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Feeding the Competition Horse

Whatever the level of activity, we need to work within the parameters of a healthy gut. A competition horse can have very high energy requirements, and sometimes protein, and it is natural to assume this can only be supplied by feeding cereals in some form. The problem is that horses can only digest and absorb around 1 gram of starch/sugar per kg of body weight per meal, so it is not easy to get significant amounts ingested.

This is not such a large problem. Metabolically, glucose (from starch or biochemical conversion) is only essential in a number of processes. For exercise it is needed to fuel the fast twitch muscles. Although extremely important in contributing to power in muscular activity, the greater proportion of muscle fibres are slow twitch and these can use the end products of fibre digestion (VFA – slow release energy) to power their contractions.

We can use highly available fibre sources to complement forages to supply the majority of energy and then use cereals or hard feed selectively to provide additional energy for the fast twitch muscle fibres.

Super-fibres, such as beet pulp, alfalfa, oat fibre and soya hulls have an effective digestibility that is much higher than that found in forage and gives an energy value similar to cereals such as oats, but without being restricted by meal size.

By feeding a supplemental fibre, like Speedi-Beet or Fibre-Beet, energy intake of forage can be improved. The VFA generated include elevated levels of propionic acid which is converted in the body to glucose. By choosing a beet pulp product you can power fast twitch fibres before resorting to cereals.

During summer, grass is putting all its energy into growth and seed production. As such, the earlier fructan levels have fallen and the overall energy content is dropping. We will have first cut hay or haylage to resort to, but realistically we cannot achieve the energy required. A 500kg horse would need 120-150MJ of energy a day during the season and forage can only generate 100MJ, for example.

Substituting with Speedi-Beet or Fibre-Beet can increase intake to 115-130MJ, so a relatively lower level of compound, such as Bailey’s No.20 competition mix – a reduced starch hard feed, will achieve energy requirements.

This brings additional benefits of a well-bulked gut; fibre absorbs excess acid in the stomach and pectins help maintain gut mucin linings; colic triggers are reduced and microbial disruption avoided. As well as this, it makes it simple to moderate energy intake without major shifts in diet. Simply change the amounts of hard feed.