repair, but not in the levels supplied in veteran, young stock or specific brood mare diets.
TYPICAL WINTER FEEDING SENARIO FOR AN EX-RACEHORSE
- 500kg Ex Racehorse that drops off in the winter
- Stabled at night, in light work (riding club). Can be excitable but lacks stamina.
- Feed 2 – 2.5kg Saracen Conditioning Cubes
- 800 grams alfalfa chaff
- Provide acess to a salt lick
- Ad-lib forage – ideally no less than 8kg in a 24 hour period
Need some guidance?
For a detailed, personalised feeding plan for your horse that requires more condition, please complete our simple online Feed Advice form. Alternatively, if you would prefer to speak to one of our qualified nutritionists for some immediate advice, please call our feed advice line on 01622 718 487